What happens when someone loses everything? What happens when something horrible happens to everyone, just and unjust? What happens when someone tries to put that life back together and they find it isn’t as easy as they thought?
HBO’s late summer debut “The Leftovers” attempted to answer these questions in a poignant and moving first season. Based on the 2011 novel by Tom Perrotta, and brought to the small screen by “Lost” producer Damon Lindelof, the series details the strange and surreal happenings of a small town in Upstate New York after an event hereafter in the show named the “Sudden Departure” unexpectedly robs the planet of 2 percent of its population or roughly 140 million people.
The show’s narrative scope mainly deals with events three years after the “Sudden Departure.” The show’s writers, very smartly, never concern themselves with giving the audience the nitty-gritty details of the “Sudden Departure,” instead choosing to focus on the character’s struggles and letting the viewers decide for themselves what, if anything, caused all those people to disappear and why they were specifically “left behind.”
As to be expected with HBO shows, the casting on “The Leftovers” is impeccable. Justin Theroux (“Parks & Recreation”) plays Kevin Garvey, Mapleton, New York’s conflicted, hallucination-prone police chief trying his best to maintain a
semblance of order and normality in his home and in town. Margaret Qualley (“Palo Alto”) plays his troubled daughter, Jill, with nuance and a sincerity not often seen in screen portrayals of adolescence. The other members of the Garvey family are a bit more spread out geographically; Tom, played by Chris Zylka (“The Amazing Spider-Man”), is a college dropout working for a mysterious cult leader named Holy Wayne, who claims to be able to hug away pain for strangers and senators alike.
Laurie, the chief’s estranged wife, played by Amy Brenneman (“Private Practice”), give us our only glimpses into a group known as the Guilty Remnant. The apparent ethos of the Remnant is to wear all white, chain smoke relentlessly and convert others to their cause of silently antagonizing the town of Mapleton. The strife between the townspeople and the Guilty Remnant forms the backbone of the tension throughout the season and is just one of many things coming to a head at the season’s conclusion.
In the midst of all the televised melodrama and intrigue is the crux of the story: the human element. It’s at the forefront of every scene of the show. These are real, messy people, in real, messy situations. Critics often deride the show as being bleak for the sake of being bleak, but the show deals with the characters’ darkest moments and highest points with deft precision. There is no ostensible reason for why people like Chief Garvey, his family and the rest of the world were left behind, except for the reasons that each character tells him or herself every morning when they wake up. It is a show very much about attempting to go on with life in the face of senseless tragedy and the stumbles that people can have while trying to put on a brave face in their day-to-day lives.