Idiot Box: “The Leftovers”

“The Leftovers” On Hbo

Devin D. O'Leary
4 min read
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Despite the fact that we survived Y2K with flying colors 14 years ago, our culture seems more obsessed with the end of the world than ever before. Just last week we were here talking about what life would look like after the whole of the Heavenly Host went to war with humanity (courtesy of Syfy’s angel apocalypse “Dominion”). And now we’re about to discuss the possible repercussions of the Rapture, thanks to HBO’s “The Leftovers.”

This speculative, presumably supernatural drama is created and produced by Damon Lindelof (of “Lost” fame) and Tom Perrotta (who wrote the book upon which it’s based). Three years ago two percent of the planet’s population suddenly winked out of existence. It is generally presumed that the Rapture whisked them all off to Heaven—although there’s little link between the missing in terms of religion, race, age, background or anything else. Plus, two percent seems kind of miserly even for a vengeful Old Testament kind of God. So what did happen to all those people? Nobody has any clue.

So here we are three years after that fateful day, hanging out in the small town of Mapleton, N.Y. As the anniversary of the big event looms, citizens seem incredibly morose. Of course losing millions of loved ones to an unexplained phenomenon would certainly bum out most of humanity. But as long as we still have cable TV, I’m confident most people would snap back pretty quickly. Not in Mapleton, though. Everybody’s in a deeper funk than you’d find at a George Clinton concert. Funkiest of all is Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux,
Mulholland Drive), the town’s scowling chief of police. Garvey is struggling to raise two teenage kids in the wake of his wife’s disappearance (more on that later). His job is made harder since the town is being inundated with members of a strange religious cult known as the Guilty Remnant (or the GR, as they’re called). Members of the GR never speak. They just hang around looking creepy and smoking like chimneys (which appears to be some reflection on their fatalistic beliefs).

But it’s Garvey’s family that’s really bringing him down. His daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) is angry, numb and self-destructive all at the same time. His son Tom (Chris Zylka) is working for some self-styled messiah who claims to see the future (and the future ain’t good). And his wife (Amy Brenneman, “NYPD Blue”)? As we soon find out, she didn’t disappear in the Rapture but ran off to join the creepy cigarette-smoking cult.

“The Leftovers” sticks with a fractured narrative, skipping around town and checking in on several characters at once. The idea is to show how a bunch random people cope (or don’t … mostly don’t) with the strange happenings of three years ago. In addition to the interpersonal drama, there are plenty of mysterious goings-on. Christopher Eccleston (“Doctor Who”) drifts in and out as a mysterious reverend who believes nothing about this Rapture was godly. Chief Garvey keeps having mysterious visions involving a deer. And then there’s the odd subplot about all the dogs in town suddenly turning feral.

Where this is all leading is anybody’s guess. “The Leftovers” is terrifically mounted. It’s got a solid cast and an intriguing narrative. But damn if it isn’t a gloomy downer. Watching the show is like listening to three Morrissey albums at once. You’d better be in the mood.

“The Leftovers” airs Sundays at 8pm on HBO.

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