When it was originally on: 2014-2017
Original network: HBO
Where you can stream it now: HBO (or Amazon with an HBO extension).
Had I seen it before: No.
What IMDb says: Three years after the disappearance of two percent of the global population, a group of people in a small New York community try to continue their lives while coping with the tragedy of the unexplained nature of the event.
Why I picked it: Much like yesterday’s pilot, Search Party, The Leftovers falls into that category of critical darlings that never really caught on with viewers in general. I had never even heard of this show during its original run, and while I wasn’t an HBO subscriber at that time, I had still heard of shows like Game of Thrones or Westworld or True Detective, all of which overlapped with The Leftovers run.
Yet again, this is a show I didn’t know about until I started actively looking for television shows to watch. The Leftovers came up over and over again on various “best of” lists. I only became more intrigued when I learned that one of the creators, Damon Lindelof, was also a creator on Lost (a pilot I reviewed for 30 Pilots in 30 Days). It should be interesting to see how he might have learned from the lessons of Lost as well as how he adapts his storytelling for HBO vs. ABC.
What I liked: The premise of The Leftovers is interesting enough to feel fresh, but also simple enough that the show doesn’t have to invest a lot of time explaining it to me. 2% of the world’s population disappeared. That’s it. That’s the show. It’s supernatural without really being high concept, which I think is brilliant. The world resembles ours enough that the show doesn’t have to spend 30 minutes “bringing us into its world” before shit goes down. It just says “yes, this thing happened, we’re going to move on now.” Oftentimes I think this can be the best approach towards concepts that break the laws of physics. The more you explain, the more confusing the world becomes.
I’m pleasantly surprised and how well this thing held my attention despite being 1 hour and 12 minutes and containing a pretty wide array of different stories and characters. I think part of how this is accomplished is by tying all the seemingly unrelated things together by the end of the story. There’s a weird cult; a police chief who finds a dead dog; some dude meeting up with a congressman in the desert; the angsty teenage girl; These are all presented to us separately, by by the end of that hour and 12 minutes, we see how they are a family, or at least they once were a family before the mysterious disappearance.
One of the other nice things about this is we learn about everyone ask individual characters first. We get what their day-to-day lives look like. We get what sort of challenges they might be facing outside of each other. And then the more we learn, the more we get to think to ourselves “oh okay, so at some point conflict A is going to start affecting conflict B. I wonder how that might work?”
I also love how The Leftovers has one of its characters change over the course of the pilot. At one point, we see Jill Garvey swear that her father would never shoot a dog. She’s completely confident, and so are we. After all Kevin seems like a nice enough dude, and nice enough dudes don’t shoot dogs. But the pilot ends with Kevin shooting a dog. Why? Because he’s accepted that things are no longer what they were before the disappearances. Fundamental changes have occurred and the world will never be the same.
It’s that ability to create a world that is simultaneously the same as the real one AND different enough to forces changes in its characters that makes The Leftovers so interesting. It’s a world I understand, but also a world I don’t understand and want to learn more about.
What I didn’t like: There are still some storylines that weren’t clicking for me. Meg (the one played by Liv Tyler) doesn’t have an obvious connection to most of our other characters. That would’ve been fine if she’d been interesting in her own right, but she isn’t. At the very end of the pilot, we see her join this weird cult that we also know very little about. But I genuinely don’t know enough about this character to understand why she did this, and by extension it’s harder for me to understand why all these other people joined the cult.
I actually wish this storyline could’ve been kicked into gear a bit sooner. Seeing a new person enter this cult and what that entails would’ve enlightened me on the teachings of this cult and why people would give up their lives to come join it. Did most of these people lose someone close in the disappearance? Do they believe that the disappearance happened for a reason or that there are more on the horizon? All questions I want answered, and yes, in some respects that’s fueling my desire to watch more, but in other respects it prevented me from getting invested in those characters. It makes it hard for me to see how this cult is going to clash with other aspects of society in future episodes.
This can also be said for whatever the hell is happening in the desert with Buddy Garrity from Friday Night Lights. (I’m sure this actor has a real name but he will always be Buddy Garrity to me). There’s a lot of characters doing… something? Something suspicious? Or maybe it isn’t suspicious? I didn’t really get what was happening with this plot line or why I should care about it. Finding out that Tom was the son of Kevin the Police Chief back in New York did pique my interest a bit, but overall I’m still just not sure who any of these people are, if I should be rooting for or against them, or where the story is headed next. Is this another cult? Is it some kind of organization trying to find those that disappeared? If it IS a cult how is it different from that other cult?
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Yes! It’s playing with a lot of interesting ideas and I want to see where they go.