Show: The Leftovers.
Produced by: White Rabbit Productions and Film 44.
Running time: 51-58 min, ea.
The Leftovers is a HBO drama/supernatural-ish themed series created by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta based off the book of the same name by the later. It is about the cultural fallout of a world event dubbed the “Sudden Departure” in which over 2% of the world inexplicably disappeared. It particularly centers on a broken family called the Garvey’s and their various acquaintances as they deal with the results of the event.
The series contains an amazing density of characters, reaction, emotion, and a sophisticated understanding awareness of how to precisely work the strings of audience sympathy.
Most of the characters contain a rich set of outlooks, motivations, and faults that are put paces through the plot with a sense of almost will it or will it not realism. Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), as one of the main protagonists, is one of the better of this breed currently on television. He is an authority figure as the police chief, father, and mediator, but at the same time his faults make him very vulnerable, and he is not always a good man, he has hate and disgust like everyone else, he is nakedly fearful and stubbornly obstinate and the occasional asshole, an excellently constructed flawed figure character, with Theoroux doing a stellar job making this character real.
The side characters are also interesting and strong with Matt Jameson (Christopher Ecceleston), a former reverend in the show, who is a fascinating depiction of a man of faith who at the same time is vociferously skeptical of the Sudden Departure being the rapture, often pointing out that departed (the term for those who disappeared) contained some rather despicable be in their ranks as well as innocent and decent ones. His particular character arc that was focused on in “Two Boats and a Helicopter,” one of the arguably best episodes of the series, showed the struggles, sheer determination, and even moments of startling but believable violence that this man goes through, and Eccelston does a great job of portraying this unassuming man who is anything but.
The weaker end of the character chain in the show though would have to be Jill Garvey (Margaret Qualley), Kevin’s daughter. She’s not a wholly bad teen-aged character, she does have some moments, but they make her so bratty and emo that it’s hard to really like her. She’s had no real development, and comes across a little to cliché; It’s more that she is there to be the cause of things to happen or to have things happen to her. Though to give Qually credit though, she does the best with what she has and is able to express those quiet moments of genuine emotion quite well, with perhaps her strongest episode being “Cairo.”
Now the part that really shines in this show and boy howdy does it! The story.
At first, there is a leery weariness prevalent when starting out that this is just another religious style doom and gloom, believe in the lord and ye shall be saved style of show, making it more about bible promotion then story, but this show was a pleasant surprise in that, while it does have religious themes couched in the plot, particularly the theme of faith, it’s done intelligently and unobtrusively, not being the central focus of the story, more an element of the consequences that arise from major catastrophic events that effect people. This story’s focus is more on characters in the setting of a post-event culture that sprung up.
It also shows an amazing sophistication in blurring the lines between “sides.” Often in film and television, the main focal point that is shown within a movie or show, the protagonist traditionally, is often the one whom we as viewers want to see succeed, even if the focal character, or “side” shown can logically be said in hindsight to have values that work against our own. For example you could watch a film about an amoral drug dealing asshole who is the focal point of a film, but in the end, because you are made to watch from their perspective, you become invested and root for said asshole even though in real life you likely wouldn’t hop the pro-drug dealing train (or asshole train if you’re a drug dealer). It’s mainly because movies and television induce an inside-looking-out perspective in viewers, always on one side of the line in the sand so to speak, an “Us vrs. Them” scenario. With that in mind, The Leftovers actually manages to effectively manipulate this empathy space relation so well that those you are meant to empathize with are unclear, the show utilizing different richly presented perspectives with a smarter use of moral ambiguity, moving the viewer around the space of the show, on the side of the “normal” towns folk of Mapleton one moment, suddenly on the side of a cult in another, turning on the Garvey family spoke, inducing a state of fluid sympathy and empathy for pretty much all of them to the point where you are forced to face a narrative in which there is no side or person you are routing for, you are just experiencing like the characters themselves.
A show that can do that, is a very smart show indeed!
The Leftovers is a prime example of quality television with a dense, compelling, and intelligently constructed story, with decent plot progression, a high ratio of relatively unique cast of well-acted and very real characters; a good series for those who enjoy rich drama with just the hint of supernatural mystery.
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