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The Leftovers – Pilot Review: A Melancholic Beginning

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The Leftovers is not the feel-good romp of the summer. It very may well be the exact opposite. When the inciting incident of a series is the unexplained disappearance of two percent of the world’s population, you know that there is going to be some serious drama up in here. It is a decidedly grim and at many times depressing endeavor, however, it doesn’t wallow in its own despair, making for a compelling viewing experience.

Set three years after the strange phenomenon, The Leftovers focuses on the experiences of those that remain, still struggling with the sudden departure of their loved ones, friends, neighbors, etc. The episode employs news editorials and radio programs to exposit the worldwide/national impact as well as the speculation/debates regarding the reasons behind the event to great effect. Not only do they give the necessary weight to the situation and inform the state of the country (and the town of Mapleton), but also they address the questions of why and how without making them the focus of the narrative. It is natural to wonder why such a phenomenon took place and the inherent mystery is greatly compelling, but there might not always be a concrete answer or anything resembling an explanation. The narrative does a good job by effectively addressing the obvious questions in a way that doesn’t pull focus from the more pertinent material. Because it really is about the people in the town, each with their own unique experiences and reactions to what has occurred. This does not seem like the show that will see any alien invasion/abduction, sci-fi mythology behind it.

The pilot spends much of its time world building and introducing us to the many characters that inhabit this universe. Peter Berg directs the premiere episode and does a fantastic job in capturing the bleakness of the world with a naturalistic flair. The cold open immediately transports us to this universe in a fairly short sequence of scenes, which grip us narratively and emotionally. The stealth way the people just disappear, in this case a crying baby just ceases to make noise, is unsettling and deeply effective. There isn’t much shown of the immediate aftermath, which would have been interesting to watch, but there is enough throughout the episode (glimpses of flashbacks/dialogue/implications) that we can piece together an adequate idea of what that time was like.

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But there is plenty to look at and explore in the present day setting of the show. Some of the characters do come off like shallow archetypes (the disgruntled police chief and his teenaged daughter) initially, but there are some developments that could change that, also this is only the first episode so character development awaits. The most compelling moments of the episode are the ones that feature the mysterious GR cult. It has become increasingly difficult to portray communities like this in an original way, but the depiction of this particular cult is quite successful. Sure they have the clichéd all-white dress code, but the eerie silence in which they live and the almost comical chain smoking give the group an unexpected edge. Also, they have an innate sense of menace when looked at from the perspective of the rest of the townspeople. They are genuinely scary when they follow people around town or stage a non-violent protest. It is easy to see why some of the people in Mapleton react to them in such visceral, raw ways. It is a dynamic that the series will, no doubt, continue to explore and is one of the most engaging aspects of the series. And despite the overall dreary of most of the hour, there are welcome moments of levity that help break the drab mood like the twins’ banter and, best of all, the list of celebrities that disappeared along with so many loved ones. “I get the pope, but Gary fucking Busey?”

The Leftovers premieres with a promising opening chapter that explores interesting themes and compelling character situations. The air of uncertainty and mystery that permeates the narrative helps to keep us interested but doesn’t necessarily drive the plot. Thankfully, there is no storyline that follows an obsessive scientist or religious zealot trying to uncover the reason behind the disappearance, no hint of an elaborate mythology, which would make it a completely different type of show. The disappearance just happened and what is left behind is absolutely fascinating.

What did you think?

Final Thoughts

  • I am intrigued by the mayor and I hope to get more scenes with her that don’t show her in such an antagonistic light, though I did like her pragmatic approach to the planning of “Heroes’ Day”. Hopefully she won’t just be a foil to Kevin and can have her own arc.
  • Those are some seriously old looking high school kids.
  • “Thank you, for fucking underlining that.”
  • Peter Berg sure does a great job in evoking a sense of place/community, whether it is a Texas town unified by its love of football or one that is struggling to overcome pat traumas.
  • I enjoyed the ‘reveal’ towards the end, even though it was telegraphed a bit especially when Kevin hits the family portrait and the mother’s face is obscured. After that one kind of knows that her identity is significant. But it retroactively gives more weight and meaning to some of the situations and also explains a lot about these people.
  • Buddy Garrity!
Rating
8.0
Pros
  • Good Performances
  • Great Direction by Peter Berg
  • Engaging Premise
Cons
  • Some Undeveloped Characters
  • Cliched Situations

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