'The Leftovers' series premiere recap

By Vincent Lia,

The Leftovers is the newest member of HBO's family of original series. Based on the eponymous novel by Tom Perotta, the show marks a return to television for Lost co-creator and show runner Damon Lindelof. This could either bode well for the outlook of The Leftovers, or poorly depending on how you felt about Lost.

HBO gave The Leftovers 75 minutes for Sunday night's premiere, which was directed by executive producer Peter Berg, but that extra quarter-hour didn't lend itself to establishing the characters any extra or making this post-"Rapture" world of Mapleton, New York any clearer.

It appears as though the minds behind the show are well aware the viewers who haven't read the book will not have much of a clue as to what's going on right away, so the first third of the episode seems hell-bent on dragging the audience in with "wow" moments.

We're introduced to the show on the fateful day of October 14th. A woman at a laundromat finds herself juggling the tasks of loading her machine, tending to her crying baby, and talking on the phone to her husband. After leaving, loading her child into the backseat, and wrapping up her phone call, the sudden silence in the car beckons her attention. She turns around to find an empty carseat. In a frenzied panic, she gets out of the car. Another child cries for his father as a suddenly unattended shopping cart rolls through the parking lot. Behind the woman, a car rolls out into the street to be collided with by an oncoming car.

Cut to three years later. It is the eve of October 14th, now referred to as “Heroes Day”, at least in the town of Mapleton, New York. We meet the police chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), who comes across a stray dog while jogging. After attempting to check the dog for a collar, it is suddenly and curiously shot by a man who climbs back into his pickup and drives off.

From there, we are introduced to many more of the characters, and introduced to many, many more questions. We learn through a televised congressional hearing that October 14th was the day two percent of the world’s population-roughly 140 million-disappeared, no one knows how or why it happened, and it’s referred to as “The Sudden Departure.” That’s one of the few concrete pieces of exposition we get.

We meet a few members of a cult known as the Guilty Remnant, whose members smoke cigarettes, wear only white clothing, and have all appeared to have taken a vow of silence (which one of the members seems to take liberties with). In Westboro Baptist Church fashion, the Guilty Remnant protests the Heroes Day memorial service with signs that read “Stop Wasting Your Breath” just as a woman who lost her husband and children begins addressing the audience. Just as the police force anticipated, the demonstration turned ugly, and the memorial turned into a one-sided brawl in which the people of Mapleton bloodied many of the cult members.

We later learn that one of the cult members, Laurie (Amy Brenneman), is Chief Garvey’s estranged wife who left him along with their daughter, Jill (Margaret Qualley), and son, Tom (Chris Zylka). We might get to know Jill’s character the best of any in this first episode. She appears to be about as jaded and melodramatic as a high school girl can get on screen. Elbowing her arch nemesis teammate during field hockey practice and smoking pot outside the school, Jill may as well have a sign on her forehead that reads “ACTING OUT.” During a scene at a party Jill attends, we’re treated a look into today’s teenage social scene through the eyes of The Leftovers. There, we see a classic game of spin the bottle, only instead of a bottle, it’s an iPhone, and instead of kissing, the paired couples copulate, brand each other with forks, and awkwardly practice erotic asphyxiation.

Jill’s brother, Tom, is in quite a different place in life. He, like his mother, has run off to another post-Sudden Departure cult, and is serving as a henchman for its leader Wayne (Paterson Joseph), a British man whose son was one of the vanished, and is now spending his days on a compound as a charlatan, apparently forgiving peoples’ sins in exchange for an exorbitant fee.

We also meet Meg (Liv Tyler), who is trying to live her life with her fiancé, but finds herself being stalked by members of Guilty Remnant. They don’t seem to interfere with her, but they always make their presence known. Meg is greatly distressed by them, but by the conclusion of the episode she appears ready to become one of them. We’ve clearly just scratched the surface with her.

In case we weren’t completely baffled yet, the final scene features Kevin coming across a deer (the one who behaves strangely and has been stalking him) whom he tries talking to, only to be interrupted by a pack of angry dogs that devour the deer. Right on time, the town’s dog killer shows up and, after asking him whether he was in a dream or not, Kevin joins in with him by firing his gun off at the pack.

The Leftovers feels like a network show that’s been given the FCC restriction-less content freedom that HBO provides. The dialogue isn’t quite as sharp, and the characters don’t feel quite as fleshed out as those from its network brethren such as True Detective or The Sopranos, but it compensates with a wealth of intrigue that will warrant enough desire to want to return in the coming weeks and see what Perotta and Lindelof have in store for us.

image courtesy of Roger Wong/INFphoto.com



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