TV Review - The Leftovers

GR protestors hold signs reading,
"Stop Wasting Your Breath"
Having only seen the pilot episode of HBO's The Leftovers, I can tell you that I have the same problems with it that I initially had with The Walking Dead. The show wants to have this global event occur, but it doesn't want to deal with it in a global fashion. It wants to instead set the majority of the drama and exploration to a small town in New York that is predominantly Caucasian and Christian.

Yes, the series is based on Tom Perrotta's novel of the same name, but the chief writer and producer is Damon Lindelof, the co-creator and head writer of ABC's Lost. In his previous series, Lindelof had no problem bringing in a diversity of characters and points of view. Even though his characters were trapped on a mysterious island, the whole thing felt more worldly.

Yes, The Leftovers has an Asian girl and a black British dude in the cast, but the perspectives seem selfsame. It's not like in Lost when you had two characters actually from Korea. One of whom spoke no English. Another character from Lost was actually from Iraq, so obviously there were different perspectives at play. The Leftovers feels exclusively American from an exclusionary American perspective.

The premise is one that doesn't just affect Americans, but the whole planet. On October 14, two percent of the Earth's population disappeared, as in they literally vanished into thin air. It's not as if they died or were killed. They just were gone in the blink of an eye. There was no rhyme, no reason and no discernible pattern and no observable cause.

In the first episode, the first disappearance is that of a baby. Given the number of children that go missing or are kidnapped, one might assume Perrotta's book and subsequently this series could be a metaphor as to how people cope with that kind of loss that for many families is sudden, unexplained and often for a lifetime.

This might come up in future episodes, but what does the woman whose baby disappeared on October 14 say to another woman whose baby or toddler disappeared on a day prior or since, perhaps not to supernatural forces but to unexplained ones nonetheless? This series so far makes it seem like there is no other grief but that of October 14th's.

On October 14, three years later, the town of Mapleton, New York, plans a memorial for those who vanished. A question is what do people do a month before on September 11. A scene towards the end of the first episode mimics the reading of names of those who vanished. A similar reading occurs on September 11 at Ground Zero of the World Trade Center attack. Another question is do people who lived in Manhattan on both September 11 and October 14 do the same thing.

Getting it out of America, there are war zones around the world or just areas that are highly depressed or oppressed where people face loss or death on a daily basis. The Middle East is an example, or even places in Africa. My question is what does the October 14 incident mean to them.

Similar questions arose in AMC's The Walking Dead. A global pandemic breaks out but we're limited to the perspectives of mostly white Christians in or near Atlanta, Georgia. I would love to see the writers of that show tackle the effect a global event like that has on the Middle East. The Israeli and Palestinian struggle is an example. I would also love to see Perrotta and Lindelof do something like that here.

Even though they weren't total successes, I respect shows like Heroes and Touch, two shows created by Tim Kring that were attempting to be global and show other countries and cultures. This series adopts a global event but never wants to really address the globe.

It remains anchored by Justin Theroux (American Psycho and Mulholland Drive) who plays Kevin Garvey, the Mapleton police chief. Theroux is a fantastic actor. Plus, he's drop-dead gorgeous. He puts the sex in sexy. He is absolutely magnetic, so if a series were to be tethered to a white male, he's definitely the one.

And, when it comes to the cults and all the other mysterious things happening, it's Kevin's various family members who are involved. His wife Laurie, played by Amy Brenneman (Judging Amy and Private Practice), is in one cult called GR or "guilty remnants." His college-age son Tom, played by Chris Zylka (Kaboom and The Amazing Spider-Man), who is no slouch when it comes to the sex appeal, or when it comes to full-frontal nudity, is in the other cult, the one led by the black British guy named Wayne, played by Paterson Joseph (Law & Order: UK and Casualty).

Finally, Kevin's daughter Jill, played by Margaret Qualley (Palo Alto), is part of the unofficial cult of maladjusted teenagers who seem outwardly fine until they ask to be choked while masturbating. It's not as if masochism originated on October 14, but if said character developed a masochistic streak as a result of the disappearances, that might be a good avenue to explore.

Then, there are magical deer and potentially rapid dogs. The animal allusions and references might be explained, probably not. I won't hold my breath. Yet, it feels like old ground that Lindelof covered with the wild boar and polar bears from Lost.

Rounding out the cast are Liv Tyler as Meg, a disillusioned wife, Amanda Warren as Mayor Lucy, Charlie Carver with Max Carver, the teenage twins who take a liking to Jill. The Carver twins, by the way, have bounced nicely from Desperate Housewives to Teen Wolf and now this. They're always together, but each show has tried to distinguish them. Teen Wolf did so by making one straight and the other gay. The show did little with them beyond that, so here's hoping The Leftovers can make better use.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-MA.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Sundays at 10PM on HBO.


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