Shrewsbury, Massachusetts- As Under the Dome keeps showing us, taking a single novel and stretching it out into the long form narrative of television can be a tricky thing. The themes and characters can face the danger of becoming stretched too thin and the whole story begins to crumple under its own weight. The latest summer adaptation series is The Leftovers headed by former Lost show-runner Damon Lindleof and Tom Perrotta, the author of the novel of the same name.
On October 14th, two percent of the world’s population vanishes without a trace or explanation. Three years later, the town of Mapleton, New York has become a different place since the “Sudden Departure.” Police Chief Kevin Garvey struggles to keep the town and his scattered family afloat as a group of fanatics calling themselves the Guilty Remnant steadily expands their influence over the town. Along with various other townspeople, the citizens of Mapleton try to understand the world they thought they knew.
The Leftovers is a perplexing piece of television because it’s hard to determine whether or not the show is any good. At times it weaves rich, almost parable like stories with a novelistic flair similar to its source material, making it a unique type of television. At other times its characters come off as annoying and the symbolism or moral gets bashed over your head during the course of an episode. It’s an astounding push-pull that will either annoy or fascinate as you delve further into the series.
The actors here are quite a few mainstream unknowns, but that doesn’t stop them from standing out in this show. Justin Theroux is pretty good as Kevin Garvey, who presents a lot of layers, but can also be a tad annoying at times. Ann Dowd (from the stunner of a film Compliance) proves to be a powerful presence without saying anything as the leader of the Guilty Remnant. Carrie Coon is also presenting some interesting facets to Nora, a woman who lost her entire family on October 14th. However the standout so far is Christopher Eccleston as local preacher Matt Jamison. The episode focusing squarely on him is a knockout and is an example of the show being remarkable.
Though it is far from the best piece of television so far this year, it is oddly enough one of the most thought-provoking this year. No piece of television puts you is such an existential quandary the way The Leftovers does. The central mystery of the show is not what happened that day, but what happens to the people afterwards. The result can be a mixed bag, but when the show hits, it hits hard. Going to the original novel is a touch helpful as well to give more of an understanding of this piece of work.
All in all, it’s still hard to say if The Leftovers is good television. At times episodes feel like short stories, while others feel like heavy-handed pieces of pretension. Frankly I would recommend you at least try it just so I can have someone else to talk to about it. It’s a show that will turn some people off right away, but the ones who stay will be in for one of the most frustrating, yet fascinating, pieces of television this year.
The Leftovers is on HBO every Sunday @ 10 pm. Past episodes are available for streaming on HBO Go.