Will The Leftovers become a TV classic? Too soon to tell, but it doesn’t look good.
HBO’s new sci-fi-ish series The Leftovers has an intriguing, if unoriginal premise, is based on a high-profile novel, and is produced by the man behind Lost. Yet the first episode left me underwhelmed.
The set-up: two percent of the world’s population has vanished with no explanation. Three years later, the residents of Mapleton (aka Anytown, USA) struggle to move on despite the uncertainty and lingering grief.
The story follows police chief Kevin Garvey (played excellently by Justin Theroux), who is not quite with it. He struggles to relate to his rebellious teenage daughter Jill, and his son Tom, who has fled to a mysterious commune. He butts heads with the town’s mayor, Lucy Warburton, and tries to keep the peace between the townspeople and a strange cult that wears white, chain smokes, doesn’t talk, and taunts the grieving. And he may or may not be crazy.
So far, so good. Plus, The Leftovers based on a book by bestselling writer Tom Perrotta. I like it when TV shows and movies have a literary legacy (then again, as a writer, I’m biased). And, it was brought to TV by Damon Lindelof of Lost fame. Say what you will about Lost; that show is a classic in my eyes, with spectacular storytelling and gripping characterization. The Lost connection, more than anything else, had me excited for the show.
But based on the first episode I’m not confident that The Leftovers is headed for greatness. I see two main problems:
1) I fear we will never get any kind of explanation for the disappearance, and this show will become an endless grief-fest.
2) There were so many characters who we zoomed past that it was difficult to get sucked into any of their stories. Theroux’s Kevin Garvey worked well, but aside from him, I felt no real connection with the faces who passed by.
Some of the subplots were interesting. Nihilism has gripped the youth of Mapleton, as we see with Kevin’s daughter Jill. There’s a party scene that perfectly captures the sense that if anyone can suddenly vanish, what’s the point of trying?
The story following Kevin’s prodigal son Tom, who is part of some survivalist-type cult is also intriguing (though the actor is miscast. He is 29 in real life, while his “father” is 42. It shows).
And then there’s Christopher Eccleston of Doctor Who fame who plays a preacher. I’ll tune in to anything with a Doctor Who alum in it.
I’m nowhere near ready to give up on The Leftovers, though I’m somewhat pessimistic. It’s hard to NOT compare The Leftovers to Lost, but as with Lost, I fear that the writers will lose their way when it comes to the sci-fi elements.
I hope I’m wrong.