From its very first scene, “The Leftovers” presents us with a rather intriguing mystery. One day, completely out of the blue, 140 million people (2% of the Earth’s population) disappear without a trace, leaving the “leftovers” to seek out an explanation. Science fails to find a cause (with a detailed report basically boiling down to “We don’t know”), leaving more than a few thinking that the explanation must be spiritual. However, as intriguing as this mystery may appear, surprisingly it is not the main focus of this unusual story. As the title implies, the show’s main concentration is on those who are left behind to deal with the everyday struggle of having lost family and friends to this phenomenon that no one can explain.
Taking place in the town of Mapleton, New York, three years after the event, the show follows several people who have been affected in one way or another by the mysterious disappearances. The town’s Police Chief, Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), is having a hard enough time dealing with both his duties and trying to keep an eye on his daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley), whose mother Laurie (Amy Brenneman) has gone off to join a cult known as the “Guilty Remnant” (a group that feels the need to keep reminding everyone of the people they’ve lost) and whose brother Tommy (Chris Zylka) has run off to work for a mysterious healer.
Other important characters include Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), who lost her entire family on that fateful day, and the town priest, Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston), who causes plenty of controversy with his unwanted explanations for the disappearances, but who also wants to help those he can, including the despised GR cult. As the GR’s tactics become more and more disruptive (following people around, standing outside their homes, staging silent protests, etc.), Kevin finds that it’s almost his full-time job just to keep them in check, and that’s not even to mention the fact that he just might be losing his mind the way his father, the former Police Chief, did just a few years earlier. All of this combines into a unusual show that studies how people react differently to loss, some by dealing with it or not dealing with it, or discovering that such inexplicable loss simply can’t be dealt with at all.
“The Leftovers” is a show that has a fair amount going for it. As mentioned, from the very start, we’re given a perplexing mystery that seemingly has no explanation, leaving you to wonder not only where these millions of people vanished to, but also what the people who are left in the wake of such a terrible event would do to cope with such tragedy. By far, the most interesting character is the one that the show focuses on the most, Kevin Garvey, who is trying to hold what’s left of his family together while dealing with so much more on his plate. Here we have a man whose life has almost completely fallen apart: his wife’s gone over to a hated cult (a cult that he has to deal with on a daily basis), his son hardly even talks to him anymore, his father is in a mental hospital, his relationship with his daughter barely seems to be holding together, and to top it all off, he starts to have blackout moments where he doesn’t remember doing certain things.
Watching a show where one man has to deal with all of this would make for a pretty compelling experience. Unfortunately, with “The Leftovers,” for every interesting storyline that’s introduced, there’s at least one that’s pretty flat and aimless. For instance, Kevin’s son Tommy starts off by driving people to and from a mysterious healer known as Wayne (Paterson Joseph), whose compound is raided by police, sending Kevin on the run with one of Wayne’s pregnant concubines. It’s unclear what they were going for with this thread or how it fits in with everything else, but it ends up getting nowhere, and it seems doubtful that it could lead to anything of interest in the future.
Similarly, there are three episodes of this ten episode season that are merely filler, a rather odd approach for such a brief season. One involves Matt trying to get enough money to buy his church. Another involves Nora going to a work conference where an activist steals her name badge to infiltrate the panel that Nora is participating in. Finally, we get an entire episode that shows us the events that occurred right before the departure, events that we knew almost all of. Instead of episodes like these that had nothing to offer, it seems like it would have been a much better use of the time to continue focusing on Kevin’s day-to-day activities, which in themselves seem to encompass almost all of the main characters anyway (his son being the one main exception).
What we’re left with is a show that almost works. It’s equal parts intrigue and frustration, but only the latter when we’re forced to watch something that doesn’t really have much to do with anything or isn’t getting anywhere, which is unfortunately a lot of the time. With its focus in the right place, and some necessary editing here and there, this could be a compelling show through and through, instead of just intermittently. All the right ingredients are here to make it work, but sadly there are just a few too many extra thrown in to sour the taste.
“The Leftovers: The Complete First Season” comes to Blu-ray in a 1.78:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of exceptional quality. There are times when the picture seems a little darker than normal, but otherwise it remains perfectly sharp and clear. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is outstanding, giving you the dialogue and haunting score in excellent quality. Overall, the show has been given great treatment, ensuring the best experience possible.
Commentary on the Pilot and Finale Episodes: Commentary tracks that include Executive Producers and Writers Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta, in addition to director Mimi Leder on the finale, giving you interesting little tidbits about the making of these two episodes. Worth a listen.
Making The Leftovers (29 Minutes): This featurette is a little misleading in that it only gets around to discussing the making of the show near the end of its 29-minute runtime. For the most part it’s a discussion of The Departure and some of the characters on the show. Given that there’s not much to learn here, it’s not particularly worth watching.
I Remember (15 Minutes): An intriguing discussion between Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta about bringing the story and characters of the latter’s novel to life. Worth a look.
Living Reminders: The Guilty Remnant (9 Minutes): As the title implies, this is a featurette that focuses on The Guilty Remnant. Unfortunately there’s not really anything to be learned here either, so it’s easily skippable.
Beyond the Book: Season 2 (4 Minutes): A very brief look at where the show will go in season two.
“The Leftovers” has a lot in the way of compelling storytelling to offer, but unfortunately it’s brought down by about as much that feels like it’s doing nothing more than getting in the way. It works best when it’s focusing on its main character, whose attempts to deal with a fractured life, in addition to his interactions with the various townspeople, is more than enough to make for a fascinating glimpse into this unique situation, which merely makes one wonder why the showrunners would choose to clutter it up with all of the unnecessary bits. It does indeed live up to some of its potential, but in the end, you can’t help but feel that it would have succeeded far greater if it had settled its focus on the right spot.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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