The brainchild of novelist Tom Perrotta and brought to the small screen with the help of Damon Lindelof (the chap that drove most of us mad with frustration for years with Lost), The Leftovers was an unexpectedly beautiful and tragically poignant portrayal of the way society – and the world at large – copes with loss on a massive yet distinctly personal scale.
The show begins with an event in which a significant portion (2%) of the world’s population vanishes in an instant, never to be seen again. The show isn’t too concerned with explaining where these people have gone, but more so with how the people left behind deal with life moving forward. Hence… The Leftovers.
To give the story an anchor (and focus) it’s largely told from the point of view of the Garvey family, particularly the Chief of Police Kevin (Justin Theroux), an amazingly complex (and thoroughly conflicted) individual.
The rest of the cast includes Kevin’s daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) and father (Scott Glenn), the former Chief of Police; Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), a mother who lost her entire family during the event; her brother Matt (Christopher Eccleston), a local priest who cannot reconcile his beliefs with what has happened; Meg Abbott (Liv Tyler), a lady recently converted to local cult the Guilty Remnant, led by the resolute Patti Nevin (Ann Dowd).
At first, like a lot of people, I felt confused then indignant when I realised we’d not be shown what happened to those that vanished. You have to imagine that this was a conscious decision by the show’s creators, forcing viewers to experience similar emotions that those coping with – and trying to understand – the nature of loss might arguably go through.
As avid (or resentful) fans of Lost are quick to point out, if you know Lindelof’s work you’ll know he likes to leave telling clues throughout his shows. Make no mistake though, clues is about all this shares with Lost. This is, through and through, a character study of a group of troubled individuals trying to live out their lives. But there is a constant stream of what could be clues, or at least suggestive imagery throughout.
A standout performance worth mentioning is Theroux’s Kevin Garvey, a self-confessed ‘bad guy’, despite (or because of?) his position of power as police chief. With a wife who’s joined the Guilty Remnant and wants a divorce through to a daughter with whom he cannot connect, a son on the run from the law and a father who’s been locked up on insanity charges, Kevin barely holds it together throughout the season, slightly unravelling with each episode.
You could say his family represents a microcosm of the town at large and their problems, beliefs and conflict. Nora is another brilliant character. Utterly consumed with grief at the loss of her family she goes to some very dark places during the season, with Carrie Coon putting in a raw and unflinching performance.
Perrotta and Lindelof probably pose more questions than answers with this show. Where did the people go who vanished? Did they deserve to go? Are the ones that stayed the lucky or unlucky ones? Initially I found this story a difficult one to connect with, it’s sombre, loaded with grief and the characters are hard to like or understand. Yet, if you stick with it, you’ll find it gradually unfurls into something naunced, introspective, beautiful and very, very human.