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The Leftovers

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TV Series Review

We all know that it would be difficult if we were Left Behind. The Rapture, when God's chosen are spirited away in the blink of an eye, would be pretty jarring for anyone with feet still planted on terra firma. Jarring, devastating and probably really confusing, too.

"I get the Pope," says a bartender in The Leftovers. "But Gary f‑‑‑ing Busey? How does he make the cut?"

HBO's maybe-maybe-not-supernatural mystery drama gives viewers a world wrapped in grief and uncertainty. It tells us that on Oct. 14, three years ago, 2% of the world simply went poof. No one knows where they went or why or if they're ever coming back. And while losing that small fraction of the global population is statistically small—140 million out of 7 billion wouldn't even make a dent in restroom lines—everyone left is deeply impacted by the sudden disappearances. Some grieve for lost loved ones. But even those who aren't staring at an empty spot at the dinner table are still scarred.

Take Kevin Garvey, chief of police for the small hamlet of Mapleton. He took over the position from his father, who snapped when it happened, running through the streets naked. Kevin's wife, Laurie, dealt with the disappearance in a different way: She joined a cult whose members never speak, dress all in white and smoke constantly. ("We don't smoke for enjoyment," a sign reads in one of the commune's houses. "We smoke to proclaim our faith.") Her departure left Kevin overwhelmed and in charge of their two teenage kids. And there are problems for Kevin there, too. Son Tom has now joined his own mysterious cult, and daughter Jill spends her time lashing out at this unfair world like a confused, wounded animal.

Maybe we can understand that. Scientist are telling these "Leftovers" that the mass exodus is devoid of both explanation and meaning. Traditional religion argues there is meaning here—namely that, as the bartender says, those left behind didn't quite make the cut. That makes these remainders either helpless victims to a cosmic glitch or damned bystanders to a heavenly miracle. But they must all live on, somehow, dealing with the pain and guilt, the perplexity and loneliness. They get up every day and pantomime life ... all the while wondering whether they should.

"Hey, we're still here," Kevin tells a woman, raising a beer bottle in toast.

"We sure are," the woman answers, clearly wishing she wasn't.

The world, burdened by what appears to be the biggest mystery of all time, seems at the brink of ripping apart—and is collectively acting out as a result. The Leftovers, in an effort to avoid the big questions or merely salve the pain, turn to whatever earthly comforts are available to them: sex, drugs and violence, primarily, all of which are on graphic display; obscene language is as bad as I've heard on television. Mapleton, and maybe the rest of the world too, seems like a bomb on a timer—and with each new day we see little explosions that could be leading to a great big boom.

Co-created by Lost maestro Damon Lindelof and novelist/screenwriter Tom Perrotta (who published his novel on which the series is based in 2011), this show explores a deeply intriguing premise that sends it careening from faith to obsession to science. But The Leftovers, like the world it shows us, is strange, mysterious and incredibly problematic. Mapleton is a sick, sad place, with all its messy symptoms recorded and then vomited up.

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Episode Reviews

Leftovers: 6-29-2014



Readability Age Range


Drama, Sci-Fi/Fantasy



Justin Theroux as Kevin; Margaret Qualley as Jill; Chris Zylka as Tom; Amy Brenneman as Laurie; Liv Tyler as Meg; Michael Gaston as Dean; Carrie Coon as Nora Durst; Annie Q. as Christine; Christopher Eccleston as Matt; Ann Dowd as Patti; Amanda Warren as Lucy; Emily Meade as Aimee; Paterson Joseph as Wayne






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Paul Asay

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