When 2% of the world's population abruptly disappears without explanation, the world struggles to come to terms with what happened. Three years later, the HBO drama series, The Leftovers tells the story of the people who didn't make the cut.
Based on the bestselling novel by Tom Perrotta, the series follows Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), a father of two and the chief of police in a small New York suburb, as he tries to maintain some semblance of normalcy when the notion no longer applies. Created by Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof and Perrotta, the series is executive produced by Lindelof, Perrotta and Friday Night Lights executive producers Peter Berg and Sarah Aubrey. Lindelof serves as the series showrunner.
There are good TV shows and there are bad TV shows, and then there are TV shows like 'The Leftovers', which you want so badly to be good but has showrunners that seem determined to let it lounge in mediocrity. Here's a series that could really be about something if only it was allowed to have some forward progress and development. Instead, the first season revels in hopelessness only to remind us over and over again how depressed all these characters are. Yeah, we get it…but now what?
Justin Theroux stars as Kevin Garvey, the police chief of the small town of Mapleton, New York, who is trying to keep his family together three years after a global event dubbed 'The Sudden Departure', where 2 percent of the world's population simply vanished in a rapture-like event. Not only is Garvey alienated from his son Tommy (Chris Zylka) and daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley), but he's estranged from his wife, Laurie (Amy Brenneman), who has gone off to join a cult-like group known as 'The Guilty Remnant'. Kevin also has a father (Scott Glenn) who is locked up at the local looney bin for events that happened before 'The Sudden Departure'.
Mapleton is populated with other interesting characters as well, including former minister Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston), who spends his days trying to convince people that the disappearances couldn't have been the rapture, since the people that were taken were just as big of sinners – if not more – than the rest of them. Matt's sister, Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), has been hit hardest by the departures, as her husband and her two young children all were among the vanished.
Without giving too much of the storyline away, each of the 10 episodes of Season One weaves in and out of the above characters' lives (including, in a very much Lost-like style, occasional glimpses into their lives before the vanishings) and how they are dealing – or, in most cases, not dealing – with their loss. The acting here is more or less top-notch all around, and the cast has great chemistry with one another. The problem here is that after spending a few episodes with these people, you wish they'd just suck it up and get on with their lives.
Let's start with the primary antagonists – the cult known as 'The Guilty Remnant' – who, as part of their devotion to the group, refuse to speak (they use notepads to communicate, which – as you can imagine – makes for less-than-riveting television), dress all in white, and smoke lots and lots of cigarettes. Their goal seems to be to make sure that the rest of society doesn't forget about the vanishings (little chance of that happening among these characters, by the way) but their real goal seems to be to make sure everyone else is just as miserable as they are. As a literary premise (the series is based on a novel by Tom Perrotta, who is also one of the series Executive Producers and writers), this is a nifty idea. As it relates to the events of this show, however, it's not. I mean, if an event like this were to occur – one that almost certainly suggests the intervention of an intelligent species, if not God Himself – wouldn't the reaction of most humans not be one of nihilism but rather a stronger focus on religion and morals? Wouldn't such an event tell us that, as Shakespeare once said, there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in our philosophy? The idea that society would turn their back on religious faith and a sense of community after such a dramatic event isn't only unlikely, but not warranted by what we've seen in real history.
I could accept more of the premise of 'The Leftovers' if the showrunner Damon Lindelof hadn't already made it quite clear publically that he has zero intention of ever revealing the mystery behind the disappearances. That means that the most interesting aspect of this show will never be fully explored, and just leaves the viewers with week after week of episodes where the characters feel sorry for themselves. There's a running thread through Season One about the mental state of Kevin Garvey and whether he's actually breaking down or if an unseen power is influencing him. But already knowing that we'll never get the answers to what's happening to him doesn't give one a whole lot of incentive to continue watching.
With all the above said, that doesn't mean that 'The Leftovers' is dismissible. As I've noted, the acting here is quite good, and some of the story strands throughout the season are entertaining to watch. However, viewers should know going into a series like this that most (if not all) of their questions about what's going on will not only never be answered, it's quite likely that they'll never even be seriously addressed. That makes it hard to commit to 'The Leftovers', particularly in an age where there are so many other great dramas available to watch. So, if you're the type that doesn't mind the fact that this show may never provide you with any closure, feel free to give it a shot. However, if you're the kind that demands an overall 'arc' for a series and where it takes the characters in it, I don't think 'The Leftovers' is the show you're looking for.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Leftovers' appears on Blu-ray in packaging one might not expect for an HBO series. Most HBO releases have pretty nicely designed packaging and menus, but since 'The Leftovers' is produced by Warner Bros., the packaging and menus are that of a typical Warner Bros. release, and no mention of HBO appears the box at all. This is actually a bit odd, since Time Warner owns HBO and Warner Bros. has been handling all HBO Entertainment releases anyway – so this box set is going to look a little odd on your shelf if you keep all your HBO series together.
The two 50GB Blu-rays are housed inside a standard Elite keepcase, with Disc 1 on the inside left and Disc 2 on the inside right. There are two inserts inside the case – one for an UltraViolet copy of Season 1, and the other a single-fold episode guide, with a short synopsis of each episode, which disc it appears on, along with a list of the bonus materials. The keepcase slides inside a sturdy cardboard slipcase, with artwork that matches the keepcase's slick. There are no front-loaded trailers on either disc, whose main menu is of the standard Warners' design, with a still image (the same as the box cover) and menu selections running across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-rays in this release are region-free.
Many of my issues with the video quality of 'The Leftovers' have more to do with the way the series is shot (Director Peter Berg handled the first pair of episodes, setting the standard for what follows) than it actually has to do with the transfer here, which is presented in its original TV aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
Shot digitally on Arri Alexa equipment, there's really no huge issues with the level of detail provided on Blu-ray. What causes this presentation to be less than spectacular is the fact that every episode makes use of hand-held 'shaky'-cam visuals and a tendency for close-ups of the actors when dialogue is occurring. Most daytime sequences – particularly those shot indoors or on sets – often have backgrounds where the yellows and whites coming in the windows from outdoor lighting (or set lighting) have a blown-out appearance to them. This isn't too distracting when the actors aren't crossing in front of such areas, but there are more than a few scenes where the actors sit directly in front of a window or entrance and their faces have a shimmering halo around the edges. Black levels are decent, although not as strong as I would have hoped for in a digitally shot series. Some crush does creep in from time to time, and many of the nighttime sequences look a little flatter than they should in terms of definition.
Overall, though, what we get here is a good – and slightly better – rendition of how the show aired on HBO, and fans of the series should be pleased with this transfer, despite the fact that it doesn't have the 'pop' of many other shows that are shot in HD.
The featured track for each of the 10 episodes on this release is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio one that doesn't quite ever provide an immersive feel, but is more than adequate for what is primarily a dialogue-heavy series.
The mix here is pretty solid, so when the show does feature things like gunplay or other forms of action, both distinction and clarity are evident. The rear speakers are primarily used for ambient noises throughout and to enhance the musical soundtrack (by Max Richter, and one of the things I really like about the series). Directionality isn't used much across these 10 episodes, nor is any noticeable LFE effects. Dialogue is crisp, and I detected no noticeable glitches in the tracks.
In addition to the English lossless tracks, audio is also available for each episode in Dolby Digital 5.1 in German, and in Dolby Digital 2.0 in French, Italian, and Spanish (Castilian). Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, German, Italian, Spanish (Castilian), Spanish (Latin), Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.
'The Leftovers' has an interesting premise, but it does nothing with it and revels in the fact that it's not going to provide its viewers with any answers. That's a mistake by the showrunners, and one that will almost certainly lead to frustration among those that stick with the series. I also question the idea that the life-changing event upon which this series is based would result in hopelessness instead of bonding among a civilized society. The good news here is that the acting is well done and the show can be entertaining (albeit depressing) in the way it explores the characters' lives and backgrounds. However, this is one you'll definitely want to check out first before making any long-term commitment to it. Rent it.