Nine reasons to check out The Leftovers

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By: Adam Smith October 28, 2015

You’ve not heard of The Leftovers? Sacrilege. Oh you have? You just haven’t given it a go yet… okay, you’re forgiven, all is forgiven, all is okay, there is still time…

HBO’s The Leftovers stars Justin Theroux, Liv Tyler, Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston, Carrie Coon, and a host of other stars. These are the remnants of a rapture-like event, where millions of people across the globe suddenly, without explanation, disappeared.

The opening sequence sets the stall for what follows: a crying baby disappears from a car backseat, her mother leaving the car and screaming that she has been taken, while in the distance a car crashes because the driver has vanished; all around, across the globe, people are leaving. The story then continues in the present, following those who are Left Behind, and how they deal with the events. It sounds like science-fiction, or fantasy, but it is pure drama.

  1. Everyone loves a cult

At some point between The Event and the present erupted a cult called the Guilty Remnant. These are a creepy lot, and you can’t help despising them. They wear white, chain-smoke, don’t speak, and must be among the most hated group of people on television. Every good show has someone you love to hate, right? They stand, invariably in pairs, just staring at people they have targeted – usually people just trying to get on with their lives, but sometimes someone they see as a kindred spirit with the potential to join them.

  1. Mysterious goings on

Our generation loves nothing more than a show that makes us wonder just what the hell is going on. Just look at the popularity of Lost (incidentally also co-created by Damon Lindelof)! If the mysterious and cruel antics of the Guilty Remnant aren’t enough, what exactly is Kevin the Sheriff (played by Justin Theroux) doing in his blackout periods? Who is the man who keeps shooting dogs? What of Wayne (Paterson Joseph), who seems to be able to heal people’s bad feelings with a hug? The show poses so many questions, you’re left frustrated by the lack of answers sometimes – but you’ll keep on watching because you want answers, and you’re entertained along the way.

  1. Characters and their actors

From some people’s favorite Doctor Who, Christopher Eccelston, to Heat’s Amy Brenneman; Justin Theroux (American Psycho anyone?) to Arwen (Liv Tyler) – and beyond, the cast is exceptional. While Justin, as the main character focus, really carried season 1, benefiting from the second season is Carrie Coon (Gone Girl) a claims investigator discovering who genuinely left in the rapture event, and who simply disappeared. As events unfold, her character comes more tothe fore, displaying some real acting cops in really touching scenes.

Guilty Remnant (C) Warner Bros

Guilty Remnant
(C) Warner Bros

  1. HBO freedom

It’s HBO, so you can expect a certain amount of controversial scenery. In reality, what this means is there are no reins on the creativity. There’s no need for controversial, violent, offensive action – this is a drama above or else – but true-to-life, bad things happen, and when there is an X-rated event, it serves the story and all the more effective for its sudden shock. Take the stoning of a prominent cast member, for instance. At once unexpected, shocking and surprising; but it served the story and took it where it was needed next.

  1. Real issues, deep themes

It’s difficult for a TV show or movie to embrace the big questions in life; love and hate, the grief of loss, life and death, the intricacies of family and reality of fear; without being overbearing or heavy-handed. There may invariably be an agenda to push, a religious under-pinning. The Leftovers handles all these big topics, summarized perhaps as the meanings of life, with subtlety – so much so, you may not even be aware of it! Various elements fit like puzzle-pieces – eventually – and you’ll see that all this time they’ve been exploring these themes, through mystery and drama.

  1. There’s a second season

Season one was strong, but season two has started off even stronger. We’re dislocated from the original location, but the thematic elements have really embedded themselves into the show, so that if feels more confident than ever that it doesn’t need to rush to where it’s going. This is shown through the early, disjointed nature of the story-telling, giving us timely glimpses as character timelines cross. Fitting the pieces together really aids the enjoyment the viewer gets. Of course, this also means that HBO are committing to this series, in theory, right? So we can safely lose ourselves in it, knowing it will likely get wrapped up with polish.

Justin Theroux (C) Warner Bros

Justin Theroux
(C) Warner Bros

  1. Cinematography

The show is well-shot, aided by cinematographer Todd McMullen, with natural lighting and on-location practical shootings which really ground the events. The editing is unobtrusive, often with long shots that allow a scene to tell its story. For more about creating the look of The Leftovers, check out an interview with Todd here.

  1. The music (though only just!)

Accompanying the great themes of life, great orchestral pieces are needed. In the main, the score is subtle but effective, sometimes beautiful. I must however mention a pet-peeve. The piano theme by Max Richter (you can listen to it here) is waaayyy over-used, whenever there is a moment of sentimentality or poignancy. You could almost use it like a drinking-game, and I was hoping they would have dispensed with it in season 2 – alas! It did rear its mushy head, but a lot less frequently than season one, so far!

  1. Not everybody’s gone to The Rapture

You haven’t even watched the

show yet, but you want to know what happened to everyone, right? Beneath the myriad of questions and mysteries is this central one – where did everyone go? They better have a satisfactory answer for that when we get there – don’t even think about an early cancellation, HBO! – and so logic dictates you must watch, for the sake of everyone else’s sanity! That way they couldn’t cancel it! (Though no need to drag it out, Lost-style.)

(C) Warner Bros

(C) Warner Bros

Season 2 of The Leftovers is now showing on HBO, Sunday nights USA, Monday nights UK.

 

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Adam Smith