The Leftovers "B.J. and the A.C." Review and 4-Episode Test: Why Are We Still Here?
After Kevin chucked Baby Jesus out of his truck and onto the side of the road like a smoldering cigarette butt, I found myself in the headspace of the citizens of Mapleton. "Why are we here?" The troubled 98 percent of the world that wasn't taken away the fateful day that's the basis for The Leftovers have a good reason to ask that question. Their entire lives were forever changed when their loved ones poofed out of existence, perhaps onto a better life, for reasons that will probably never be known.
Despite not being trapped in that same awful reality, we have just as good a reason to ask the same question. Why are we here? Why are we still watching The Leftovers? Four hours into the intriguing and frustrating drama, I still don't have an answer. And guess what! That's a problem.
TV.com's 4-Episode Test™ was designed to give a show enough time to establish its premise, get over some rough patches, and give viewers an idea of where the series was going as a whole. It's also meant to be a pass/fail test, meaning after four episodes, we should know if we're in or not. For the purposes of consistency and completion, I'm going to force myself to grade it, but I kind of want to rubber stamp The Leftovers' report card with a fat "Incomplete," because I still don't know what it's really about or where it's going to go. But since you're not here to watch me dodge a simple yes-or-no question, I'm gonna have to give this a fail.
There's a lot of great television out there, which means there's a lot of competition for your eyeballs. It also means there's a lot of innovation and risks being taken with new series, which is great for television as a whole. But certain basic foundations of television shouldn't be messed with, and The Leftovers is appears set on rewriting the rules of TV. The Leftovers has no tangible plot. The show isn't interested in answering the question of what happened, it doesn't present any understandable conflict, and its characters have no goals. What am I supposed to be watching for here? Because so far I'm just waiting for something to happen.
As boring and constrictive as it sounds, television dramas require plot and theme. Plot is what we watch on the surface, theme is the sneaky lesson we accidentally learn. We watched Breaking Bad to see how far Walter White would go as a drug kingpin, but we learned about morality and the dangers of being consumed by personal drive. What are we watching The Leftovers for? To see people act out because their cousin winked out of the universe? What have we learned from The Leftovers? That it sucks to live in a world where millions disappeared without any reason and that toasters can be evil bagel stealers? The theme-heavy The Leftovers probably worked better as a book, but as a television series, it's failing. The frustrating part of all this is The Leftovers has so much potential.
That disappointing truth was evident in "B.J. and the A.C.," another chapter examining the crappy existence of Mapletonians without giving us anything more to get a grip on. We know the series is mostly about the Garvey family, but Kevin's quest to replace Baby Jesus from a nativity scene was either way above my head or pretentious hot air that thought it was a lot smarter than it was. The question of whether Kevin is crazy or not is the closest The Leftovers has come to real story, but it hasn't really been addressed since the first episode. Laurie should be a main source of conflict for Kevin and the family, but she's so darned gone and blank from joining the Guilty Remnant that her role as mother in the family was never established for us so we don't miss her. Tom playing guardian to Huggy Wayne's Asian plaything is hard to care about without any connection to the other stories or any idea of who/what Wayne is. If my friend was Tom and behaving this way, I'd have no problem setting up an intervention and leading him to the loony bin. Jill, sheesh, where do we start with Jill? Or any of the awful teens in this show? They sit around acting like fuck ups and apparently have no problem burying a dead dog they find in the back of a trunk or stretching their scrotums over doll heads.
A lot of The Leftovers' problems would be easier to overlook if the characters were likable or relatable. But is there any character on the show that you feel a connection with? Anyone that feels like a hero? Anyone you love to hate? They're all in that terrible area of uninteresting either way. Except for Reverend Matt, who got his own episode last week, and is therefore the default best character in the show. But by now I should have some feelings about Kevin Garvey since he's the main character, and I feel nothing.
Like many of you, I've stuck around to see where this show goes, but through four episodes, it just doesn't seem like it's going anywhere except to the pits of despair and overwrought dream sequences. I don't hate the show, but I also know I don't like it yet, and that's the most confusing and annoying attitude to have towards a series. So while The Leftovers probably deserves an "incomplete" on the 4-Episode Test™, by virtue of being incomplete, it gets a fail. I'll still check in with it when I have time, and I'll leave it up to you guys and gals who stick with it to tell me when it's safe to tune in again.
– What were all those bodies in the road?
– Why did Tom put a bullseye on his forehead and on Christina's forehead?
– What is the point of Meg (Liv Tyler) in this show?
– Who is that half-naked guy, and why did his dream come true?
– Why did Tom's brakes not work?
– What's with the odd sense of time in the show?
– Why does every other word have to be "Fuck"?
– What is up with these episode titles?
– Why are we still watching this?
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