The Leftovers "B.J. and the A.C." Review and 4-Episode Test: Why Are We Still Here?

By Tim Surette

Jul 21, 2014

The Leftovers S01E04: "B.J. and the A.C."

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. 




LEFTOVER THOUGHTS


– 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?



  • Comments (163)
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  • SilvanaCabrer Dec 08, 2014

    The White Creepers just went into people's homes and removed all their photos... that is breaking-and-entering and it gives me even more reason to want to slap them all silly.

  • dannylasvegas Oct 08, 2014

    Those who dislike the show for reasons such as "it has no plot" or "my questions aren't being answered" are clearly simple minded folk who prefer to have everything laid out neatly for them so they don't have to think about it. Thinking actually requires some effort, and most of time intelligence. They should stick to CSI or similar programs that explain every detail and wrap it all up nicely with a bow at the end. The Leftovers is not for them. The Leftovers is a new concept all together in TV programming. It leaves things unexplained... on purpose. It gives the viewers something to think about. Then, the next episode may answer some of those questions, but at the same time it creates a dozen more. One thing The Leftovers does is entertain me like no program has before. I am glued to that TV from the moment it starts until it's over. Part of the reason for that is the amazing talent by ALL of the cast. A great bunch of actors. And of course I have questions I want answered, like Who is Wayne & how does he do what he does (as in take people's pain away)? And what's so important about these unborn children of his? What is the GR and why do they need to smoke all time? What are they writing in their notepads? Oh, and in Episode 4 a truck dumped a load of dead bodies onto the highway. They seemed to be headed to Funeral Homes across the country. What's up with that? Anyway, you see what I mean? I have tons of questions but I still love the show and I'll continue watch it. I hope at some point my questions are answered, but it's not a deal breaker. In real life, are all your questions answered?

  • MikeUK123 Aug 31, 2014

    Tim said

    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.

    Tim, you are going insane. This is a clear pass. It's great TV that is breaking the rules in a way that shows us that it knows them.

  • Jd0287 Aug 18, 2014

    I won't comment on the no plot thing but I find this show fascinating. Almost every episode I end it with a "what the fuck?" This show is insane and I absolutely love it.

  • erinlampa Aug 08, 2014

    How many of you watched on a tablet/phone or with headphones? This show is beautifully crafted. The sound is amazing.. often times you get little nuggets of information if you listen closely enough. There is a wealth of knowledge in news broadcasts, songs, radio broadcasts you can kind of hear but not quite make out... they did this on purpose! Each episode is meant to be watched, watched again, blogged about, podcasted about.... simply to drive us nuts? No! It's to put us on an adult scavenger hunt, where you need to find all the little clues along the way as to what the plot of the show is. This is a show that causes us to speak up and discuss religious, scientific, and political ideas without it having to be a show specifically about these things. It uses religious allegory to tell the story, and if you're not versed in the Bible, well then pick one up or use Google to find out what it says! (A lot of people in our country need to read it, especially if they want to quote it.) Everything has meaning. These characters are all searching for meaning after an implausible event, but hey - a large chunk of our current world population believes strongly that event is going to happen some day. In this show, it did. Now we have to determine: are there good guys/bad guys? If so, who are they? What are their motives? How are they connected? Or, are we all both good/bad guys, and whether we are courageous enough to speak up and say something (or not say something) about the craziness going on in the world today.... They are leaving it up to us to find the answers. How boring a show it would be if they told us all the answers... where's the fun in that? We should be searching for meaning just as they are. I for one am, and I'm enjoying every moment. So suck it naysayers. This show is what Lost could have been - had Lost been on HBO.

  • MikeUK123 Aug 31, 2014

    Yep, agree with shawnsuther. Minus the stuff about the bible I completely agree with erinlampa also. And a great post.

  • shawnsuther Aug 13, 2014

    With the exception of the stuff about the Bible, I utterly agree with you. It would seem that you're the only other person here with any patience, and can appreciate a "slow burn".
    This show is absolutely one of the best examples of the craft currently on TV right now, clever, subtle, thoughtful, ponderous, challenging. If you think this "doesn't have a plot", or "isn't about anything", you're not paying attention. This is not a sitcom, it's not "24", it's not made for "average viewer" I would speculate. The people calling it pretentious have got it right, in a way. This is art, folks, more that entertainment.

  • lt_catscratch Aug 06, 2014

    woof, took them 6 episodes to reach an average one. after 5 of them, the 6th about Nora Durst felt like a completely different show.

  • dresdenfiles56 Aug 05, 2014

    please. Guys. This show is NOT smart. Lost was just a lot of random inspirations. Prometheus was a complete disaster. This show is all fake posturing.

  • sandorxian Aug 05, 2014

    "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?"

    This is a simplistic and alas very american way to regard films or TV-series, and there will never be any development, unless people stop requiring crutches like a conflict or a tangible plot.

  • TanjaSpohn Aug 11, 2014

    "This is a simplistic and alas very american way to regard films or TV-series, and there will never be any development, unless people stop requiring crutches like a conflict or a tangible plot."

    Sorry, but there has to be something to keep a viewer interested. I'm not American, but I still require some reason to watch a dozen hours of content.
    If you have no plot and no conflicts, then give me interesting characters that interact in interesting ways.
    So far the show has been lots of artsy-wankerish pondering about nothing. That's fine in a 90-minutes independent movie, or an experimental play, but it doesn't support 10+ hours of a TV-show.
    So far I'd say the producers and writers probably just locked themselves into a room for a couple weeks and circlejerked while congratulating themselves on how fabulously deep and meaningful they are.

  • MikeUK123 Aug 31, 2014

    There is something. And it is very very good. It is just not the normal something.

  • sandorxian Aug 14, 2014

    I haven't seen The Leftovers and my point was of course more general. That it is supremely stupid to judge a work of art based on "plot" or even worse, central conflict theory. Art is not necessarily about storytelling

  • Jojask Aug 03, 2014

    I must say. I'm pretty angry with this show, and with myself. With myself because when I first heard of the show, I thought that most of humanity has disappeared and only a few were left behind, and that got me really excited because I thought it could make for some seriously fun and interesting plot things to happen.

    But the other way round? I'm sorry but, so what? What we have now is an attempt at realistic drama in an utterly implausible scenario. Again, so what? Why should anyone care?

    I mean, seriously, does Real Life not have potential enough for all kinds of drama? Just one possible one: A school bus driver has an accident, and many children die. What will their parents do? How do they cope?

    Essentially, I believe, one could make the EXACT SAME SHOW with that as premise.
    Because the loss of someone you love dearly has so much more impact on someone's live than the fact that the reason for this loss is inexplicable, that introducing the latter element is bordering on being pointless. It is just a tiny, little thing, a tiny, little insult added to the terrible injury, so to speak.

    As it is, I cannot find any reason to watch it.

  • computerfix3r Aug 01, 2014

    Have you ever watched a snail slowly crawl across the sidewalk and wondered what its thinking and doing. And after you have watched it long enough, you say f**k it and go get the salt shaker and torture it to death for the hell of it. I think I am going to start looking for the TV salt shaker very soon.

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