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The Leftovers S01E01: "Pilot"

You probably are expecting this as the soundtrack for this review:

But I will offer you this song, heard during the clash with the Guilty Remnant, as an alternative, which I like a lot better but it's weird:

You may have been tempted into The Leftovers' clutches by the show's central hook: two percent of the world's population, including Jennifer Lopez (yay!) and Gary Busey (no!), mysteriously disappeared. As the pilot notes, two percent might not seem like a lot, but it's one out of 50 people for a global cume of 140 million instantly erased. The answer on our minds naturally is, "WHYYYYYYYYYYY?!?!?" 

But for the characters of The Leftovers, which takes place three years after the big disappearance, the question of "Why?" has been replaced with "What do we do now?" In the New York suburb of Mapleton, life has moved on, there's field hockey practice to be had, teen choking (?) to do, and parades are organized mostly out of a sense of doing what seems to be right rather than honest reverence. "They're heroes because no one's going to come to a parade on 'We Don't Know What the Fuck Happened Day'," the mayor of Mapleton—who is awesome, btw—barks when someone challenges the notion that the disappeared shouldn't be referred to as heroes. For The Leftovers, this portrayal of a damaged society on the brink of an epidemic of Nihilism is the core of the show, not figuring out what supernatural force made grandma wink out of existence.

And that might be the biggest frustration for someone who casually strolls into the first episode of The Leftovers looking for answers like this is Lost's follow-up. Yes, Damon Lindelof is the man behind The Leftovers (along with author Tom Perrotta, who wrote the book it's based on), but even though the show is built on a mysterious and likely supernatural phenomenon, Lindelof doesn't appear to be digging himself into the same hole—ANSWERS, ANSWERS, ANSWERS—that got him crucified for the (opinion alert!) mostly unsatisfying ending to Lost. The Leftovers' pilot barely touches on how these 140 million vanished, leaving it to TV snippets of a Senate hearing to show the anger over not knowing what happened. And honestly, that's probably best for Lindelof's mental well-being as he clearly suffers from the derision of spurned Lost fans whose questions remain unanswered. He's choosing not to address the big question at all.

Instead, The Leftovers is a brutal examination of loss on multiple levels, from the multitude of microscopic personal experiences to the wider effect on a small town as a whole to the blanket effect on a globe that instantly shed a ton of human weight. As this kind of show, The Leftovers is sometimes fascinating—at times stunning—and almost universally bleak, an atmosphere that will likely turn a lot of people off. It's not the kind of sad show that will make you well up and weep like Rectify, but it might do more damage by slowly chipping away at your soul until you dive face first into an empty swimming pool (hopefully you'll just turn your TV off first). Only Aimee, Jill Garvey's hottie friend, carries the teenager "whatever" attitude while everyone else's shoulders appear to hold a permanent slump from the ripple effects of loss. The good news is that this type of sourness feels confined to the show itself because of the bizarre circumstances, so it becomes #MapletonPeopleProblems. The gloom isn't as pervasive as something more relatable, like Matt Saracen crying in a bathtub in Friday Night Lights

But there's an odd sense of beauty to the show as characters survive while all their flaws and insecurities bubble to the surface and living a normal life is part of the charade everyone participates in. The creepy kid from American Beauty who filmed dancing plastic bags would fucking love this show. 

Replacing the temptation to make The Leftovers one big exercise in answering the question of "What the fuck happened?" are a whole bunch of other smaller "What the fuck is happening?" queries, a necessary addition of energy (or possible scam) to a show that would otherwise be the mopiest hour of television ever. However, they're not necessarily The Leftovers' lifeblood. It's hard to tell whether or not these mysteries are actually integral to the series or if they're more Lindelofian trickery to entice excitement. But as all questions that have just been asked are, they immediately draw attention. 

There's the Guilty Remnant, a collection of weirdos who wear all white, take a vow of silence, and chain smoke on cancer sticks to point out just how dumb it is that we're all breathing in the first place. They're like a cloak of nothingness, a bank of white fog that rolls over the hills to protest Mapleton's collective remembrance. A Westboro Baptist Church that chooses stoic silence over gay slurs as its message. Its message? Umm... that's unclear. 

There's a faith healer who unburdens Buddy Garrity a congressman up at his secret ranch that's populated by a harem of tanning Asian girls in bikinis who suck on Gummi Worms two at a time. And what that faith healer does is... ummm, I'm not sure. 

There are packs of dogs who have gone feral and downright pissy, gang-chomping on majestic bucks. And there's the guy who shoots the dogs, and ultimately gets main character Kevin Garvey to join him. Why are these dogs going bonkers? One teen posits it's because they've snapped and that's what humans are going to do, it's just taking longer. The real reason? Who knows! 

These teasers are enough to help pass along the time during the pilot episode while the real core of the show builds its foundation. What will make The Leftovers work—and there are big neon-lit questions of whether or not there's enough here to sustain a series—are the characters central to the show's sense of being. Specifically, the Garvey family, from which everything else spiderwebs out from (like the broken glass on the Garvey family portrait crafted by heavy hands as a subtle-free metaphor). 

Kevin lost his entire family despite none of them going POOF in a cloud of smoke on October 14 three years ago. His son Tom is working for the wacky faith healer and won't answer his calls, his daughter Jill is being drawn into angsty teen ragers that are no doubt fueled by the fact that there are 2-percent less parents on the Earth, and his wife Laurie inexplicably packed up her whites and joined The Guilty Remnant. It's enough to make Kevin punch inanimate things and have bad dreams about road kill. Or was it a dream? Did a drunk Kevin bring home a dying buck and let it trash his kitchen? Again with these questions! And again, it's probably not the answers that are important, so don't even start. But Justin Theroux does enough to show the anger that wells up as his family breaks apart, and if The Leftovers makes this the core of its show, it will be one fine f'd-up family drama.

Okay, but how were your senses supposed to feel? The Leftovers did a fantastic job setting the mood with Peter Berg's dark direction and particularly with Max Richter's twinkling, piano-tapping score. In fact, after an hour, it's probably the series' strength. It's easy to imagine the pilot episode losing a lot of its potency without the music, which is a bit of a lifesaver for things here. 

The first hour of The Leftovers felt like an epilogue to what's next. Heck, I'm not even sure there was a real story in the pilot or anything to look forward to for the second episode, which is usually the sign of a broken pilot. Yet I'm much more anxious to watch Episode 2 of this than any of the other summer pilots I've seen, because the series—while both intriguing and overwrought—still feels so formless to me and I need to know where this show is going and what it wants to become. The question of why everything happened might not be the show's purpose, but Lindelof is still figuring out ways to add enough mystery to make things interesting. What worries me is that while the big question isn't important, resolutions to these new mysteries are. We'll see if he's got answers this time around. 


– HBO wanted critics' previews of The Leftovers to keep quiet about the relationship between Kevin and Laurie, but was it really that surprising or interesting that they were married? 

– The most surprising acting performance of the episode so far? Chris Zylka, formerly of The Secret Circle, who really was good. 

– So this probably wasn't the Rapture, as there was no order to the people taken away. 

– I'm looking forward to spending more time with Christopher Eccleston's wacky preacher character, because we don't know much about him at all yet. Heck, we don't know much about anything yet. 

– What kind of stupid teen party was that? What happened to playing Mario Kart with friends instead of branding yourself with a hot fork or jerking off while getting choked? Was I just not one of the cool kids? 

– What do you think is up with Kevin? Who leaves a dead dog in his trunk and then lets his kid borrow the car? 

– Lindelof likes to use the F-word a lot, doesn't he?

– Lindelof goes to flashbacks again, only here they're jarring and annoying. A flashback shouldn't scare the crap out of you because it pops up with no warning and an irritating sound. I hated them. 

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 12/6/2015

Season 2 : Episode 10

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