(July 5, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit
Inspired by the religious belief called “The Rapture”—mass vanishing of innocent and righteous persons prior to the end times—“The Leftovers” is an aptly bleak HBO series that tackles the sudden, inexplicable disappearance of millions.
Created by Damon Lindelof (“Lost”) and Tom Perrotta (“Election”), the fantasy-drama series focuses on the aftermath of the global event dubbed The Departure, three years after people of all ages and races disappeared.
Still reeling from the loss, denizens of one town react differently to the unprecedented occurrence that continues to baffle scientists, and even the religious. It’s not all-out chaos, as things seem normal, only somber and much quieter. A cop, Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) tries to maintain order, attempting to make sense of his life and keep his disassembled family together. His wife (Amy Brenneman) left him to join a cult of silent (nonspeaking) protesters; his daughter (Margaret Qualley) keeps rebelling; and unknown to him, his son (Chris Zylka) has become the henchman of a self-styled prophet.
Life goes on for the abandoned, most of them silently questioning the still-unanswered mystery. Some deal with feelings of unworthiness; but there are those who carry on, unruffled. A priest (Christopher Eccleston) dispels the belief that The Departure took only the virtuous and sinless; he gathers and spreads proof that some of the vilest, most hateful people were included in the “cosmic” culling.
“The Leftovers” has a tone similar to some fantasy and sci-fi drama series about encompassing cataclysms or “miracles”—“FlashForward,” “Resurrection” and “Revolution” easily come to mind—but it certainly is more dour and less optimistic, its small-town setting giving it a strange, “Twin Peaks” vibe. (Kevin’s sanity is questioned a few times owing to some odd encounters.)
It has quirky, “Lost” touches, as well; by the third episode, it is easy to sympathize with the characters. Not that it isn’t easy from the get-go, it’s well-acted enough to inspire emotional rapport—there’s just a deeper understanding of their dysfunctions once the massive, soul-searching backstories unfold.
The focus on Eccleston’s religious character, for example, reveals his various frailties, illustrating in detail his life prior to, and after The Departure. He exposes the fact that the despicable were among the disappeared, exemplifying the serious conflict within his being. While he is perplexed at the randomness of the calamity, he gives voice to those who want to remember that a clear demarcation still exists between good and evil.
There’s enough interconnected drama that effortlessly establishes the despairing, befuddled world. Theroux does admirably as the layered cop, touched by guilt and a struggling family man, observing change and disruption from a unique spot. Liv Tyler is warm and pleasant as the unhappy woman searching for purpose; Zylka and Qualley do impressively as the jaded youngsters with corresponding angsts and respective shenanigans; Eccleston is just uncommonly remarkable as an unwavering naysayer.
It’s easy to get into “The Leftovers” despite its predictable, world-weary tone and unrelenting moodiness. The post-apocalyptic drama’s melancholy musings offer a fresh look at societal upheaval, and answers more relatable human mysteries while doing so.
(“The Leftovers” airs July 6, on HBO and HBO HD.)