“The Leftovers” Is Strangely Engaging

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LOGOAs the seemingly endless dearth of quality films in theaters just keeps growing, television programming continues to outshine big-screen offerings by a wide margin. It seems as if each week several new series spring up, and most of them appear to be quite promising. Among the most recent of these is “The Leftovers,” an HBO drama based upon the novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta and directed by Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”).

Set in the small fictitious town of Mapleton, N.Y., “The Leftovers” begins three years in the past on Oct. 14, a day on which 2 percent of the world’s population literally vanishes into thin air. In Mapleton, we watch as woman puts her infant onto the backseat of her car and walks around to get into the driver’s seat. Before she can start the car, the baby suddenly quits crying, and when the woman looks around to check on the situation, she’s horrified to see the child is gone. A total of more than 100 people vanish from Mapleton on that day, and now we move ahead three years to the present.

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The mysterious event (They refer to it as “The Sudden Departure.”) on Oct. 14 has affected the citizens of Mapleton in different ways as they all attempt to cope with their respective losses. Among the major characters is Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), the town’s chief of police and the father of two children. Although Kevin’s wife, Laurie (Amy Brenneman), did not disappear in The Sudden Departure, she inexplicably deserted to her family to join a strange cult known as The Guilty Remnant. The members of this weird group all dress in white, don’t speak, and walk around chain-smoking cigarettes. Although we see plenty of them in the first episode, we don’t really know what motivates them to act the way they do.

Naturally Kevin’s wife desertion devastates him, and the subsequent behavior of their two children severely exacerbates matters for him. Their son, Tom (Chris Zylka), has dropped out of college and now serves at the beck and call of a wacko calling himself Holy Wayne (Paterson Joseph), who supposedly possesses some kind of cleansing powers. And Jill (Margaret Qualley), their teenaged daughter, is a brilliant student who still lives at home with her father, but her recent rebelliousness has added to her father’s problems.

We meet Laurie who wakes in G.R. dorm

Additional key characters include the following: Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston), a former religious leader who has trouble accepting that he didn’t disappear and who publishes his own small newspaper; Meg Abbott (Liv Tyler), who is on the verge of marriage when The Guilty Remnant suddenly intervenes; Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), Matt’s sister, who lost her husband, son, and daughter in The Sudden Departure; and Lucy Warburton (Amanda Warren), the feisty mayor of Mapleton.

Although the pilot introduces a lot of characters, I have the feeling that we will meet even more as the series progresses. But all the people already involved in the story are intriguing because of the various ways they are attempting to deal with The Sudden Departure three years ago. Of course some have suggested that the story is really about the Rapture, the idea held by many Christians that when the end of the world arrives, all those who believe in God will be whisked off to heaven while those of no faith are to live through a seven-year tribulation period until Christ’s arrival to establish a kingdom on earth.

Whether or not the show is based upon the Rapture, it’s a fascinating story, and the pilot leaves so many questions unanswered that I can’t wait for the next episode. I’m not a huge fan of the supernatural genre, but this show is just quirky enough to grab my attention. However, if it turns into a yarn about alien abduction, I’m gone.

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So far it looks as if Kevin Garvey will be a mainstay in the program, and in a recent interview published online, Theroux shared what attracted him to the project and how the story occurs three years after The Sudden Departure.

“We had to do our research retroactively; everything takes place three years later where a lot of the tough questions had already been asked, and a lot of the things have already been said. Congressional hearings have happened. So it’s really more what attracted me was that everyone was fractured and splintered and became who they probably were at their core, or were not. I just like the way that different people dealt with grief and loss. Some people repress it, some people embrace it, some people become weird, some people become crazy, so all those themes I really like. Each character has such a unique voice.”

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The actor also offered some interesting insight into his character.

“I think he’s trying to put the lid on a pressure cooker, an emotional pressure cooker for himself. If he ever became self-examining, it would be a much more darker place for him. He’s trying to do the more practical things in life, which is wake up, go to work, take care of his daughter, and do his job. Those are all in a sense, escapes from having to really confront what the actual event was. Not his part in it, but the way in which he relates to it.”

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“The Leftovers” has the potential to be an excellent series because the writing, acting, and direction are superior, and its overall premise is irresistibly intriguing. For some reason stories set in small towns possess a certain allure, and this one is no exception. Perhaps the intimate setting is more conducive to becoming caught up the characters’ lives than tales occurring in a bit city.

The series, which earns the final score of an eerie eight, airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO, and I highly recommend it. I eagerly anticipate my next visit to Mapleton to learn more about its mystery. This is a show people may be talking about, and I don’t want to be one of the leftoutters.

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