HBO’s “The Leftovers” is the feel-good series of the summer, if your summer revolves around root canals and recreational waterboarding.
Indeed, it’s pretty grim stuff — but quite engrossing and worth your time, thanks to intense performances by Justin Theroux and Christopher Eccleston, and the way creators Tom Perrotta, who wrote the book on which the series is based, and Damon Lindelof, best known for screwing up the end of “Lost,” unflinchingly tackle the nature of grief and the limits of faith.
Can you call it an apocalypse if you can still get a decent bagel afterwards? It’s three years after what has been termed the Sudden Departure, when 2 percent of the world’s population — Christians, Jews, Muslims, straight, gay, white, black, brown, and Gary Busey — suddenly disappeared.
Of the “leftovers,” some are trying to return to normal, some have turned their backs on religion, and others have turned to cults to assign some sort of meaning to the Sudden Departure — because what may be scariest of all is that there was no meaning.
The drama plays out in microcosm in the small town of Mapleton, N.Y. Theroux plays police chief Kevin Garvey, whose wife Laurie (Amy Brenneman) has gone off to live with the Guilty Remnant, a creepy post-Departure cult whose cigarette-smoking members silently stalk other townspeople who seem ready to move on — a tactic seldom appreciated by the stalkees.
The writing is spare (the Guilty Remnant have taken a vow of silence, after all) and effective in The Leftovers, but the imagery is rather heavy-handed — wild dogs, presumably the former pets of the Departed, viciously attack a noble stag before being put down by a shotgun-toting pragmatist who tells a shocked Garvey, “They aren’t our dogs anymore.”
Another major difference: While there is a turning point of sorts at the end of the book, there is never any explanation of the Sudden Departure. However, Lindelof, even mindful of the fallout from the Smoke Monster et. al., has promised one for the series.
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