‘The Leftovers’ Series Premiere Review – God Sat This One Out

Published 10 months ago by

Frank Harts and Justin Theroux in The Leftovers Season 1 Epiosde 1 The Leftovers Series Premiere Review – God Sat This One Out

[This is a review of The Leftovers series premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]


With The Leftovers marking Damon Lindelof’s latest venture into television and storytelling, it seems he remains undaunted by the challenge of creating another fictional universe in which a gigantic, potentially unsolvable mystery plays a considerable role.

This time, however, he is joined by author and screenwriter Tom Perrotta in an effort to transition his novel about a world still reeling from a Rapture-like event that saw two percent of the world’s population vanish in an instant. And yet, despite the myriad genre storytelling possibilities contained within such a concept, the series – like the novel it is based on – wisely pushes the questions of “Why?” and “What really happened?” aside to better focus on the fractured lives of its many characters, as they deal with the enormous implications of such an event by wondering: How can we ever begin to move on?

Stories that are ultimately about grief, shock, and the horrible things that sometimes happen to basically good folks can be something of a hard sell – which makes The Leftovers‘ unique hook paramount to attracting viewers. At the same time, the level of interest that may arise from positing such an enormous question as “What if something like the Rapture actually happened?” can generate a level of expectation in some that, as far as the pilot is concerned, will go unfulfilled.

There is a very specific, slightly narrow emotional scale on which the series is operating; one that is unrelentingly bleak and impenetrably dark – even in the stark light of day – and will likely alienate those expecting a probing of the mystery serving as catalyst for the narrative. But for those with whom the story’s tone resonates the most, it will likely do so on a powerful level.

Essentially, The Leftovers takes what would normally be a blockbuster-sized event – a global catastrophe – and shrinks the narrative around it down to focus on the residents of one small East Coast town. But the series also shrinks potential grandiose elements down to a base emotional (and maybe even the spiritual) level, eschewing the sprawling science fiction tropes and elaborate mythologies that were a boon to (and ultimately the bane of) Lost and, as evidenced by his now defunct Twitter feed, Lindelof himself.

Amy Brenneman in The Leftovers Season 1 Epiosde 1 The Leftovers Series Premiere Review – God Sat This One Out

After a tense prologue in which the audience bears witness to what might be considered the miserable banality of everyday life just before the Departure takes place, the narrative jumps forward three years, into a world in which many would give all their remaining days for just one more spent in the comfort of such ordinariness.

The Earth has continued to spin, society has, on the surface, returned to normal, and yet nothing feels right. Those left behind are wracked by unanswerable questions that only make the scars of unbelievable emotional and psychological trauma all the more pronounced. Politicians harangue scientists for the lack of viable explanations; students are encouraged to pray in schools and alternately attend joyless sex parties. Others abandon their lives entirely to take up with a silent, chain-smoking cult clad all in white known simply as the Guilty Remnant, or seek solace (for a substantial fee) in the arms of a man who assures those willing to pay he can “hug the pain out of people.”

The series primarily follows the Garvey family, headed up by Justin Theroux as Kevin, the chief of police in the fictional small town of Mapleton. In this post-Rapture world, the Garveys are a special case: It seems the family remained physically intact following the Departure, but was irreparably fractured in its aftermath. Kevin’s wife Laurie (Amy Brenneman) has joined the ranks of the Guilty Remnant, while his son, Tom (Chris Zylka), works for the mysterious and menacing Wayne (Paterson Joseph) – or He Who Can Heal Through Hugs. That leaves Kevin and his daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) to attempt the seemingly impossible feat of carrying on as a family – which they seem to excel in failing at.

Late in the episode, a drunken Kevin sits in a bar, chatting up the woman from the prologue who lost her infant son, and utters what has become the series’ tag line of “We’re still here.” The phrase serves as both a newfound credo and a depressing reminder that even though the event is re-branded a “miracle” by some and those who vanished are ceremonially referred to as “heroes,” acknowledgement of a continued existence is about all anyone is truly capable of mustering.

Emily Meade and Margaret Qualley in The Leftovers Season 1 Epiosde 1 The Leftovers Series Premiere Review – God Sat This One Out

As a result, there’s a hint of madness in everyone and in every encounter; it churns just below the surface and manifests in sometimes startling, sometimes depressingly numb ways that director Peter Berg captures through lingering close-ups, awkward silences, and traumatic events that take place just off the edge of the screen.

For much of the episode, Berg’s depth of field is remarkably shallow; it creates a claustrophobic intensity that is exemplified in how Kevin sees and experiences things that neither he nor the audience knows the full extent of, let alone whether any of it amounts to something significant. Berg lets the pressure from the uncomfortable restrictions he’s set in place to build throughout the episode, only allowing the visual limitations to expand seconds before a melee breaks out when the threatening silence of the Guilty Remnant causes the roiling tension to finally boil over in a blast of violence.

Beyond the madness and the grief, The Leftovers connects its characters through a unifying curiosity, even though many have already pushed past the notion that true clarification will ever be had. And yet, despite that, many remain reluctant to accept the go-ahead to move on. As Chief Garvey says, “Nobody’s ready to feel better.”

And so that is where Lindelof, Perrotta, and Berg leave their audience: contained in a tightening sphere of anguish and pent-up anger. That place will undoubtedly lead to frustration in some viewers, who will find it hard to maintain an interest in such persistent sorrow, and especially the passively judgmental and seemingly ubiquitous of the Guilty Remnant (regardless of the terrific performances of Brenneman and Ann Dowd).

And while the potential audience may be limited due to the series’ tone, subject matter, and propensity for dog shootings (that Bert Peterson is a crack shot!), those who are able to connect with the story, the characters, and most of all, the precise emotional tenor, will be rewarded with a series more interested in the emotional, psychological response to an earth-shattering event than in the relentless pursuit of answers as to why it happened. The binary opposition of uncertainty versus concreteness has divided viewers of Lindelof’s work in the past, but more so than anything else he’s done, The Leftovers is poised to be as spellbinding as it will be divisive.


The Leftovers continues next Sunday with ‘Penguin One, Us Zero’ @10pm on HBO.

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  1. Not having seen the pilot yet, my sincere hope for the show as a whole is to take the novel merely as a spring-board to establish the character’s interconnections and the overall tone of a post-apocalypse sans bloodshed.

    From this point onward, however, Lindelof should push Perrotta’s propensity for microscopic storytelling (which, in and of itself, is by no means to be criticized)towards a broader scope of world-building, allowing the supernatural to become a ‘series regular’.

    Maybe either the desperation or indifference felt by most of the characters that are to be focused on proves to be some sort of ‘portal’ to answers through visions or actual manifestations. Maybe, in a reversal, they are the blessed ones but haven’t come to terms with that fact yet and therefore ‘prefer’ their suffering to eternal bliss as a ‘guilty remnant’ still binding them to their previous lives. There are a plethora of possibilities to thoroughly exploit that premise, far beyond what the novel (which to me, quite frankly, was a letdown) has to offer.

    • The last time Lindelof was allowed to let the supernatural to become a ‘series regular’ we got the great character interaction but dismal stretching out of a show that is called LOST.

      I probably wont be able to watch this until after I’m back from vacation and a few of them are aired.

      I have not read the book yet looking at the written by and directed by credits there is a cornucopia of people with Lindeof being credited as the main writer with an ever changing second writer.

      Being based on a novel you would think a beginning middle and end would justify a core writing and directing set to keep consistency within.

      I think much like LOST this show will seem great on the outside however once you start peeling the onion you will find flaws (and depending on how it is stretched out) and lots of them as it continues.

      • Aknot! Lost forever!!! Still my #1 all time favorite. Even behind GoT.

        • I stopped watching Lost after 5 episodes, just couldn’t understand the hype for it.

  2. I thought the pilot was pretty solid and what I expected.
    That’s not a glowing opinion but at the same time it’s not a knock either.

    With a premise like this there’s not much room for humor or any lightheadedness so I think watching week to week may be though but I’m a defender of Damon Lindelof and I think when he’s dialed in can write some pretty amazing stuff.

    I also think it will help that this doesn’t seem like a show that can run 6-7-8 seasons. I can see 4 maybe 5 seasons to tell a decent story.

  3. I thought the pilot was just meh. I can see this going TWD route in which the premise of the show with some parts here and there are the only things that tie into the source material which is a shame because I think the novel is just amazing. So far it was an okay pilot but I hope it gets better because the pilot wasn’t really anything special

    • If you don’t mindy asking: what was so amazing to you about the novel?

  4. *mind my

  5. Always been fascinated by the rapture. I havent read the book but I do have a few questions…in Revelations many things happen after the rapture. The rise of the anti christ,False prophet, The mark of the beast, earthquakes, one world gov. etc.

    Will the characters be affected by these things??? or is the rapture really the only selling point of this book/series? If thats the case I think it would be ashame to get involved in this series…I certainly dont know if I would want to.

    • It’s not actually the rapture, it’s a “rapture-like” event.

  6. i have this pilot recorded and im a little confused going into this series…i kn ow its the rapture and these people in this town are trying to figure out whats going on and why they didnt disappear but what exactly is the excitement in this show? is there any action or crime or anyhing like that or is it more of a hard drama that goes real deep into character development? i like shows like SOA, Banshee, TWD, the last ship, boardwalk empire, penny dreadful, true blood, falling skies…knowing what my likes are will i like this show?

    • From the pilot, it is definitely a hard drama. Sort of like Treme(deals with aftermath of Hurricane Katrina) which was also on HBO.

    • i watched the pilot. and from what i can tell (this is only the first episode, after all), it very much will be a character driven show. wasn’t much elaborate action or anything. very heavy drama, exploration of characters and what not.

  7. I thought the show was very different and dark from everything else on cable. I was mesmerized at times, and felt empathy for the characters as a whole. I enjoyed most all of the actors and I am excited to see something new on tv. I still love GOT, TB, BWE, and reruns of Sex and the City! I will definitely watch next week!

  8. I made it 2.5 minutes. Screeming baby + unsympathetic screeming mother + religious theme = tune out.

    • *screaming*

    • lol That scene was pretty bad. The rest of the episode is great, though. IMO.

  9. I don’t know why everyone is touting the pilot as being “spellbinding”. I found it overly boring and knowing a Lost writer is behind it will not gain a great deal of freedom in future viewing. After all, has everyone forgot what a train wreck Lost ended up being? The pilot did nothing but pose questions the viewer would want answered – just like Lost. By the end of the pilot, out of the (guessing) 20 questions posed, perhaps 3 or 4 were actually answered – again JUST LIKE LOST. Sorry but I’ll give episode 2 a try and after that, if things progress down the same ever questioning line without any answers, I’ll abandon the show. Lost proved to be an unsatisfying, frustrating, annoyance which perhaps angered viewers due to it’s lack of closure. I, for one, won’t be suckered in again only to be left like a 16 year old kid on prom night when his date chickens out.

  10. I just finished the pilot of Leftovers and could not be more dissatisfied. I like Game of Thrones and True Detective on HBO, and the small-town setting of Banshee, but this show is God-awful. There is nothing witty or clever or interesting in the entire show, apart from the premise. No town would react to the cult so ineffectively. Did anti-stalking laws disappear too? Unrealistic. Boring. An unengaging story about losers losing. Avoid like the plague.

    • banshee is amazing

  11. This was a really fascinating episode and pilot. I could not take my eyes away from the palpable misery that exudes from the characters and the screen, exceptional and nuanced performances. I believe HBO is the proper venue for success; this show is deep, will require patience and thought. I went to bed thinking for quite a while, about what I had just seen and experienced.
    So far, really good!

  12. Never saw Lost. Friend made me record this program. We watched… meh.

  13. I’m not sure I am going to like this series. It’s almost like a train wreck – you know you should look away and move on, but yet it’s so bazaar that you stay and watch. To say it was depressing and really disturbing would be an understatement. I sorta wish this series plot had been picked up by one of the prime networks instead of HBO because they wouldn’t have portrayed it with such a weird artsy – other-world point of view. It flashes back and forth between characters in scenes that don’t make sense at that moment. You might find the answer later in the episode or maybe have to wait until next episode. Who knows? Saying that – it IS a unique storyline, and I’ll watch a few more episodes to give it a chance. I just get the feeling, we’ll never get a real answer about what happened to the people, and I don’t think I can watch a show that’s just about depressed “Leftovers” falling apart in several different ways … and never finding out why.

  14. Boring

  15. Draggens den more exciting than this dribble

  16. I had no desire to tune in the evening it premiered, but with nothing on tonight I watched and found it somewhat interesting, and worth another episode or two. Although it did catch my interest, I could not help but feel a bit uncomfortable with some of the parts that echoed 9/11, i.e. day of remembrance, the reading of the names, etc.. I am so thankful that I was not directly affected by the horror that was September 11, 2001, however cannot help but feel that people who did lose a loved one on that day might feel pretty sickened, and angry, by a series such as this.

  17. my e-mail was recently hacked so im sorry if it shows up as a non valid email address I swear Im not a troll! I really like the premiere. I have not read the books nor have i or will i ever watch lost. It reminded me of many things I love…Treme, Stephen King novels, a movie from long ago called Brick forget who directed it. There was something so poignant about the party scene, not so much the vulgarity the desensitization but just below the surface young people who are so numb going to such seemingly depraved measures just to “feel” something. Anything. Even pain. I will definitely watch the nest episode. I’m wondering did anyone else notice the lacerations on the cops sons back when he took his late night swim? Is it possible that ‘Wayne’ beat him either long ago and left scars or very recently as punishment for being to friendly with that young girl? Also was he silently screaming under water? It looked that way. I’m mildly interested in reading this book now…

  18. Lost is one of the greatest television experiences of all time. My personal favorite. You’re missing out.

    • I agree with t j harris-too many questions and not enough answers. I watched one and a half episodes, it didn’t keep my interest

  19. Judging from the way Lindeloff writes I fear this show will end up as another Lost or Prometheus – a lot of buildup to an ending that leaves you with more questions than answers.