The Leftovers, another gem from HBO.

the Leftovers.

the Left­overs.

HBO’s the Left­overs is a decep­tive­ly high con­cept series. On Octo­ber 14th 2011, 2% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion sud­den­ly dis­ap­pear. Which doesn’t sound ter­ri­bly cat­a­stroph­ic until you do the maths. In a vil­lage of 100 peo­ple liv­ing in 25 hous­es, two of those house will have sud­den­ly lost some­one, lit­er­al­ly into thin air, nev­er to see them again, with­out ever find­ing out how or why.

Under­stand­ably, the sub­ur­ban town we find our­selves in, in upstate New York, has been utter­ly dev­as­tat­ed, as has every oth­er cor­ner of the coun­try. The Depar­ture, as it’s referred to, is effec­tive­ly a What If addressed to the Evangelicals.


Father and daughter.

Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians believe that the Rap­ture is immi­nent, by which they mean they expect it to occur with­in the decade. When it does, the cho­sen few will be spir­it­ed up to Heav­en, and the rest of us will be left behind. The Left­overs asks us to imag­ine, what would that actu­al­ly look like, in prac­ti­cal terms.

Except it doesn’t. Because it’s even worse than that, as no one can iden­ti­fy any­thing that might con­nect those who were spir­it­ed away – if that was what hap­pened to them – any more than they can explain why they, the left­overs, were not. So nobody can be sure exact­ly what hap­pened on that fate­ful day, and all too many char­ac­ters have their own par­tic­u­lar theory.

The result is a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic land­scape where height­ened reli­gious fer­vour merges with unman­age­able guilt and sus­pi­cion, so that every­one and every­thing, how­ev­er appar­ent­ly mun­dane, is viewed with unimag­in­able anx­i­ety. Dogs have become fer­al, deer con­verse­ly wan­der in and out of hous­es. Mes­si­ahs mate­ri­alise, cults are formed and everyone’s addict­ed to pre­scrip­tion drugs and alco­hol. Smok­ing increas­es, and there’s a gen­er­al sense of law­less­ness. But more than any­thing else, fam­i­lies fall apart.

Oh dear.

Oh dear.

The series revolves, just about, around the fig­ure of Justin Ther­oux, the local cop whose mar­riage fell apart around the Depar­ture, and whose father, who was the chief before him, is cur­rent­ly hos­pi­talised in an insti­tu­tion. But as often as not, an episode will focus on a periph­er­al char­ac­ter. A pas­tor, a mem­ber of a cult, a woman who lost her hus­band and both her chil­dren, imme­di­ate­ly after argu­ing with her youngest, all of whom are con­nect­ed to Ther­oux in dif­fer­ing ways.

The Left­overs was aired on HBO and is effec­tive­ly the fol­low up to Lost for Damon Lin­de­lof. And what­ev­er he might say pub­li­cal­ly, he clear­ly has leant many a les­son from that less than sat­is­fy­ing expe­ri­ence. The prin­ci­ple improve­ment is scope. This is a far more focused affair, hom­ing in on a much small­er group of characters.

Lyv Tyler.

Lyv Tyler.

Iron­i­cal­ly, what this allows for is a far more exper­i­men­tal approach to sto­ry­telling. The Left­overs is sur­pris­ing­ly flu­id and neb­u­lous, which only adds to its sense of eerie dread. None of us know what’s going to hap­pen next any more than any of the char­ac­ters do. There’s a par­tic­u­lar­ly mem­o­rable dream sequence – almost impos­si­ble after David Lynch – where you only realise that what you’ve been watch­ing is in fact a dream at exact­ly the same moment as the char­ac­ter does, as they wake up out of it in a pan­ic. Which is stag­ger­ing hard to pull off.

Impres­sive­ly, sea­sons 2 and 3 are, if any­thing, even bet­ter. And, best of all, and he clear­ly did learn this from his Lost expe­ri­ence, there only a total of 3 series. The only blot on an oth­er­wise per­fect copy­book is the series’ finale. Apart from the damp squib that is that con­clud­ing episode, the Left­overs is a triumph.

You can see the excel­lent trail­er for the Left­overs here

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