Summer 2014 Review: The Leftovers

7 Jul

The Leftovers

For years, I knew I wanted to watch Six Feet Under, a canonical series that I had heard nothing but praise for, but I kept putting it off because I was worried that marathoning it in a relatively short period of time would simply be too depressing. Finally, I stopped putting it off, and was extremely glad I did. It was often a depressing show, as I had suspected, with characters that were despicable at least as often as they were likable, but what surprised me was how that didn’t at all encumber my viewing. I moved through it fairly quickly, no matter the death and depression, enjoying all of the many great things about the show, which is a topic for another post. The main point here is that although the show was depressing, it was startlingly fun and easy to get through regardless.

The Leftovers, well, Is just as depressing but without the sense of enjoyment that powered Six Feet Under forward. It’s an awfully dour hour of television, attempting to be very, very serious. There are no laughs, but it’s more than its mere humorlessness which characterizes its dreary tone. Boardwalk Empire and The Walking Dead both have no laughs, and both do drag at times, but at their best, they move, they’re enjoyable, and there make you want to keep watching, even within the episode. The Leftovers plods along and makes you wonder, “how long is this episode?”

Here’s the premise. All of a sudden, two percent of the world’s population, with no discernible rhyme or reason up and disappears, poof, with no trace. No one can figure why the people who disappeared were the ones who disappeared; there were as many ostensibly terrible and immoral people as good people. Three years later, people are still struggling to deal, both to figure out what happened, and to cope with the loss of their loved ones. In the suburban burg of Mapleton, police chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) is having a hard time. His wife, we find out later on, has left society to join a weirdo cult of people who wear white all the time, don’t speak, and protest anywhere people are memorializing those that disappeared. What’s the appeal of this cult? It’s pretty unclear; but people are stupid and desperate, I suppose. Theroux is struggling along with his teenage daughter, who goes to super intense teenage parties (one of the options in the teens’ smart phone Spin the Bottle game is “Burn” where the player has to burn him or herself). She and her father are not taking the loss of their mother too well, and it’s breaking down the relationship between the two. There’s also some other cult, where some charismatic leader delivers messages he receives. Yeah, exactly.

Watching The Leftovers was just about the opposite of fun. Does anyone enjoy watching this? Did anyone enjoy making this? The show feels surgically drained of any joy. As mentioned before, even depressing shows have joy. The first season of Enlightened was mindbogglingly depressing. Marathoning it over a weekend, like I did, should be a considered a prescription level depressant. But there was warmth, love, and pathos that made the season extremely rewarding despite the major bummer that it was. The Leftovers doesn’t feel like it has any of that.

Additionally, and this is admittedly a a bias I have going in, any show that’s co-run by Damon Lindelof of Lost fame makes me automatically weary of getting hooked on its long-term plot. I know I’m supposed to keep an entirely open mind, but Lost left such a long and profound television scar on my psyche that it’s hard for me to see Damon Lindelof’s name and keep it out of mind entirely. Particularly, a show that hinges on The Leftovers’ premise that 2 percent of the world’s population instantly disappears sounds like a show whose plot is bound to lead to inevitable disappointment.

For all my naysaying, The Leftovers wasn’t awful. There were interesting ideas in theory, and exploring how people react when the world around them spins into chaos in ways they don’t understand has been productively mined for television and media many times before, with good reason (see the terrible summer show Under the Dome).

But, boy, getting through this an utter slog. There would have to be a lot of redeeming value to want to put myself through that again, and I’m not sure I want to. There’s some sprinkles of gold, maybe, but it’s buried so many layers of self-seriousness and very important programming that it doesn’t seem worth mining for.

Will I watch it again? No. It wasn’t bad in the usual sense reserved for television – this wasn’t Ironside or Men at Work. But I didn’t enjoy watching the episode. TV’s about more than that, but at it’s heart, that’s really the most important thing.

 

 

 

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