Series Review: HBO’s ‘the Leftovers’ is Quite A Ride

Concept: 2% of the world’s population disappears…/ Overall Grade: B+

Good ending? -For a show about people searching in a world without answers. YES

HBO’s innovative boundary pushing show The Leftovers just ended this week, and among all the praise (some citing it one of the best shows of all-time) its worth doing a series overview/ review for those considering watching it. For Canadians like me it is available on The Movie Network/ TMN GO and HBO Canada Channel, Xbox devices (Xbox One/ 360) (HBO GO/ NOW in the U.S.).

The major criticisms thrown against ‘the Leftovers’ come from parts of its first season which is considered too dark in various aspects of tone and content as well as grim and overly pessimistic. Additionally the show has some plotlines which get a bit much more focus than they deserve. The series is co-created by walking geek controversy Damon Lindelof returning to TV after running Lost and who has since in film never written an appropriately satisfying ending to any piece of media he has ever been involved with (link to his IMDB page). The ingenuity of The Leftovers when it comes to solving this issue is that it tells the audience from the very beginning not to expect any sort of answers as to whats going on, or why it is happening, because any explanation could serve to be just as random or equally meaningless. Throughout the series it proves that thesis while it retaining some sense of forwardness and progress. Along the way almost incidentally answers are picked up here and there but they aren’t the prime focus of the show.

The key to survival and keeping myself watching was its signature strength of having detour episodes that focus individually on side characters that in turn strengthen the series myth. In this case one of my favourite episodes, the third one of the first season “Two Boats and A Helicopter” has the Ninth Doctor Who and former Hollywood big budget bad guy Christopher Eccleston (in a believable American accent) as Matt Jamison who goes to great lengths to gamble and save his church from foreclosure. There is some early visual wackness going on before the series settled on what kind of style it wanted to bring but developing characters like him and later his sister Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) makes for the shows most riveting hours. Along the way Justin Theroux’s main character Kevin Garvey goes from totally depressing, ass jerk to sympathetic and lovingly committed dope it seems indicative of how someone might view the actor himself had they got to know him (minus the delusions). The show is worth pursuing just to get to the second season, with the hardest part getting through the plotlines involving the Garvey kids Jill and Tommy as the writers get smart and limit their screen time going forward.

Season 1 Grade: B- /Best Episode 1.03 “Two Boats and A Helicopter”

Episode 1.03 of the leftovers has a striking visual that only made more sense to me after watching the show but perhaps I should have paid more attention.

Season Two of the series is where the show really comes into its own. Maintaining all the best elements of the first while having exhausted its book source material, the show lightens up in tone and contains probably my favourite out of many great episodes ‘International Assassin’. The season begins with a wordless narrative followed by a major time jump the likes of which I’ve only seen in 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Tree of Life. The opening shows the ambition and confidence of the show to take storytelling risks and remove any restraints the series might have had. Ending Season 1 I was slightly unsatisfyingly annoyed with myself that I had fallen for watching a concept brought about by a writer famous for giving non-answers, (additionally World War Z, Prometheus and of course Lost among Lindelof’s casualties) but given the show’s insistence in the first season that it seeks no explanation for the random departure of 2% of the world’s population, and following its surprise renewal for season two The Leftovers manages to hang on and entertain you greatly while becoming is more stylistically daring than any prestige cable drama would try. The level of violence and the nudity, for story sake feels earned, so it never feels like its trying too hard. Occasionally a character’s confusion mirror’s or confounds the viewer’s but never frustrating to the point of turning away. It was always there primarily to serve me, and I am thankful. I wonder if Lindelof will be able to make anything better than this going forward.

What makes season two so much more interesting is that it drops its guard. It starts answering its cryptic-ness with weirdness and as I said lightens up. For a show about people searching for answers in a world that doesn’t have them the show manages to satisfy viewers as well as my own curiosity almost without trying. My favourite episode of Season Two, ‘International Assassin’ (which you can find a slightly spoiler clip of on YouTube if you search best scene on ‘The Leftovers’) opens up an entirety of questions about rules regarding supernatural and fantasy I found myself not bothering to attend to because by that point the show pretty much has its emotional logic down so well that it doesn’t bother with technicalities. The answers you seek intrigue rather than frustrate you. And those who view with more patience and depth will be rewarded.

Season 2 Grade: A / Best Episode 2.08 ‘International Assassin’

There is a lot of naked Justin Theroux on this show, to no one’s objection.

It’s worth noting that the original plan for The Leftover’s was to run a biblical like-40 episodes and 4 seasons but low ratings moved it to 28 episodes and a cult like following. The tv future will be kind to this show as it favourably compares in quality to the first 3 seasons of shows like Hannibal, Arrested Development, Community, The Office, and Dexter.

Almost the entirety of Season Three is gold, a personal favourite is the follow-up to ‘International Assassin’ entitled ‘The Most Powerful Man in the World (And His Identical Twin Brother)’. This is the funniest and probably wackiest the show has been, while retaining the entertaining writing and performances that exist throughout the show. I do wish the show ran at least two more episodes whole, not because it feels rushed but because it feels cramped. The final episode many consider to be outstanding but I will settle for simply good, as I feel there was a controversial character beat in there which turns out was hotly debated in the writers room but that few others seem to be bothered by.

For a time since Hannibal ended (or after the first half of its third season), this was FilmGamer’s favourite show running on TV, and I assure you the standards of this site are of the utmost height. This recommendation comes on the low-end of the praise the show has seen and I will say that I even bumped up the grade of season 3 while writing this review in the days thinking about the show. I don’t ever dislike or lower rate a piece of media for the sake of it as I find that annoying to see as a critic, but also as I fan I hate it when people overrate shows. We all know Breaking Bad is an excellently written piece of television but there’s no denying those early episodes are an investment, almost like going up the hill on a roller coaster. The Leftovers is kind of like that. And worth watching too.

Season 3 Grade: B+/ Best Episode 3.07 ‘The Most Powerful Man in the World (And His Identical Twin Brother)

Final Notes:

Characters I Liked:

  • Kevin Garvey (Disliked in S1 but undergoes improvement)
  • Kevin Garvey Sr. (*Well Acted)
  • Patti Levin (*Well Acted)
  • Matt Jamison (*Well Acted)
  • Nora Durst (*Well Acted)
  • Erika Murphy (*Well Acted)
  • Michael Murphy

Characters Disliked:

  • Laurie Garvey (*Well Acted)
  • Meg Abbot
  • Tommy Garvey
  • Jill Garvey
  • John Murphy (*Well Acted)
  • Evie Murphy

Photography: 10/10

My dad noticed upon watching an episode how well photographed it was and watching the Season 3 Trailer apart from the show you can just tell. It remains beautiful while capturing both isolation and intrigue.

Acting: 10/10

Justin Theroux kills it on this show. It was said by Carrie Coon (also great) that he is overlooked because he’s seen as so attractive (he’s married to Jen Aniston you know). Eight of the lead actors on this show are all superb. Perhaps the kids aren’t given enough to work with or I just find them annoying but even Amy Brenneman seems to overcome that, but that’s due to an outstanding final character episode.

Writing: 8/10

The interesting thing about this show is that I hardly find most of the time that the characters behave in a manner that is completely realistic, as a matter of fact hardly at all. But frequently the show goes in a direction that you aren’t expecting yet makes complete sense for the characters.

Music: 10/10

Max Richter’s score is something excellent. Count; “Dona Nobis Pacem” which has recurring mixes throughout the entire series as a great epic memorable piece. Not to mention the various departure motifs that occur throughout that miraculously blend in to all the licensed music selection which hops from “Aha” to “Wu-Tang Clan” all approriate I might add.

Additional Praise:

Metascore: Season One/ 65 / Season Two / 80 / Season Three / 98

Rotten Tomatoes:  S1: 81%, S2: 93%, S3: 98%

Prescription: (Binge) -all 28 episodes in one weekend/ Creator recommended- two a day, Long form – One a week, since each season played at a different time (S1 was good summer fodder, S2 was in the Fall schedule and just before the holidays, and S3 is just wrapping up as summer is heating up. Anytime is a good time.

FilmGamer Rating Continuum:

-2          -1          0          +1          +2


5 Comments Add yours

State your point in the comments below...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s