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The Leftovers is Stale

by Tony Shea on July 1, 2014

in REVIEWS, TV

Last Sunday night marked the debut of Damon Lindelof’s eagerly anticipated new show,“The Leftovers,” on HBO.

Lindelof is of course most famous for having created and written many episodes of the game changing ABC series Lost, which was a show essentially concerned with ideas – and not a procedural cop show or courtroom law show or emergency room/firefighter show or reality dating show, the typical mainstays of television. Rather, Lost  asked us if the world was being saved by a lone man in a bunker pushing a button, or if parallel universes were possible, or if time travel was possible, or a dozen other intriguing notions that the show doled out like a drug that kept viewers watching over the course of its six season run. And while the last season, and especially the series finale, was a disappointment to the fans who had endured a thousand teases along the way, the audience stayed along for the ride. I doubt this will happen with The Leftovers. In fact I’d be surprised if it can get past its first season.

Airing on HBO and based on the book by Tom Perrotta, whose novel Little Children and it subsequent film of the same name, is one of my absolute favorites, The Leftovers’ central conceit is that a rapturous event has taken place, magically and mysteriously removing 2% of the world’s population. Those left behind, the leftovers if you will, must then struggle through their grief to make sense of a world where such a thing could happen. And while that premise seems like a good starting point, perhaps, the show feels as stale as that week old take out box in the back of your fridge. In the post 911 world we began our exploration of grief after the inexplicable. With the rash of school shooting massacres that have followed through the years, it seems that we are always being tasked with such an exploration. And it’s absolutely no fun. And neither was the premiere of The Leftovers, which featured a revolving door of downers including dogs getting shot, joyless teenage sex encounters, grief-stricken adults whose children have vanished, and nut job religious cults.

During the first episode’s 75 minute run time, I felt a profound awareness coming over me that seems to coincide precisely with how I feel about the state of American politics, which is to say I simply can not make myself care any longer, no matter what’s at stake. I just don’t have the time to care about the fictional grief of these characters when there’s so much grief to choose from in real life – simply consult your local news or YouTube for confirmation of this fact.

Perhaps some will be changed by The Leftovers in some pivotal and life affirming way, the same way that I was by Lost. But you can only have so many pivotal moments, so many crucial realizations, so many unique experiences in life before your enter the realm of diminishing returns. I just don’t fell like I have years to dedicate to whatever revelations await within the tapestry of the show. I don’t care if the 120 million people who have vanished return. I don’t care if they were taken by space aliens, or via some secret government plot, or some wave form shift in the fabric of space and time, or God.

The show so far seems to want to examine how we respond to the randomness of death. Someone you love is here one minute and gone the next. Now what? Or rather, so what? The central conceit of the show doesn’t raise any real questions that are pragmatically different from the process of day-to-day life. Suddenly there’s an earthquake, or a fire, or a shooting, or a kidnapping, or a million other awful things and then someone you love is gone. What are your choices in response to whatever tragic event has occurred? Commit suicide? Endure?

In shows like Lost and the X-Files there was a kind of manic exploration involved in watching, as we followed the characters down a weird rabbit hole where anything could happen. And lest we forget, an important difference in those shows that seems utterly missing from The Leftovers, is that they were fun. Each episode held the promise of newness, a chance to be introduced to something we had never seen before. The Leftovers, true to its name, just feels rehashed to me, reminiscent of the failed HBO show John from Cincinnati, which centered on the effect a mysterious man, who may or may not have been God, had on a dysfunctional family in a California surfing community. The show was largely inscrutable, holding tight to its mysteries. And it was boring. In this respect, The Leftovers feels far too familiar.

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Tony Shea ( Editor-in-Chief, New York)

Tony Shea is based in New York, having recently moved from Los Angeles after more than a decade on the sunny coast. His short films have won numerous awards and screened at major festivals around the world including Comic-Con. As a musician, he is the lead singer for Los Angeles rock n’ roll band Candygram For Mongo (C4M) candygramformongo.com who has been a featured artist on Clear Channel Radio’s Discover New Music Program and whose songs have been heard on Battlestar Gallactica (Syfy Channel) and Unhitched (Fox) among other shows and films.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Alice August 19, 2014 at 10:39 am

I totally agree!! I wanted to like this show. I really did. I am mourning the end of LOST … and X Files for that matter. I just cannot love it. I just do not have time to sit and wait for it to capture my attention. So sad, but I give up (and did so before the end of the first show).

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