The Leftovers felt like a bit of a dark horse in this year’s television line-up. Yes, it was from Damon Lindelof, on HBO, with a stellar cast, but there was still a lot that could go wrong.
But what a show it has ended up being. To my eyes, it has been up there with the very best this year. It’s certainly the best new show, and could only be matched by veteran behemoths like Game of Thrones and so on. It was that good.
It’s hard to know where to start, but perhaps it’s best to address possibly the biggest ‘talking point’ concerning the show: the tone. The Leftovers is an unrelentingly bleak watch, dealing with humanity at its darkest hour. This was an area that came in for some criticism, yet, like Nolan’s The Dark Knight, it is a piece with little scope for happiness. The series shows the world three years after 2% of the population has vanished. How can such a theme be anything but bleak?
The sombre atmosphere is certainly what the show aims for, and crucial to this is how the visuals are supplemented fantastically by the minimalist compositions of Max Richter, who has adapted some of his most impressive works here. Tracks like November and The Twins (Prague) elevate the emotion of the show significantly. As evidence, try watching the end of ‘Pilot’ with and without the sound turned on. Without the emotional connection Richter’s Philip-Glass-like melodies creates, the scene – and the show on the whole – would simply not be as effective.
Rather than the Departure itself, it’s the characters that are crucial to the heart of the show. There’s no real search for ‘why’ or ‘how’ it happened, but instead we follow numerous people as they come to terms with their varying losses. Within the largely ensemble feel, there are a number of key players, from the dysfunctional Garvey family of Kevin, Laurie, Jill and Tom, to the cultish Guilty Remnant. It’s hard to pick a standout performance, but perhaps the most surprising is that of rising star Carrie Coon as Nora Durst. Coon exploits the best of the show’s dark material, portraying a character who lost her husband and two children, and is now the town ‘pariah’, pitied to an almost patronising extent at the start.
The Leftover’s episodes rank as some of the finest of any in a long while. Mid season episodes such as ‘Two Boats and a Helicopter’ focused entirely on a single character to great effect, but the best was saved till last with finale, ‘The Prodigal Son Returns’, bringing the Garvey’s back together, to some extent. I’m not usually prone to shedding a tear, but I’m not afraid to admit that the season end hit me hard.
The only real blot is where the show goes from here. Season 1 covered the entirety of the book, yet there’s still significant unfinished business with just about every character in play. Hopefully the story remains as engaging going forward.
The Leftovers was a phenomenal show, and one that is almost certainly worth a second viewing.