How The Leftovers became the best show on television
When HBO announced it was going to make the Leftovers and I saw that Damon Lindelof was involved I was sceptical. And I wasn’t the only one. After that extremely polarizing end to Lost there are a lot of people angry with the man. They were angry for the way the show ended. They were angry about the flash sideways and the sort of purgatory the final season ended up being. And people were angry because so many questions remained unanswered. Personally I didn’t hate the final season of Lost nor did I hate the series finale. It most definitely wasn’t as good as the first two seasons but some of the crap Lindelof and the rest of the creative team were getting was a little bit unfair. I found the flash sideways interesting and I found it a ballsy move as was the series finale. I mean, since the show started and changed the TV landscape forever the showrunners have repeated a million times that the island wasn’t purgatory. The people on the island didn’t all die in the crash just to end up on the island to fulfil a certain destiny before they could go to the afterlife. And even though there were a lot of things on the show that hinted to purgatory I think everyone was happy that it wasn’t that as it would have been extremely anticlimactic. But having that final church scene after all those years of denial, where, if I remember it correctly, it was said that the flash sideways were necessary for the survivors of flight 815 to move on to the next place? Super ballsy move! And I sort of liked it. I enjoyed the final season and I enjoyed the series finale.
My problem with it is that when Lost started it was unlike anything that came before. It took the television industry by storm. It was a major ratings hit and everyone was talking about it. A show with such a strong start should have a brilliant ending. The Sopranos had one of the best series finales ever and that final scene was sheer genius. Six Feet Under had the best series finale overall and Mad Men had a great one too. Lost’s series finale was good but that wasn’t enough. It shouldn’t even have been great. It should have been brilliant and it wasn’t. That was my main disappointment. So when I read up on The Leftovers and I saw it was about people in a small town dealing with the fact that 2% of the world’s population had disappeared I was very very sceptical. I thought the premise was intriguing and after I saw the first trailer I knew I was going to watch it. I was excited but I wasn’t certain that I was going to like it let alone love it. Then came season 1.
The first season of The Leftovers started very strongly. The dysfunctional Garvey family, the crazy and mysterious change smoking and non-talking cult the guilty remnant, holey Wayne. There was so much to love and admire about this brand new HBO drama. The casting was great too with great performances by Justin Theroux, Christopher Ecclestone and Carrie Coon chief among them. From the pilot on I knew I was staying on board with this show. But, that didn’t mean season one didn’t have any problems. It did. The season did feel a bit uneven and in the middle part I didn’t feel like I was interested enough in all the mysteries to care if any question were going to be answered. At times it felt like the show was being mysterious just for mysteries’ sake and that is never good. A lot of people were calling The Leftovers a pretentious pile of crap and the ratings weren’t great either. One of my major issues with season one was the blackouts Kevin was having. To me it seemed he was doing things during his blackouts that he wouldn’t do normally. It didn’t fit his character. I found that very frustrating and in a way it felt like cheating. It felt like a cheap way of getting a lead character to do things to move the plot forward even though it’s against his character. But I was invested. I wanted to know what was going to happen. I wanted to know what the guilty remnant is about, what they wanted and what they were planning. I kept watching and I was rewarded.
If the middle part of season 1 was not brilliant the end sure was. After the weird episode Solace for Tired Feet the season ended with the stellar The Garveys at Their Best and the brilliant The Prodigal Son Returns. Everything clicked together and accompanied by the music of the wonderful composer Max Richter it felt near perfect. The penultimate episode of The Leftovers’ freshman season showed us the Garveys before the departure. Where prequels in films can often feel unnecessary, uninteresting and unexciting because for one you know who is going to make it and who won’t, flashback episodes can feel unnecessary and uninteresting for different reasons. Mainly because it can feel like filler detracting from the main storyline and the backstory of the characters you have come to love might not be as interesting or appealing as the showrunners might think. But this episode was one of the best on TV that year. And it was followed by the gut punch called The Prodigal Son Returns in which Kevin comes back from the cabin to find out what the Guilty Remnant where actually planning and got to see the devastating consequences of that action. Season one clearly ended on a high thanks to the great work from Damon Lindelof and the writer of the novel the series is based on, Tom Perrotta. Because of that my expectations for season two were high.
The Leftovers did not disappoint. It delivered. Boy, it did! Hats off to Lindelof and Perrotta. There were a few changes in season 2 staring with the opening credits. Unlike many others I did like the season 1 credits but the season 2 credits are brilliant. From the Iris DeMent song called Let The Mystery Be with the fitting lyrics to the pictures which eerily show the departed in each of them blanked out. But there were more changes. The Leftovers has always been an ensemble show and the downside of that is that writers feel the need to put all the characters in nearly every episode so that the viewer won’t lose touch with them. But in its sophomore season The Leftovers got a little bit Lost-like focussing on one character per episode and have many characters not appear for episodes on end. That could have been a problem but the showrunners handled it expertly so when Liv Tyler’s Megan reappears at the end of the season when she has been off screen for a while it works really well. I really think that this is a great achievement of the showrunners. Because of these changes season 2 felt more focussed even though the show is still mysterious and ambiguous in a lot of ways. Another great change was the addition of the Murphy family. The season premiere focussed entirely on them and during the first few minutes of the episode I wasn’t too sure if I liked that idea. I had become attached to the Garveys and wanted to know what happened to them. But it paid off. Kevin Carroll did a masterful job as John and Regina King is as talented as she is underrated. She is easily the best actress on the show and that’s saying something. Add to that the new setting in the magical town called Jarden where no one poofed into thin air and you have a recipe for a wonderful season. And it was.
The season premier was one of the best episode of this show ever. You cannot start a season in a better way. But the show didn’t let up after that. It delivered great episode after great episode and by the time we get to International Assassin we know that we are watching something unlike anything we have seen before. International Assassin was as crazy an episode as it was brilliant. The weird stuff happening in the hotel. Kevin having to die to get rid of Ghost Patty. It might not have been very accessible but I loved it. Ten Thirteen nicely brought Megan into the forefront again and with a shocking end it set up the stunning season finale. Regina King, Justen Theroux and Kevin Carroll were utterly fantastic in I Live Here Now. The reappearance of the girls, finding out what happened to the girls, the tense scenes on the bridge, the Guilty Remnant invading Miracle, Jarden and Kevin and John cry-laughing together. There was so much to love about this episode. The final scene was so emotional and it was a good ending to a wonderful episode.
Overall season 2 was better than season one. It was more consistent, better written, wonderfully acted and the changes all worked out perfectly. There were a few things that annoyed me though. One of them was Ghost Patty. I found her so annoying and mostly useless. It felt like an excuse to keep the actress around. Danny Glover’s character has been called a Magical Negro and while I initially didn’t recognize him as such it does seem that the writers blatantly made use of that trope. But no show is perfect and I can also say that no show is like The Leftovers and not a lot of shows can say that they are unique. The line between pretentious crap and genius might be thin. And nobody may be watching this brilliant show. And I can understand people not having the patience to watch a show that raises a million questions and has the showrunners admit that answers are not coming. But if you can look past that, and that is a big ask for most people, than you get a TV show that is expertly written, masterfully acted, though provoking, unpredictable and simply one of the best shows on TV right now if not the best.