Ever since the arrival of Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones we have been told that HBO has entered a period of renaissance. While Game of Thrones has turned into a bona fide hit and Boardwalk Empire has become a solid contributor, the actual evidence of this renaissance is in the many risks that HBO has taken in recent years. The Leftovers is most certainly the biggest risk HBO has ever taken. An incredibly bleak and meandering take on what life is like after a rapture-like event; The Leftovers definitely is not for mainstream audiences. However, with an incredible sense of atmosphere and one of the best ensembles on television, The Leftovers will be one of the very best programs of HBO’s renaissance era if the rest of the series is anything like its first season.
I must admit that I am a huge fan of Damon Lindelof so I didn’t come into The Leftovers with the same trepidation as some people with this being his return to television. Sure, Cowboys & Aliens was an easy payday and Star Trek Into Darkness was just your average blockbuster, but the rest of his stuff is thought provoking. However, unlike Lost and Prometheus, The Leftovers isn’t thought provoking through its plot, it’s thought provoking in terms of character development. The lost and unique souls of this series are fully developed, interesting characters that raise a lot of questions about how humanity deals with loss, the unknown, and their relationships with higher beings.
These characters are all beautifully performed too by one of the strongest casts a show has assembled in recent memory. I was perplexed when Justin Theroux was cast as the lead of the show as I’ve never really thought of him as a good actor. However, his performance as mentally broken police chief and family man Kevin Garvey reveals him to be a man of immense talent. It also helps that Lindelof has discovered an effective method for writing leading men as Garvey has a lot in common with Jack Shephard. Other standouts include Christopher Eccleston as the tragically stubborn reverend of Mapleton and Ann Dowd as the mesmerizing leader of the Guilty Remnant. However, the true standout performance of the show is that of Carrie Coon as Nora Durst, a woman who lost her entire family to the rapture. She does not get much to do in the first half of the season, but once she finally gets something to do it’s easy to see why Damon Lindelof made her into the female lead. At times utterly heartbreaking, at other times wonderfully witty, and at all times completely believable, Carrie Coon delivers a performance that makes it known that this is one of the most gifted actresses currently working.
The show also wouldn’t be what it is without out its other major character. Whereas Damon Lindelof’s previous series made its setting into a character, The Leftovers makes its bleak and mysterious atmosphere into a living and breathing thing. It’s so difficult not to get absorbed up into it.
The Leftovers is a dark but beautiful series.