The Leftovers: Series Review

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By: Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)

HBO has gathered a substantial audience over the years with incredible hits like Band of Brothers and Game of Thrones. But the network produced another hit that appealed to a different kind of audience, albeit a smaller one. That hit was the three-season long drama series, The Leftovers. If you missed the television phenomenon or are looking for a show to binge over the summer, read on for a spoiler-free review of the series!

Based on the Tom Perrotta novel of the same name, The Leftovers came to be due to the creative minds of Perrotta and Lost creator Damon Lindelof. The first season followed the events outlined in Perrotta’s book, but the following two seasons were chock full of new material, without losing a step. The first season of The Leftovers was rated 81% on Rotten Tomatoes and 65/100 on Metacritic. Ratings increased with each subsequent season, with a 93% and 80/100 for the show’s second season, and a staggeringly impressive 98% and 98/100 for the third, and final, season.

So what’s all the fuss about? The Leftovers is an ambitious and high-concept show that isn’t out for cheap thrills and frills. Thought-provoking and original, watching the show is a journey taken alongside the characters. Many series advertise themselves as character-driven, but The Leftovers took the idea to new heights, focusing on the drama of their lives unfolding on screen unapologetically. It’s rare that a show can dedicate entire episodes to various characters and their backstories without detracting from the overall story of the series, but The Leftovers did just that – and did so successfully!

The Leftovers kicks off with a worldwide event later dubbed “The Sudden Departure,” during which 2% of the world’s population simply disappeared, seemingly at random. The series then follows characters left in the wake of the unexpected tragedy, trying to find meaning without answers. The Leftovers feels like a strange brain-child of Lost and a Stephen King novel, throwing characters into a something reminiscent of a science fiction mystery but emphasizing the drama of their lives more than the fantasy mystery itself. Honestly, if you are watching the show hoping for answers about the departure, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. The Leftovers is the television equivalent of enjoying the journey instead of trying to reach the end goal in record time.

Enjoying a show for what it is and not the answers it can provide is not always an easy pill to swallow. The Leftovers is a shining example of how to make it work, putting together drama that is both realistic and ridiculous enough to be strangely addictive. After the first few episodes, I found that I enjoyed the show, but I couldn’t really identify what it was that had pulled me in, because it is such a rare occurrence for characters and their personal drama alone to be enough to attract and keep a viewer. This isn’t to say that the story is lacking, however. Tidbits of supernatural and fantasy slyly steal into the show in unbelievable and interesting ways; what makes The Leftovers so unique is that the characters are designed to serve the story, the story is meant to serve the characters.

The Leftovers is also original in its story-telling method. In books, movies, and television shows, the consumer of the creative project is often privileged with knowledge that is generally unknown to the characters themselves. Given the power to observe all characters at all times while also knowing their thoughts and motivations allows the viewer to get a complete picture of the story. But real life doesn’t operate that way, and while there is some literature that furthers a plot with an unreliable narrator to surprise and amaze the reader, television shows are not usually able to navigate that particular minefield. The Leftovers reveals nothing to the viewer that would give the viewer an advantage or god-like knowledge. Again, The Leftovers is about the journey, and this journey is taken right alongside the characters. (So if you’re the type that is looking for answers, buckle in for a wild ride in the unknown.)

Filled with the unknown when it comes to events, The Leftovers doesn’t hold back when it comes to eliciting an emotional reaction from the audience. With multi-faceted characters portrayed by incredible talent, the audience is able to feel right along with the characters. Every actor and actress on screen gives an outstanding performance that is believable and heart-wrenching. Sadness and grief, anger, confusion, fanaticism…there’s no emotion off-limits for The Leftovers. Throw perpetual confusion into the mix and that’s where the strength of the series lies.

One of the other incredible strengths of The Leftovers is the overall question that the series asks. That question isn’t, “Where did everyone go?” The question is really, “Can you be okay, and if so, what does okay look like?” The Leftovers explores all the different ways that the remaining 98% of the populations copes with the strange departure of their loved ones. The coping mechanisms range anywhere from mannequin replications to the Guilty Remnant cult, the search for a new messiah to research and science. When people unexpectedly and inexplicably disappear and an answer is never found, is there any way to find closure? What answers, true or false, are you willing to consider for the phenomenon that will allow you to move on with life? The Leftovers delves into this idea, which is what makes the characters’ journeys worth watching. It asks real questions that allow us to put ourselves into the shoes of those fictional individuals on screen, endearing them to us and forging a connection with them.

The Leftovers isn’t for everyone. There are some who watch television and want the answers and need an end goal. For those, the point of The Leftovers may be lost in translation. That’s okay; to each their own. But if you’re in the mood for an emotional journey and all the “what ifs” you could ever ask for, give the series a look! It has the makings of a cult following, even though the series is over. It’s an insane series and you’ll often ask yourself, “They can’t do that, can they?” Go ahead and assume now that indeed they can, and it will be fantastic! So if you’re looking for the next show to binge for the summer, watch all three seasons of The Leftovers, and enjoy!


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