Man. The Leftovers. To say I can’t wrap my head around the show is an understatement. But I love it. I think. No, yeah, I totally do love it. I don’t know that I know why I do, yet, but I do. If I had to pick five reasons why I love it, I’m not sure they’d be the greatest reasons but, hey, this is the internet and this place runs on unsolicited opinions….
1. Justin Theroux.
Honestly, to me, I assumed he was just Jennifer Aniston’s sidepiece. Almost like he was another iteration of Lyle Lovett or whatever Julia Roberts’ husband’s name is (Danny something? Masterson? No. That’s the guy from That 70s Show, isn’t it? I wonder what he’s doing now. I feel like it’s either heavy drugs or documentaries and there’s no middle ground on that. I didn’t realize he actually did anything besides look perpetually eyelinered.
But he’s insanely good as our main character. I can’t say that enough. He’s frenetic in all the right ways but also charming and endearingly charismatic despite being damaged. He’s like a combination of Rick Grimes without the drippy, terrible accent and Jack Shepherd only not so turnt up. Theroux has been so good that he’s bordering on detrimental to the show because he is blowing everyone he shares a scene with off the screen. He’s like Miley on a wrecking ball just wreaking actorly havoc.
And again, I have no idea how this is possible. Wasn’t he like a super bit part in Charlie’s Angels 14? The over/under for months until GQ or Esquire has him on a cover has to be 3 months, right? And I’m taking the under because I can already see the photo-shoot. It’s him, shirtless. He’s face-to-face with himself in a mirror while holding brass knuckles a parakeet and a chimney sweep and it’s all vaguely sexual.
2. The vibe.
You know when there’s a buzzing noise around and it gets in your ear? Eventually, it fades from prominence, but it never completely goes away as it continues to exist on the periphery of your senses. That’s how the vibe in this show is. The context is clearly our world with the caveat that something supernatural / fantastical has happened. This reality gives the atmosphere of the show a hyper kinetic feel.
It’s like a manifestation of a Flannery O’Connor short story where it FEELS like life but there’s just something grotesquely but very slightly off. And I love it. It manages to feel lived in without really being able to conceive of what this world would be like.
3. LOST Heritage
It’s informed and influenced by LOST, but bears no other relationship to it beyond that. For those of you scoring at home, The Leftovers is a book by Tom Perrotta which has been adapted for TV by Perrotta and Damon Lindelof, he of LOST fame as well as massive rewrites on Prometheus, World War Z and film credits on the new Star Trek movies.
Knowing this, you can spot moments where an exchange or mysterious moment feels right out of LOST. And this may be difficult for you to hear but listen closely: this familiarity? It’s not a bad thing.
Look, we’ve got enough straight-ahead TV shows with minimized pretenses and super low barriers to entry. Nerd comedies, comedy comedies, procedurals, iterations of procedurals, spouses of coast cities, etc etc etc. If you are looking at the menu of TV and think, “I don’t want to try,” then you are so very good to go.
BUT, if you like your shows with a little ambition, the selection is not as abundant. As it turns out, people would prefer to be told how to feel about the B in apartment 23 rather than speculate on whether or not she is actually a B or if the sum total of her life experiences has led her to becoming a B OR how maybe her being a B is simply a projection of who she thinks she has to be to survive.
The Leftovers has ambition though and its main currency is that scourge we call ambiguity. Things aren’t spelled out! Mystery abounds! People dress in white and smoke like sullen teenagers!
After three episodes, we’ve been given this vivid landscape of complicated ideas, groups/individuals and conflict and now we get to deep dive into why we’re seeing what we’re seeing. Will the end result be fantastic? I have no idea. It could be the worst. It could literally be the worst thing to have ever been on TV. BUT THAT IS FINE. THAT IS OK.
4. Poor-Man’s Taylor Lautner Twins.
These guys, am I right? Just the best. They’re like Lautner but without the Twilight baggage (ish?) and there’s two of them. And they seem to be playing the anti-Jacob Black kind of character and already I feel like I’m demonstrating too much of a Twilight-orientation here.
Did some weird event happen where a small % of the population just disappeared? Yep. Do they let that stop them from doing classic teenage boy things? Nope. These guys just want to roll up in their Prius and try to get girls. It’s like a more nuanced and complicated version of Dazed and Confused.
Within the show, it’s a neat little defuser to the tension to see these weird-looking twins spitting weak game at girls like teenage boys have done for basically ever. But also, they seem like they would be a good hang.
The Leftovers bluntly provokes a bit of soul-searching as it slowly strips away some of the pretenses that comprise our day-to-day lives. What does “it” all mean? Why are we here? What happens next? Our place in the world / universe / existence is at the center of the very thing that makes us human, right? The ability to ponder outside ourselves. However this also leaves us horrifically vulnerable when we are bluntly struck with the distinct possibility that there is nothing else and we are random.
In a broad sense, the main conflict of the show has been setup as those who embrace the pointlessness of existence versus those who search for meaning within it. Each have their own ways of living inside those frameworks, but the fundamental idea therein is this: what do you believe and how do you go about believing it? More specifically, is what you believe ornamental to your context OR is what you believe a manifestation of your are regardless of your context?
I guess said a different way, the thing every episode makes me consider is what would I be if the world I knew was stripped away? Would my values still be my values if my faith/religion ceased to exist? If the idea of love or institution of marriage was gone, would I still feel like I feel about my wife OR do those things tell me what I should be feeling / thinking / doing? Basically, are you explicitly defined through institutions or do those things exist to help define you more acutely?
For me, the fascinating part of The Leftovers is that it makes a slight pivot into a world that still looks 99.999% like ours except with this big issue looming over everyone. The fact that 140 million people randomly vanished without explanation is the new prism through which everything else exists. And this vibrates with intrigue and resonance because it gets at our squirminess with uncertainty.
Remember flight MH370? It captivated us because it seemed impossible that a plane could crash and we’d never find out what happened. But we never did. And in that ensuing and perpetual mystery, it seemed to expose a tear in the fabric of our own senses of certainty. Of control.
I don’t usually like things that poke and prod at this notion, generally speaking. I like existing in my immediate reality where things are simple. Easy. Prescribed. We all do, mostly. We have a way of constructing realities that explain / define / motivate us in the same way that they also reaffirm us. Which is why I think I love this show.
Because it is raw. It is confrontational and it forces the viewer to consider uncertainty and how we might deal with it.
Are you watching The Leftovers? If so, would love to hear your thoughts on it.