The Leftovers Season 1 Review: Melancholic Drama to Root For

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Before sitting down to write my season long review, I went back and looked at all the grades I gave each episode. So the first thing to say about The Leftovers is that it was uneven and inconsistent, but occasionally stunning and beautiful.

While it’s certainly clear now that the finale is behind us what kind of show the creators intended this to be from the start, there were  a number of creative decisions that held the show back from achieving its true potential earlier in the season.

The pilot introduced us to the Garveys, Kevin, Laurie, Jill, and Tommy, a family from Mapleton, NY, living separately after the unexplainable events of October 14 that caused two percent of the world’s population to suddenly disappear. Justin Theroux vehemently led the cast as Kevin Garvey, a not-so-stable cop dealing with a ton of loss. His wife Laurie, played wonderfully and often silently by Amy Brenneman, has joined the mysterious cult known as the Guilty Remnant.

Their children, played by Margaret Qualley and Chris Zylka, were not quite as strong of characters. Tommy (Zylka) proved to be the most annoying and shoehorned in character on the show. Meanwhile, Jill (Qualley) was given little more to do than be a whiney teenager. That said, both characters had outstanding moments in the finale, but one episode doesn’t make up for the rest.

Outside of the main family, Mapleton had a lot of other faces that garnered varying levels of interest. There were of course siblings Matt and Nora (Christopher Eccleston and Carrie Coon), easily the two best characters on the series. Matt is a priest doing what he can to make people realize the truth about October 14. Nora goes to people’s homes and asks questions about their missing loved ones so they can receive benefits. Both got an episode focused entirely on them, which ranked among the best of the season.

Two Boats and a Helicopter, Matt’s episode and the third of the season, was the first to show how effectively The Leftovers could develop its characters while meditating on the nature of grief. Matt instantly became the favorite, with Eccleston deserving some awards attention. Nora got a similar, almost as effective treatment in Guest, where she quickly removed the stick from her ass and became human.

Meanwhile, Ann Dowd deviously and skillfully played the season’s “villain” Patti, leader of Mapleton’s Guilty Remnant. She helped us understand Laurie’s choices throughout the season while still keeping the GRs on their own, questionable to say the least, moral compass.

But not every side character worked. Liv Tyler being the biggest name in the cast, you would think her character Megan would have more to do with the overall story. She ultimately seemed inconsequential by season’s end.

There was also Holy Wayne, played by Paterson Joseph in a sometimes so-bad-it’s-good, but mostly bad, performance. But, like the young Garveys, his character had a very strong finish to the season.

Actually, the incredible finale, The Prodigal Son Returns, really helped paint the season as a whole in a much better light. Knowing how this first batch of episodes ends, with a glimmer of hope after so much tragedy, makes the overly bleak moments from the more uneven episodes way more worth it. The finale, along with the Matt centric episode and the tragic Gladys were proof that this was a show to pay attention to.

The storytelling and sheer artistry of these entries and even the ones a notch below them in utterly unique on television right now. True Detective may be more thought-out than The Leftovers, but it never even came close to hitting the emotional high of when Kevin and Matt arrive to a burning Mapleton in the finale. The fact is, when The Leftovers was effective, there was simply nothing like it.

So while it made a ton of mistakes and was wildly uneven, it still hit the mark when it counted most. I hope the writers regroup and come up with a way for The Leftovers to have a much more consistent second season. If they can achieve that without losing the beautiful storytelling that made certain episodes really stand out, this could very well be one of the best shows on TV. But that’s a big if. Call me an optimist in a pessimist’s world, but I have hope. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

 

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