Leftovers you can find in your fridge can make a mean culinary experience if treated correctly. The Leftovers, the Tom Perrotta novel brought to our screens last year, makes a pretty damn good viewing experience, albeit a slightly dark, depressing one.
The ten episode run of Season 1 had all the right ingredients: good acting, good writing, good character development, and a quite bizarre premise to boot. Okay, so maybe the pacing could have used a bit of helping along at times, but no show is perfect right out of the gate.
Leaving aside the culinary metaphor (as it seems I’ve beat that horse to death by now), I don’t understand the mixed reviews the show has gotten. In an era where A-list actors migrate to television, where the shows are getting increasingly better while there is an evident lack in quality movies, bizarre premises are what make a show stand out. Sure, it needs to be interesting on top of being weird.
Isn’t it, though? Two percent of the world’s population disappear in the blink of an eye on October 14th. Everything changes in the world as we know it. Survivors have to contend with their losses. Some of them don’t deal as well as others.
Yet a few others come up with an even stranger way to deal: a cult, which apparently calls for silent oaths and chainsmoking. Though the exact reasons for these weird rules go unexplained for the better part of the first season, the cult’s goal is abundantly clear. They refuse to let the survivors forget what happened. Unable to move on, they demand that no one else does, either.
Thus we are witness to life in a small New York town. The main hero, the town police chief, hasn’t lost someone on October 14th. Yet he has lost his wife to the cult. His son is AWOL (and wrapped up in a completely different type of cult), his daughter is miserable and acting out in the most stupid way imaginable. He’s constantly on edge.
Other town inhabitants can’t seem to be happy either. Not the woman who lost her entire family, not the priest losing his church to the cult, and certainly not the cult members themselves.
As the story unfolds, the characters strive for redemption in whichever way they see fit. A young woman who lost her mother a day before the ‘rapture’ joins the cult instead of planning her own upcoming wedding. Our hero is desperately trying to put his family back together. A nameless man is shooting rabid dogs. The cult leader is the villain, yet we come to see a softer side. People die. Grief-stricken people begin to see a glimmer of hope, only to have it yanked from under their feet in a cruel stunt staged by the cult.
By the end of the season, a lot of our questions are answered, a lot of the mysteries are resolved. It looks like there’s nothing more to see in this small, mourning town.
So next season, we get to see our heros elsewhere, which is a fantastic decision. They are in dire need of rebooting, and the show gives them the opportunity to do so.
Yes, it’s a grim show. There are very few instances of humour and even less hopefulness to draw courage from. But it’s authentic and well put-together. Even if we never find out what happened to that 2% of the population who suddenly vanished, in the end it doesn’t matter. What we care about is who was left behind. What they do with the life they were spared. That’s exactly what the show promises.
And it actually delivers on that promise.