TV Corner: The Leftovers

[Content Note: Spoilers for the premiere episode of The Leftovers. Violence; animal cruelty; cultism.]

Last night was the premiere of HBO's new series The Leftovers, based on Tom Perrotta's novel of the same name, which follows a group of people in a small town following a rapture-like event during which 2% of the world's population disappears without explanation.

I was pretty interested in this series, because it's co-produced with Perrotta by Damon Lindelof, one of the showrunners for Lost, and because it's got a couple of ladies in it I like very much: Liv Tyler, Ann Dowd, and Amy Brenneman.

So I watched the premiere, and immediately thereafter, I tweeted:

screen cap of tweet authored by me reading: 'The Leftovers is my new The Walking Dead. Here come the recaps...!'

Which is probably all I need to say about how much I liked it, if you've ever read one of my Walking Dead recaps. So: To the recap!

* * *

The show opens with a harried young thin white mom on the phone with some heartless corporation while doing laundry at the laundromat as her baby cries. She goes to her car and puts the baby in his carseat and keeps talking on the phone, then realizes her son is gone. She gets out of the car and begins to scream, as a little white boy yells for his father, while an unmanned grocery cart drifts by. Empty cars crash.

Kicking in for the first time is the tinkly piano music, better befitting an emotionally manipulative inspirational YouTube video about a disadvantaged child overcoming adversity, which will become the weird, annoying, discordant soundtrack to this series.

Fade to black, and the sounds of a cacophony of emergency calls, then silence. Text onscreen: "Three years later."

We meet our white male hero, played by Justin Theroux, whom you might know from his starring role in the tabloids as Mr. Jennifer Aniston, as he is expositionally jogging past indicators that people are still struggling with the mass disappearance. He looks like a dimestore Rick Grimes from the Walking Dead, and I am laughing.

He comes across a dog named Dudley (!) who is roaming free, and he tries to get the friendly dog to come to him, when a middle-aged white dude pulls up in a pick-up and shoots the dog dead with a shotgun. He seems neat. "Hey!" shouts our hero. "Hey!" But the man has already driven away.

Cut to a bunch of mostly white people dressed all in white, sleeping in a room on mattresses on the floor. Amy Brenneman wakes up and lights a cigarette.

Cut to a thin white teenage girl in a classroom. She is angsty. She flirts badly with a hot boy, and her BFF teases her about it.

If you're thinking: These sound like some strange and super boring introductions to our main characters, YOU ARE CORRECT. They are! And I assure you that, by the end of the episode, we will have zero investment in a single one of them as a result!

Cut to an older fat white man getting into a van driven by a young thin white man in a baseball cap. The older man is identified as a congressman. The young man takes payment in cash, confiscates the older man's phone, and hands him a blindfold to put on. This is all required to be taken to wherever they're going. It's a secret! Shhhhhh!

Cut back to our hero, who has taken a shower and is watching a broadcast of Congressional hearings in which a scientific consensus has found they don't know why people disappeared. Tinkly piano music.

Cut back to the lady in the white-clothes cult, who is brushing her teeth in front of lettering on a wall reading "WE ARE LIVING REMINDERS." Beneath which in smaller writing is "GUILTY REMNANT." More footage of the cult, where everyone is sitting around wearing white and chain-smoking cigarettes in a room decorated with empty picture frames. They don't speak aloud, but write on white boards with markers they pass back and forth. This might be creepy, except for the fact that it's too silly. Which is only made sillier by the tinkly piano music which belongs in an Upworthy video that will MAKE YOU CRY.

The cultists eat gruel and get their assignments to go harass people. Smoke smoke smoke. Amy Brenneman demands to be included. Ann Dowd, who is the leader of the cult, relents. They communicate by writing, and all I can think is, "ANN DOWD HAS ONE OF THE BEST VOICES IN SHOW BUSINESS WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING, THIS SHOW?"

Cut back to our hero, who is now in his uniform, and we find out he is Chief of Police Kevin Garvey and LOLOLOLOLOL he is a for real dimestore Rick Grimes! This show! I can't wait to meet his wife Lori and find out how she is the worst lady on the planet!

image of Justin Theroux as Chief Kevin Garvey

Something something his dad was the former chief, but "went crazy." Proof: A clip of an older white man running around naked. Something something the lady to whom the dog belonged doesn't care her dog was shot. Dogs are symbolic. Garvey has the dead dog in his trunk. SYMBOLISM!

At this point, we are only 15 minutes into the episode. Which is an hour and fifteen minutes. And consists entirely of short scene cutting to short scene cutting to short scene to introduce us to all these characters.

And I could spend the next three hours of my life recounting each and every one of them—or I could copy and paste the Wikipedia entry of the main cast, which accomplishes exactly the same objective with precisely as much excitement:
* Justin Theroux as Kevin Garvey, a chief of police and father of two who is trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy in this new world
* Amy Brenneman as Laurie Garvey, Kevin's wife and Tom's mother who left her entire life behind to join a mysterious cult
* Carrie Coon as Nora Durst, a wife and mother who is suddenly neither
* Christopher Eccleston as Matt Jamison, a former reverend and current editor of his self-published tabloid
* Ann Dowd as Patti Levin, the leader of the local chapter of Guilty Remnant
* Amanda Warren as Lucy Warburton, Mapleton's take-no-prisoners mayor
* Liv Tyler as Meg Abbott, a woman about to get married when she becomes the target of a cult
* Michael Gaston as Dean, a man who seems to understand that times have changed and addresses it head-on—often violently
* Margaret Qualley as Jill Garvey, Kevin's teenaged, straight-A student daughter
* Charlie Carver as Scott Frost, a happy-go-lucky type whose upbeat demeanor brings levity to a grave situation
* Max Carver as Adam Frost, Scott's identical twin brother
* Chris Zylka as Tom Garvey, Kevin and Laurie's son who has recently dropped out of college and taken refuge with a mysterious guru
* Emily Meade as Aimee, a free-spirited high schooler who seems unfazed by the rapture
Emphasis mine. Yes, Rick Grimes Kevin Garvey's wife is named Lori Laurie! And she is a terrible mother and a terrible wife! Who has abandoned her family, leaving her daughter to become a stroppy slut (the show's depiction, not my judgment) and her son to become the wayward errand boy of a mysterious and vaguely ominous guru, who is one of only two black characters in the show. WOMEN!

The things you need to know are:

1. The cult recruits people by staring at them, and that they caused a big ruckus when they showed up at a memorial for the disappeared and held up signs reading "Don't waste your breath." I am sure there's supposed to be some connection to the fact that they are always smoking and the not wasting your breath message, but fuck if I get it or care.

2. Chief Kevin Garvey is a very heavy sleeper. As his house was broken into and trashed while he was sleeping, but he never stirred.

3. The entire town basically exists in a collective fugue state.

4. The Congressman was healed by the mysterious guru. He's happy again now. Yay! Good job, Dude Whisperer!

5. The people who wrote this story believe that abandoned dogs devolve to a feral state in less than three years and pack-hunt deer. Sure.

6. Dogs are symbols! They are SYMBOLS of how humans treat each other! And our civility! Or SOMETHING!

7. Garvey went full Grimes by the end of the episode, and helped dog-killing dude kill some dogs. SYMBOLISM.

8. This fucking show.

It's definitely going to keep us going while The Walking Dead is on hiatus, though, and for filling that void alone: A+.

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