The Leftovers debuted in June 2014 with a shocking 72-minute pilot. Viewers were left disoriented but equally interested. It included mystical visions, melancholy, cults, destroyed families, and a seemingly quiet neighborhood. A bit like a dark version of Desperate Housewives.
Tom Perrotta’s novel The Leftovers inspired the series, in which the basic premise is that out of nowhere, 2% of the world’s population vanishes into thin air, leaving the rest of the population struggling to deal with this mysterious loss. A detachment that it’s almost impossible to handle because it’s impossible to explain, leaving characters to react in different ways and viewers to witness what happens to them physically, emotionally, and psychologically.
The series focuses on the community of Mapleton, in Westchester County, New York, where more than a hundred people have vanished. The viewers experience the episodes – like in Lost, created by the same writer, Damon Lindelof – as a long adventure. The way it captures the entire viewer’s attention and the way it connects people to the story is the same, and the amount of tension and mystery that it generates is also very similar.
The sound of silence
The first thing that really affects The Leftovers is the theme song, which is pure magic. Symphonies of violins and pianos intertwine and bring a lump to the throat, making it difficult to swallow. Max Richter, the composer, was nominated for the International Film Music Critics Award for his mastery of writing melodies, perfect for photography and impeccable direction by Mimi Leder.
To greater or lesser extents, the characters progressively become protagonists. Kevin (Justin Theroux), a charming policeman, seems normal on the surface, but three years after the event, he is a hot mess. In fact, he’s a severely depressed, chief of police and single father who takes medication with alcohol, hallucinates, and sleepwalks. So much so that his PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) symptoms slowly emerge. Tommy (Chris Zylka) is his son, entangled in the cult of a saint who’s not recommendable. His wife is Laurie (Amy Brenneman), who left the family to join another cult. The only one on his side is Jill (Margaret Qualley), his young daughter who struggles with all the angst that teenagers do.
Another prominent figure is Matt (Christopher Eccleston), Mapleton’s reverend. He tries to convince people that the cause of this disappearance is not prophesied in the bible, as everyone thinks. Into the bargain, Lindelof the writer portrays rampant hypocrisy towards the church and all religious institutions, with dialogues and other extremely nihilistic key figures. What makes this series different is the deep, distressing and realistic characterization of the actors, as Theroux declares in this interview.
Such a vision demands audiences to be daring. The Leftovers is an introspective TV series that asks for the involvement of both mind and heart. Not everyone is willing to accept this challenge. From this point of view, it resembles This is Us for its emotional baggage and Normal People for the massive personal and subjective impact. Finally, its uncommon mysteries remember those of Sense 8.