Film and TV

The Leftovers: Don't Get Left Behind

Sorry for the obvious pun, but HBO's new post-Rapture show really is something that you shouldn't miss.

Three years ago 2 percent of the world's population disappears. Just up and vanishes out of their car seats, houses, and marital beds. Doesn't sound like a lot, does it? 2 percent... if you had cancer and the doctor told you there was a 2 percent mortality rate for that particular kind you'd tell all your friends and family that you were going to be all right. That's an idea hammered home in the opening credit sequence as talking heads and government-sponsored committees of both scientists and religious leaders come to the universal conclusion of "Fuck if we know".

Yet that's all it takes to utterly destabilize humanity, at least in the small settlement of Mapleton. There the idyllic American town is trying to heal itself with a Heroes Day Parade, unveiling a statue and having a celebration to honor their lost loved ones in what they hope will be a moment of healing.

Overseeing the event is Justin Theroux as Sheriff Kevin Garvey. In what you might call the crippled, broken version of Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead, Garvey weathers his mini-apocalypse very poorly. Estranged from both his children and deep in the throes of alcoholism, he lives in fear of a strange and fast growing cult that has formed in the wake of the disappearance. A cult that has claimed his wife.

You can tell a lot about how a show... cultivates a cult on screen. True Blood's Fellowship of the Sun, for instance, was a one-dimensional hate group off shoot of right-wing Christianity. Doctor Who is even worse, rarely if ever attending to the deep meanings behind what makes for a cult mentality.

It's here that The Leftovers really excels. Not a damned thing the cult does makes a lick of sense. They're silent, communicating via sharpie and white board, and for some reason smoking is a sacrament. They show up to the Heroes Day events and use signs to mock the whole idea, and then stand passively by while the town beats them in a riot.

It's inexplicable, confusing, and that's what gives it depth and meaning. This is a show meant to explore how fragile order really is, and how very little it would take to tip us into a whole alternate dimension.

Honestly? I sat down with The Leftovers simply because Christopher Eccleston is in it (He plays a preacher who features little in the first episode... what's with all the former Doctors portraying Americans these days?) and I don't want to believe he left British television to wear five pounds of prosthetics in the Thor sequel. Clearly, though, this is going to be a much better show that you would expect.

Oh, and on a final note, the pilot is directed by Howard Deutch... that's right, Pretty in Pink Howard Deutch. Apparently he's made something of a career comeback on HBO, and it's fantastic. Deutch really has an eye for the post-apocalyptic. I caught references from great end-of-the-world stories like The Stand and The Last of Us all throughout the episode, but done in subtle enough ways that they just hinted at how mangled the disappearances made the world.

An entire planet dealing with survivor's guilt... it's powerful stuff indeed.

Jef has a new story, a tale of headless strippers and The Rolling Stones, available now in Broken Mirrors, Fractured Minds. You can also connect with him on Facebook.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner