“The Leftovers” Might be the Best TV of 2017

The bar for 2017's television masterpiece has just been raised thanks to the final season of HBO's "The Leftovers".

| April 17, 2017

The bar for 2017’s television masterpiece has just been raised thanks to the final season of HBO’s “The Leftovers.” After all, it certainly isn’t every day that you see a series be this creatively nimble and emotionally powerful. But can anyone really be surprised? When you have a masterful storyteller such as Damon Lindelof is at the helm, especially in the medium at which he excels, the results are bound to be bountiful.

Lindelof got his fame as one of the chief creative minds behind “Lost,” still one of the most influential programs to air on television, and in the years following its success, was tapped to do script work on massive blockbusters such as “Prometheus,” “World War Z” and “Tomorrowland.” However, it would be his return to the small screen that marked his next great endeavor. Working with it’s author, Tom Perrotta, Lindelof adapted “The Leftovers” into a drama series for HBO.

Both the book and show take place in the years following an earth-shattering event where two percent of the world’s population disappears into thin air. Some think it’s the rapture; others propose some sort of scientific phenomenon we don’t yet full understand, but maybe it means nothing and has no significance. Whatever the cause of ‘the departure’ was, it was clear Lindelof and Perrotta had no intention of exploring it. Rather, they wanted to probe the lives of characters left in the wake, confused, angry and in crisis.

Similar to the novel, the show’s first season focused on the residents of a small Pennsylvanian town, each trying to cope with the global tragedy in their own way. Some want to forget, others flock to various cults for answers, but no one can truthfully forget. The sadness, fear and doubt hovered over every scene. For Lindelof, ‘the departure’ was no different than say 9-11 or the Sandy Hook shooting. Because of this, the series started as an exploration of grief, loss and how communities process unthinkable tragedies. It was heavy stuff, which is probably why the first season garnered mix reactions.

Despite an interesting premise, and two terrific one-off episodes, “The Leftovers'” first season was, in layman’s terms, a tough hang. Both critics and audiences simply had a tough time warming up to the idea of tuning in every Sunday night for an hour of heavy, deathly serious drama focused on mourning and loss. Perhaps it’s with that notion that those who returned for season two, whether out of professional obligation, genuine love or just pure curiosity (me), were thrilled to see a what many referred to as a coarse correction.

Poster courtesy of HBO.

Indeed, it seemed as though Lindelof had listened to all the constructive criticism thrown at the show’s first season and tweaked things ever so slightly to satisfy more tastes. The result: a show that felt entirely rebooted, rejuvenated and alive. Lindelof kept a handful of characters from the book/first season and moved them from dreary Pennsylvania to a town in Texas that’s become a new Jerusalem for the post-departure world. It’s a center of faith, whatever you might consider that to be, and it may or may not hold a mystical power. Having a town like this as the setting gave the viewer a broader look at the post-departure world, something that had only been hinted at in season one.

However, most importantly, season two brought with it a change in tone; not a drastic one, the series did not go from dark drama to goofy comedy, but there was a sense of surrealist playfulness added. After all, if this is a world where two percent of the world’s population can mysteriously vanish, what else is possible? Lindelof himself has talked of the influence Bible stories had on crafting the world of the show, in which the fantastic and surreal happens within everyday life.

Season two might not have brought with it an increase in viewership ratings for the series but it did bring an enthusiastic backing from critics. I myself placed it on the “Niner Times'” Best TV of 2015 list after it aired. The strong backing from critics was enough to convince HBO to renew the series for a third and final season. Lindelof took roughly a year off to craft a strong ending to the series, and it seems to have paid off.

Season three of “The Leftovers” is a masterful piece of television, excelling in all levels of writing, acting, directing and even music. Lindelof has set the final chapter seven years after ‘the departure,’ where everything for our lead characters, the Garvey family, and their close friends seems to be going perfectly. It’s a direct counter to the world around them, which seems wrapped-up in the idea that the world is going to end in exactly 14 days.

Poster courtesy of HBO.

Of course, whether or not this prediction will come true is up to speculation. The new season opens with a religious group in the 1800s eagerly awaiting the second coming, swiftly followed by the end of times. Over and over, they climb the roofs of their homes, waiting with eager anticipation, only to emerge the next day in shame and disappointment. For centuries, societies and religious groups have predicted the end of times. Is it any wonder that some of our characters would shrug their shoulders in disbelief at the idea?

Lindelof also continues with the series’ world building by gradually sending his leads to Australia, a journey that eventually leads to preventing an earth destroying flood (Noah’s ark allusion). The biblical comparisons continue as tormented Police Chief, Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) is thought to be…wait for it…a second coming. That discovery, along with a brand new gospel written by pastor Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) detailing the Garvey-Christ theory, only send further questions spiraling. There’s a miraculously specific tone to this season that walks a fine line between laughing at the outrageous claims of floods and second comings, while still keeping us open to the idea that they may be true. After all, anything is possible.

As in previous seasons, Lindelof manages to give a variety of characters their moment in the sun. This method of having each episode zone in on a different specific character was also used on “Lost” and helps make each individual episode vibrant and unique. Of all the stars and characters though, the most thrilling to watch continues to be actress Carrie Coon, who can also be seen at the moment on the FX anthology series “Fargo.” Coon’s character has risen to become almost a co-lead to Theroux’s Chief Garvey. Here, the actress may deliver her most impressive outing yet as she manages to be unpredictable, humorous and emotionally vulnerable all within the stretch of a few scenes.

Of course to reveal any further about the new season would do a disservice to those watching. As always, part of the magnificence of “The Leftovers” is the way it surprises, in little moments as well as big. You’re never really sure what to expect in a given episode, and that’s part of the fun. Lindelof has opened up a world ripe with creative possibilities inhabited by uniquely complex characters. So catch up on the first two seasons; wikipedia the first and just watch the second, or watch this handy review of both and dive right in! “The Leftovers”‘ final season is not something to be missed; it’s a truly remarkable work of television that showcases the incredible heights possible in the medium.

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Television

Jesse Nussman is a senior at UNCC majoring in Communications and minoring in film. He is an avid film lover and writes about various pop-culture subjects within film, television, and music.

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Jesse Nussman is a senior at UNCC majoring in Communications and minoring in film. He is an avid film lover and writes about various pop-culture subjects within film, television, and music.

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