“The Leftovers” isn’t “Lost,” nor is it trying to be.
That’s probably the first thing you should know about the new HBO drama.
As “Prometheus” proved, the presence of man behind the numbers and the hatch, Damon Lindelof, who co-created “The Leftovers” with author Tom Perrotta, requires that clarification. Since the end of “Lost,” fans have hounded Lindelof — often unjustly, sometimes not — across film projects about what they perceive as a habit of not answering questions, and that reputation is on display in the first few hours of “The Leftovers,” just not in the way people are expecting.
On October 14, two percent of the world’s population — almost 150 million people — disappear without explanation, and that’s just the first scene of the series. The action immediately jumps forward three years to see how life on Earth has changed since the mass vanishing.
Going by the premise and the infamous reputation of its co-creator, it’s easy to imagine the show that “The Leftovers” isn’t.
The series isn’t about Justin Theroux’s Sheriff Garvey trying to get to the bottom of the mystery of the disappearance. He doesn’t even seem that interested in the G.R., the commune of mute smokers that haunted his New Jersey town, decked out entirely in white. The audience has no idea what the G.R. is up to, and they’re more a nuisance to Garvey than a puzzle worth solving.
That’s because while there’s mystery abound in the world of “The Leftovers,” what Lindelof and Perrotta are more interested in is the mess that the disappearance left behind, and the portrait they paint is a dark one. Teens have replaced “Spin the Bottle” with a similar game featuring casual sex, choking and self-mutilation, and as Sheriff Garvey learns the hard way, the neighborhood dogs “aren’t ours anymore.”
If there’s one takeaway from the first hour, which premieres this Sunday (6/29), Lindelof isn’t looking to give the viewers the opportunity to accuse him of repeating what they saw as the shortcomings of “Lost.” There will be mysteries, but only as elements of a much more human-focused drama, one far bleaker than anything Jack, Kate and Sawyer ever encountered on the island.
The biggest questions of the series come from inside the characters rather than the bizarre world around them. We’re left in the dark about why certain characters have reacted to the disappearance like they have. They act strangely without Lindeloff and Perrotta cluing in the audience all at once, choosing instead to reveal a character’s motivation little by little.
It’s a good strategy for keeping viewers engaged, but being held at an arm’s length from character can leave you with the feeling that “The Leftovers” follows the story of walking plot points rather than living, breathing people, dealing with something otherworldly and yet disturbingly relatable.