Was anyone else live-tweeting about The Leftovers last night besides me? It didn’t seem like many—Lionel Richie’s misspelled name at the BET Awards garnered more of a response than the entire premiere of HBO’s new mystery(ish?) show by the guy who brought us the soul-crushing disappointment of Lost—but maybe that was because The Leftovers was as vaguely tenebrous as seasonal affective disorder. What was there to say about it? It’s been three years since October 14th, when a Rapture-ish event vanished two percent of the world’s population. Now Hillary Clinton is maybe president and the market for good apps has really gone downhill. People shoot dogs while deer roam around on people’s yards, posing as statues and casing joints for a little B&A. So you know, some ups, some downs. In this not-quite-post-apocalyptic society, which we see played out in Mapleton, New York, teenagers are still moody assholes, but with shittier apps and a renewed penchant for house raves. Buddy Garrity leaves Dillon, Texas (where he’s become a congressman??), to meet cult leader Wayne, who is definitely doing better off on his compound than he was at JLB Corp.
We don’t know what “Wayne’s” deal is, except he talks to his daughter who tells him that all the gone people will soon be returning, and he needs Mr. Jennifer Aniston’s son to protect/not sleep with Christine, a Spring Breaker waited on hand and foot by Max, who brings her gummy worms and recaps plot points from The Bachelor. (Side-note: After 2 percent of the world goes away, we still have The Bachelor. Actually, we still have a lot of things.)
Maybe that’s my problem with The Leftovers: I understand that it’s a portrait of grief and loss on a macro-scale, and not, like, a zombie-apocalypse. (Which frankly, we don’t need more of, either.) But if you’re going to be introducing us to a world changed by an unspeakable tragedy, maybe there should be a couple of things that are different (or at least addressed before we move too far along in this mope-fest)?
1. How can 2 percent of the world’s population make up 80 percent of the Mapleton laundromat’s parking lot? I’m no mathematician, but from what I saw in the first five minutes of People Screaming During An Event (A Damon Lindelof Production), one baby + one dad + one car driver = more characters than we’ve been introduced to yet.
2. The pacing is off. Not just in the episode, but in the timeline of the show. It’s been three years since the event, yet Sheriff Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux, aka The Kabballer), whom we’re to believe is more clued in to what’s going on in his town than even the mayor, hasn’t realized that everyone’s dogs have become rabid killing machines. Let me just get this out of the way: this dude is a terrible sheriff. He keeps being late for meetings, which you’d think is not that important in a show about a cataclysmic nightmare dystopia, but the human spirit is known for enduring through it’s mundanity and petty bureaucratic in-fighting. Sheriff Garvey also spends the majority of the episode on the case of the dog shooting, despite amble evidence–that he brings up!–that the Guilty Remnants will provoke the townspeople into a riot during their first ever Heroes Day. (The disappeared are “heroes,” the mayor explains, “because no one’s going to come to a parade on ‘We Don’t Know What the Fuck Happened Day.'”) Also: it’s been three years and they are having their first memorial parade? It’s also been 3 years, and the Sheriff is just finding out where his ex-wife lives. Despite it being as easy as showing up to the GI compound and asking someone to point him to Laurie’s place. Hell, even the mayor knew that these people were located in a cul-de-sac. Do your police-work, Garvey!
3. I know we’re all trying to put the pieces back together, but maybe the sheriff shouldn’t be a guy with clinical insanity running in his family and who hallucinates stags? And maybe I missed something, but did he put the Dudley’s the dead dog’s collar back in his trunk? Because it was there when Jill found it, but Garvey definitely tried to give it back to Mrs. Tunney in a prior scene. And his interrogation technique needs some major improvement:
4. If you want to survive this depressing suburban wasteland, you’re better off being a libertarian. This show would actually make for some great Tea Party propaganda. You have the federal government is incompetently spinning its wheels, angry mobs kicking the shit out of mute pacifists and MSNBC melding into Fox News for one crazy uberchannel. (There’s Professor Michael Eric Dyson on TV at the bar, arguing that “the scientists” are cultists “who believe in worshipping their own objectivity.”) The local law enforcement ends up taking advice from a guy with a shotgun in his backseat who goes around killing dogs on the street. You know, the guy who defied a direct command from a police officer to stop his car twice in the course of 24 hours? (And not to harp on Garvey’s incompetence, but how hard could he have been looking for this guy? I mean, the dude was drinking at the same bar.) Rand Paul should get an executive producer credit.
5. Speaking of the media, this:
I’m fine with taking out the heroes in Heroes Day. But we’re pretty clear about the victim part, yeah? It’s not like Salman Rushdie disappeared after a Sudden Departure roofied him at a college frat party, so even George Will should be okay with that terminology. Stop being jerks, The Media!
5. I appreciate any show that introduces competing cults right off the bat (The Following wasted a whole season getting there), but it’s hard to imagine anyone joining up with the Guilty Remnants if their recruiting methods consists of antagonizing the grieving, chainsmoking and sending stalker-grams in the form of Kathy Geiss and a mid-career Jessica Lange. Maybe the Smoke Monster was part of the 2 percent and this is how the GR remember not to forget?
6. There are lots of parts of this show that you feel like would be happening with or without the disappearances. Garvey’s dad, the former police chief, seems to have gone insane for perhaps an entirely different reason. Despite miraculously surviving without any (known) losses to their family unit, the Garveys all carry tremendous chips on their shoulders that you suspect would be there even if Gary Busey was still around. Take Jill, for instance: she’s just kind of an asshole, the way most teenagers are assholes. Hey Jill, lighten up and choke that nice boy! Stop crushing people’s faces during field hockey! Don’t use the c-word: I’m sure that even in 2017 or whatever, that’s still not okay.
And most important, learn that if there is one thing that jocks like Nick hate, it’s girls who oversell their mime suicides.
“You just get kind of intense and melancholy and shit sometimes,” her friend tells her, and Jill rolls her eyes and then mocks some perfectly cute boy for owning a Prius. Let’s face it: Jill’s just a bitch. It has nothing to do with the maybe-Rapture. (PS: Jill’s friend should find better dining companions; inexplicably, her American Beauty act just makes Sheriff Mope-face’s eyes roll in a perfect imitation of his daughter’s.)
7. And finally, it’s nice to know that even if we experience a life-altering catastrophe like the one in The Leftovers, life goes on. Somewhere out there, there will always be a bride-to-be speaking her (Xanaxed) mind.
As long as we remember that, there’s still hope.