Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Pilot Talk 2014: The Leftovers

Every TV season, networks bring out a new crop of shows, in hopes that they'll be the next big hit.  Pilot Talk is devoted to figuring out whether these shows are worth your time based on the first episode.

Sundays at 10:00 PM on HBO

Of all the recent books for former Lost co-showrunner Damon Lindelof to adapt, The Leftovers seems like the perfect choice.  Tom Perrotta's novel about a Rapture-esque event that claims the lives of millions of people on Earth was divisive when it came out in 2011: some found it an intriguing personal drama examining the individuals who were left behind, while others thought it was frustratingly dull and provided little in the way of answers.  Lindelof knows a thing or two about divisive stories, but it's not just that aspect of him that makes him the right man for the job.  It's also his ability to depict humanity in the wake of strange events, caring about flashy moments, but only as an extension of the characters wrapped up in them.

For viewers who became increasingly furious at that kind of storytelling on Lost, The Leftovers is highly unlikely to win anyone over.  The story cuts to three years after the grand exodus, where people are still stumbling to figure out just how and why everyone disappeared.  That sense of confusion extends to the audience, as we're presented with all kinds of oblique remarks, unclear motivations, and half-formed pictures of what's going on.  They're questions, but divorced from the pulp adventure spirit of Lost.  Instead, The Leftovers resorts to subdued character mysteries.  It's less about, "What is going on?" and more concerned with, "Who are these people"?  That might annoy or bore some people who want the sci-fi excitement that Lost delivered, but it offers its own kind of reward.

Lost populated its roster with iconic characters who were fascinating and well-defined from the beginning.  Individually, the characters in The Leftovers aren't particularly interesting.  But taken as a whole, they paint an intriguing mosaic of lost souls.  The pilot keeps scenes short, constantly cutting between different members of the show's large ensemble, each of them attempting to go about normal life as a way of not confronting the tragedy they still haven't wrapped their heads around.  That anger, pain, and confusion all overflows in the episode's centerpiece at the Heroes Day parade -- an occasion for remembering those who disappeared three years ago -- when a group of mourners clash with the mysteriously silent faction that tells them to stop wasting their breath.

There doesn't seem to be much middle ground one can find when it comes to this show.  If it happens to be on your wavelength, you're likely to love it.  But if its bleak tone and coy reasoning isn't your style, it's not hard to see the same things that are being praised as maddening flaws.  From the looks of it, the show is already proving to be rather divisive.  Count me in as being on the positive side, because this is one of my favorite pilots of the year so far.

Grade: A-

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