The Observer

The Leftovers Is The Best Show You Haven’t Seen

Baylor Thornton

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Abstract: Why HBO’s The Leftovers is one of the best shows of the decade. An apocalyptic yet optimistic masterpiece.

HBO can be credited for changing television forever. They took the world by storm in the 2000s with The Sopranos and The Wire, often considered the top two best shows of all time. It was here when Hollywood realized that television doesn’t need to be inferior to movies. And they’ve retained that sterling reputation, with similarly popular and influential shows like Game of Thrones, Westworld, Boardwalk Empire, True Detective, and more. However, there’s another that’s not talked about as much, but could very well be the best of the bunch. It never won an Emmy, the ratings were never great, and the critical reception was initially mixed. However, it quickly earned a devoted cult fanbase, and it’s now hailed one of the greatest shows ever made. Ladies and gentlemen, this is The Leftovers.
Imagine if one day, completely out of the blue, 140 million people disappear. Two percent of the entire world’s population, gone without a trace. There’s no rhyme or reason to why this happened, or to who’s departed and who isn’t. It just happens. This is where The Leftovers begins. Of course, the collective trauma this event (referred to as “The Departure” and “October 14th”) has on everyone can be described as “9/11 times 1000.” Truly, nothing is the same after this. Between the rise of cults, the countless so-called prophets, and the never-ending expectation for the apocalypse, the world of The Leftovers is a dangerous one. However, this show isn’t entirely dreary and hopeless. It never goes into edgelord territory like Infinity War or The Walking Dead, where everything goes wrong just… cause. Despite how much goes wrong, the themes ultimately revolve around healing and survival. Considering the massive surplus of media about the end of the world, this is a refreshing angle to take it.
Another fascinating aspect of The Leftovers is how ambiguous it is. This is not a mystery, where we can expect everything to be ultimately resolved and explained. It’s less about what happens, and more about how it happens. There’s a lot of elements that are potentially mystical or supernatural, but it’s up to our interpretation how much is literal. It’s also a very subversive and unpredictable series. About halfway through, the series goes out of its way to jump the shark as many times as possible. However, it still manages to connect with the main story and character arcs perfectly. Creator Damon Lindelof is obsessed with these elements, considering his first show was Lost and his upcoming project is Watchmen. I can’t wait to see what he does with the latter. After seeing The Leftovers, I’m convinced he’s the perfect choice to adapt the classic comic to a modern context.
But the true strength of The Leftovers lies in the characters, who are all fantastic. We have Kevin Garvey’s mental illness, Nora Durst’s grief, Matt Jamison’s religious devotion, Laurie Garvey’s self-destruction, and many more fascinating dilemmas. The series does a great job giving everyone their spotlight, often letting supporting characters star in their own episode. It also benefits from a relatively brief run, of only 28 hour-long episodes. Every installment adds something new, and it never overstayed its welcome. Resulting in potentially the most addictive series since Breaking Bad. I found myself watching three or four episodes in one day. And I hope you do too. The Leftovers is currently streaming in its entirety on HBO Go and HBO Now.

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The Leftovers Is The Best Show You Haven’t Seen