The Leftovers: Why you should watch HBO’s apocalypse

Find out why Damon Lindelof’s The Leftovers is your new must-see genre show

Justin Theroux as Sheriff Kevin Garvey in The Leftovers
Justin Theroux as Sheriff Kevin Garvey in The Leftovers

With a second season already confirmed by HBO, Damon Lindelof’s The Leftovers is finally making its UK debut on Sky Atlantic. The show has seemed to divide audiences in the US, but from what we’ve seen, we would strongly recommend that you set aside some time to check out what could be one of the year’s strongest new series.

Based on the novel by Tom Perrotta, The Leftovers begins with a cataclysmic event. All over the world, people suddenly vanish. No one knows where they’ve gone or why they’ve been taken. Is it the rapture? Was it alien abduction? No one has the answers, but one thing is for sure: it has plunged those left behind into chaos.

Society essentially still functions as normal, but cracks have formed and three years after the event, and they’re not healing. Our main character is chief of police Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), who is barely working through his professional problems, let alone his personal ones. His father was the chief of police, but lost his mind and his job in quick succession, while his wife Laurie (Amy Brenneman) and son Tommy (Chris Zylka) have left him. He’s left alone in his house with his disaffected teen daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley), his drinking problem and his increasingly vivid dreams.

Kevin’s hardly alone in going through some tough times. A local cult called The Guilty Remnant, dressed in white with a vow of silence and constant cigarette smoking, has taken root and is growing in influence. They’ve targeted Megan (Liv Tyler), and also seem to have an interest in the town’s padre Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston), who is fighting to convince the world that this wasn’t the Rapture. This is a town that has very much not got over their trauma. As Kevin puts it, “They’re ready to fuckin’ explode.”

Chris Zylka lets off some steam in The Leftovers
Chris Zylka lets off some steam in The Leftovers

Coming from Lost’s Damon Lindelof, everyone seemed determined to point out that The Leftovers isn’t going anywhere, but to rage against its open-ended-ness seems to miss the point of the show. This isn’t a mystery. There are certainly mysteries within it, such as the enigmatic ‘Holy’ Wayne (Paterson Joseph) who can relieve people of their feelings of guilt with hugs. It’s unclear what exactly the Guilty Remnant want beyond refusing to allow people to forget what happened. The pilot also raises the question of how much what has happened has affected the world beyond the human race. “They’re not our dogs,” becomes a cryptic and chilling refrain of the first two episodes.

However, what makes The Leftovers such gripping viewing is the dramatic power of watching a group of characters go through the stages of loss. Grief, rage, denial, bargaining and (rarely) acceptance are all powerfully portrayed here, as the struggle to go on is continually undermined by the fact that something incredible and terrible has happened, and no one knows how, why or what the hell it all means. It’s undermined everything, from the everyday to the spiritual. What does it mean that some were taken and some were left behind? What does anything really mean anymore?

The Guilty Remnant make their presence felt in The Leftovers
The Guilty Remnant make their presence felt in The Leftovers

As you’d expect from HBO, the cast is exceptional and the performances are superb. Theroux is tightly wound and brimming with suppressed rage, while Eccleston (who doesn’t really have much to do until the third episode) is superb as a man who thinks he knows what God wants him to do – if he could only have a little help. Brenneman (Heat, Private Practice) is fantastic as the conflicted Laurie, and there are strong turns from Tyler, Scott Glenn (playing Kevin’s insitutionalised father), Compliance’s Ann Dowd (the stern head of the Guilty Remnant) and Gone Girl’s Carrie Coon (a local celebrity after her entire family was taken).

It’s this masterfully captured struggle that makes The Leftovers a must-see. It’s chilly, it’s slow-moving and certainly not the most uplifting show. What it is, however, is the kind of affecting drama that merits must-watch status. “We’re still here,” toasts Kevin Garvey at the end of the first episode. In the world of The Leftovers, that’s a sad truth.

The Leftovers begins on Sky Atlantic on 16 September at 9pm. Keep up with the latest genre TV news with the new issue of SciFiNow.