'Leftovers' is unappetizing fare
There's a good chance you've seen the promos for this series. HBO has given The Leftovers an unprecedented promotional push. Maybe pay-cable's top dog wants as many people as possible to tune in to the premiere (Sunday at 10 p.m.) because it realizes a great number won't be coming back for Week 2.
Despite the silky quality of its production, The Leftovers is a pretty grim and suffocating proposition.
Based on Tom Perrotta's novel of the same name, it chronicles the unbearable tension in the picturesque town of Mapleton, three years after "The Great Departure," a day when 2 percent of humanity suddenly and inexplicably vanished.
The survivors are grappling poorly with the fallout, camped on the precipice of rage and hysteria. Cults have sprung up, most prominently the Guilty Remnant, a large chain-smoking faction who dress all in white. Working in pairs, they follow and silently observe designated residents of the town, like silent and reproachful witnesses.
Justin Theroux gives a gritty performance as Mapleton's anguished chief of police. In fact, the cast, which includes Ann Dowd, Michael Gaston, Margaret Qualley, Amanda Warren, Scott Glenn, Christopher Eccleston, and Carrie Coon, is uniformly excellent.
Yet despite their convincing portrayals, the oversight of Damon Lindelof (creator of Lost), and the masterful direction of Peter Berg, Mimi Leder, and others, The Leftovers is very difficult to connect with on an emotional level. It's intense and eerie, but almost repulsively uninvolving.
There are flashes of morbid humor. The talking heads on TV focus on the celebrities who were taken, such as Bonnie Raitt and Gary Busey. They even locate trends, for instance that the cast of Perfect Strangers, the goofy sitcom starring Mark Linn-Baker and Bronson Pinchot, was disproportionately hit.
And there are arresting moments, as when the Guilty Remnant shows up en masse at the town's commemorative event, spooking the citizens, while James Blake's haunted "Retrograde" plays on the soundtrack.
But in the final analysis, The Leftovers is an insular and off-puttingly existential exercise, shot through with a lot of empty air and empty space.
Yes, after all this time, the hollow-eyed residents of Mapleton are not coping at all well with their grief, shock, bewilderment, anger, and (curiously) guilt. But waiting for the other boot to drop isn't a satisfying spectator sport.
The Leftovers doesn't make for a good TV dinner.
Premieres at 10 p.m. Sunday on HBO.