Published: Wednesday August 6, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday August 6, 2014 MYT 9:41:21 AM

The Leftovers: An acquired taste

Justin Theroux gives a convincing performance playing the town’s respected but flawed police chief. - Reuters

Justin Theroux gives a convincing performance playing the town’s respected but flawed police chief. - Reuters

You’ll either gobble it up or spit it out when it comes to HBO’s The Leftovers.

WE’VE just passed the halfway mark – five episodes in, and I’m this close to throwing in the towel on HBO’s The Leftovers.

Taking place three years after what is referred to as the “Sudden Departure” – where 2% of the world’s population mysteriously vanished – the series zeroes in on the town of Mapleton, New York, and how its townspeople are still grappling with the disappearance of their loved ones while living in this new reality.

The main protagonist is police chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), who may not have lost anyone during the Sudden Departure but is having a tough time maintaining peace and order among the townspeople.

Rattling the cage is a cult group calling itself the “Guilty Remnant” (GR), formed after the phenomenon. Clad all in white, the group’s members seem pretty harmless, exhibiting a few idiosyncrasies such as complete silence (communicating mostly through writing); stalking people at sidewalks, bus stops and grocery stores; and breaking into houses to remove photographs from their frames.

But there’s only so much awkward silence and staredown people can take. Last week, we saw one of the members of the GR, Gladys, stoned to death in a forest.

Cult status: The Guilty Remnant did not win many friends with this stunt, and one of its members recently suffered a painful demise on the show.
Cult status : The Guilty Remnant did not win many friends with this stunt, and one of its members recently suffered a painful demise on the show.

Based on Tom Perrotta’s 2011 novel of the same name, the series had a lot going for it in its pilot, particularly the pull of the many mysteries it presented. The opening scene alone – where a mother wails in the middle of a seemingly ordinary afternoon, finding her baby suddenly gone from the back seat of her car – was both alarming and breathtaking at the same time. The show had us at its premise.

The intrigue surrounding the GR was equally fascinating. First of all, why are they ALWAYS smoking? What is their cause? Why are they so committed to it? And judging from the often faraway look in their eyes, do they know something the rest of the town, and the world, doesn’t?

And then there’s the leader of another cult, Holy Wayne, who claims to be able to offer hugs that can heal people of their sorrows but needs to “recharge” his powers by, erm, having his way with young Asian girls.

Mind-boggling stuff but unfortunately, these mysteries are taking too long to unravel. Five episodes on (there are only 10 in the season), we are still no closer to getting any answers than when the series started.

The pace is annoyingly slow and it seems to lose its focus at times. Episode Three is dedicated to the town’s priest – a character we don’t know enough to care about, really – and his struggles to keep the church from closing down.

Though interesting (Reverend Jamison devotes his time to digging up dirt on the Departed), it does nothing to extend the show’s main storyline (or maybe that was the point, to drag the series out).

The mood is dark and despondent all the time and it can get very violent, too.

The scene of poor old Gladys being repeatedly pelted by rocks – shown in vivid detail – may not sit well with most viewers unless they are regular HBO viewers.

So there’s a decision to be made with The Leftovers: do we see what we can make of it, or toss it in the bin?

Well, among those considering the latter, there is that fear that the mysteries the show poses – especially its central one – may never be answered. The novel doesn’t explain the reason for the Sudden Departure, and it might be wishful thinking to hope the series will.

On the other hand, those who are thinking of sticking around are drawn to its dynamic cast of characters and how they are coping with this baffling situation. The performance given by leading man Theroux is very convincing, too, while Ann Dowd as the GR’s leader is garnering praise from fans and critics all over.

Of course, they will be rewarded if the big questions finally get answered. But by the time that happens, the mysteries surrounding The Leftovers might have gone stale, unwittingly leaving the show to live down to its name.

The Leftovers airs every Sunday at 9pm on HBO (Astro Ch 411/HD Ch 431).

Tags / Keywords: The Leftovers, HBO, Justin Theroux, Ann Dowd, Liv Tyler, Tom Perotta, TV, review

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