The Leftovers isn’t easy watching. The premise is a tough one: roughly two percent of the world’s population suddenly vanishes one October day, leaving the other ninety-eight percent to agonize over where they went, why they went, and what the hell actually happened. Three years on, the weight of the uncertainty left in the wake of the event is so fresh that it might have happened just yesterday. Justin Theroux stars as Kevin Garvey, Chief of Police in smalltown Mapleton, New York, and in the pilot episode it’s already clear what kind of devastating effect the disappearance has had on Mapleton and on Kevin.
Damon Lindelof is a major player here, the writer behind such other head-scratchers as Lost and Prometheus, and his stroke is evident in the first hour of Leftovers. This is one reason why the show likely defies those happening upon it as they lounge on the couch and flip through channels until they hit HBO – The Leftovers isn’t at all a casual watch. Lindelof shares creator credit with Tom Perrotta, who wrote and published Leftovers as a novel before turning it to the small screen, and it appears they’ve both adopted the “mystery box” theory posed once by J.J. Abrams. The Leftovers shows us the box, shows the top and bottom and sides and practically makes us beg to see what’s inside it – and Lindelof and Co. are aware that that mystery itself is more compelling than actually opening the box. The main box – containing the answer to the question where did the departed go, and why were they taken? – is the framework for the entire show.