The best thing on TV is currently back on TV. So why isn’t Hannah Dunleavy being deafened by the chatter about it?
Sometimes you love a TV series and find everyone’s talking about it. And sometimes it’s maybe not everyone, but there’s someone at work, or a mate’s husband, or a friend on Facebook you can say, “My word that was unexpected/tragic/stomach-churningly awful” to, and they can nod and stroke their chin and together you can wonder what might come next.
And then there are times you love a TV series and… nothing. Not a squeak. No one. There’s just you, shouting into the wilderness (or as it’s now known, tweeting), “This is the best thing on TV by a country mile,” and the only response is a favourite from some guy in Kansas three months later. Women and gentlemen, welcome to being a fan of The Leftovers.
Watched by disappointingly few people on HBO in the US and who knows how many people here on Sky Atlantic (although my current survey suggests it’s just me), the show has been one of the channel’s more polarising efforts of recent years and also one of its best.
“The first series couldn’t have been more unsettling if a guy in a clown mask had stared through the lounge window while you watched it. It was perfect.”
Bleaker than a primary school trip to an abattoir, just three episodes into the second series, it increasingly looks like The Leftovers might earn a place among the ‘top tier’ of HBO dramas – or whatever you want to call The Wire, The Sopranos and Deadwood. A bold claim? Yep, I’ll get to that.
Based on a novel by Tom Perrotta, the series is set a few years after a mysterious event – “the departure” – in which two per cent of the world’s population (about 140 million people) vanishes in the blink of an eye. If it sounds like science fiction, it’s not: The Leftovers doesn’t concern itself with what happened or why, but instead on how it affects those left behind. And how, in their struggle to move on, they look for something to help them understand. It’s about as existential as TV gets.
Ostensibly anchored by Justin Theroux’s small-town cop Kevin Garvey, the first series often dispensed with the main cast to focus on a single character, thereby creating some of its most effective episodes. It was dark, it was bloody, it was stubborn, it had Christopher Eccleston in it. It couldn’t have been more unsettling if a guy in a clown mask had stared through the lounge window while you watched it. It was perfect.
With such a lot to live up to, no more source material to work from and a chorus of sneering from seemingly eternally disappointed Lost fans (the two shows share a creator, Damon Lindelof), it would’ve been easy to write the second series off as a disaster before it happened.
It launched with new credits and a wildly different theme tune – Iris DeMent, no less. Then we got a nine-minute opening sequence that not only appeared to have no relevance to anything that had ever been on The Leftovers, but also to anything that had ever been on TV. Then we did another 20 minutes without a single familiar face. WTF eh? Indeed. The answer: still completely brilliant, is the fuck.
Because what lifts The Leftovers near that category with HBO’s earlier triumphs is, no matter the set-up, no matter the location, no matter the timeframe, it remains a show about people: what they love, what they fear and what they allow themselves to believe to get through the day. In short, the best kind of TV.
So, come on, do a lonely fan a favour and start watching it. Someone? Anyone?1982 Views
Hannah Dunleavy is the deputy editor of Standard Issue. She likes whisky and not having to run anywhere.