Monday, June 30, 2014

These Leftovers Are Undercooked

HBO's The Leftovers is adapted by Damon Lindelhoff from Tom Perrotta's excellent novel of the same name. Both the television series and the novel share a premise: millions of people around the world disappear one day, without rhyme or reason, a random rapture.

The novel focuses on the internal emotional struggles of a half-dozen or so characters, fundamentally good people each coming to terms with an unexplainable loss. It's quiet and gentle, especially given the immense pain felt by the protagonists.

The pilot of the television series tosses the emotional depth of the novel aside to focus on the same sort of melodrama we've already seen in other, better shows. The novel's lead character, a mayor whose wife has joined the Guilty Remnant, a cult of judgemental people who feel moving on after tragedy is a betrayal of those who disappear, becomes a police chief in the television series - a change in occupation that automatically allows for more action-adventure. There's also a bizarre subplot about dogs running wild, a distraction that tries to add an air of mystique to the proceedings but simply seems out of place.

I was hoping for more nuance from HBO, but the television series is, unsurprisingly, far more violent and confrontational than the novel. I understand the difficulty of translating thoughtful prose to interesting television, but given Perrotta's involvement in the show, I expected more.

It's quite possible that the show will improve with time, as often happens in genre television, but thus far The Leftovers leaves me feeling anything but rapturous.

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