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Hercules Feasts On HBO’s Savory LEFTOVERS, Damon Lindelof’s First TV Series Since LOST!!

I am – Hercules!!

A fascinating and generally quite excellent new HBO series, “The Leftovers” follows what happens to a small town three years after two percent of the world’s population vanishes into thin air. Many believe the Oct. 14 disappearances manifested The Rapture, an event prophesized to whisk the righteous to Heaven.

(A digression. Leaving aside that it inspired a catchy Blondie single and at least two great movies – 1991’s “The Rapture” and last year’s “This Is The End” – I have always questioned the usefulness of Rapture. I mean, all good people get whisked up to heaven eventually, don’t they? End digression.)

Leaving aside its considerable entertainment value, “The Leftovers” scores big points by asking at least a few Really Interesting Questions. The faith-based community claims to love its God, but if we were suddenly confronted with a Higher Being – a Being powerful and indifferent enough to destroy our lives as effectively as the God who drowned Noah’s neighbors – would we really be that into worshiping Him?

Do Muslims and Christians worship God because they’re afraid if they don’t He’ll again begin visiting catastrophic and unimaginable horrors upon us?

Even three years later, the citizens of fictional Mapleton, N.Y., seem pretty freaked out, and I can’t say I blame them.

Sunday's pilot should lure a lot of viewers to episode two, but episode one turns out to be the least of “Leftover’s” first three installments. The more compelling second episode contains no missteps and the third episode, which focuses on Christopher Eccleston’s obsessed preacher character, is riveting. If one makes it that far, one may find it hard to keep this series out of one’s DVR.

The series is based on the 2011 novel by Tom Perrotta, who has had novels adapted into the acclaimed 1999 motion picture “Election” (starring Matthew Broderick) and the acclaimed 2006 motion picture “Little Children” (starring Kate Winslet). Perrotta co-created the “Leftovers” series with “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof, whose subsequent big-screen resume includes movies I quite like (“Star Trek,” “World War Z”) and some with which I was far less impressed (“Cowboys & Aliens,” “Prometheus”).

The best thing about “The Leftovers” is its complex, compelling and generally likeable characters.

Some, including Eccleston’s Matt Jamison, have good reason to believe what happened was not The Rapture, and point out that a lot of The Missing were just awful people. Jamison, in fact, now seems to be devoting his life to publicizing the misdeeds of The Disappeared.

And if Rev. Matt is right – if this isn’t God’s work – viewers may in their minds form disturbing alternate explanations. Has The Devil begun consigning the living to Hell? Did extraterrestrial forces randomly beam 1/50th of us to a pharma lab on Altair IV? And if so, will they require another two percent in the coming weeks or decades?

(Amusingly, The Event also claimed two percent of our celebrities, and it’s interesting to learn who – in addition to Shaquille O’Neal, Bronson Pinchot and Pope Benedict – made the cut.)

The character most central to the sprawling ensemble drama is rural Upstate New York police chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), whose family blew apart after The Event. Garvey’s wife (Amy Brenneman) left him to join an Event-precipitated cult of silent, white-wearing chain-smokers, his son (Chris Zylka) left him to join an entirely different cult run by a charismatic Englishman, his daughter (Margaret Qualley) has begun indulging troubling whims, and Garvey’s father (Scott Glenn), the town’s former top lawman, apparently started hearing voices and had to be institutionalized.

The U.S. government, of course, is also quite keen to discover What Happened. In the second episode we get to better know a woman who serves as one of what we imagine are thousands of benefit adjusters. She is empowered to compensate survivors in exchange for information about The Taken -- and the questions she asks on behalf of her overlords can be fascinating in the extreme. (She may remind fans of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” a bit of Francois Truffaut’s UFO investigator.)

Though “The Leftovers” does not this weekend launch as strongly as “Lost” – which benefited from a spectacular pilot script co-written by new “Star Trek”/“Star Wars” overlord J.J. Abrams – I think in the long run there’s a chance I may end up liking the “Leftovers” even more than “Lost.” Which is saying something.

Hitfix says:

... Maybe [Lindelof] saw the opportunity in "The Leftovers" to make something great. Because he sure as hell has. … I believe in "The Leftovers." And I want to see more of it. Now.

HuffPost TV says:

... I kept going, and I will continue to do so. "The Leftovers" is somber and often sad, yet it's also sincere and willing to ask the big questions. "The Leftovers" is interesting television, even if, in the early going, it's not quite sure of what it wants to be or where it wants to go. …

The New York Times says:

... As with any good drama, the mystery lies in human nature more than in the supernatural. Once the show gets going, and it takes more than one episode to do so, “The Leftovers” bores into the characters and the fissures that crack their community so astutely that the cause is almost secondary. …

The Los Angeles Times says:

... Tonally ambitious and tantalizingly opaque, "The Leftovers" takes the universal trauma of loss and launches it globally. What is it we mourn, exactly, and where will that mourning lead us?

The Chicago Sun-Times says:

... An intriguing study in how regular Joes react to inexplicable events …

The Washington Post says:

... the show delivers on an exceedingly intriguing premise, with some of the most beguilingly morose performances delivered this year. It’s a strange but good wallow. …

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says:

... “The Leftovers” is at its best in its third episode, which focuses entirely on the Rev. Matt Jamison … But is this tight-focus episode an anomaly or will it become a routine format change for “The Leftovers”? From these early episodes, which do improve as they go along, it’s still unclear what the series will be on a weekly basis … While there may still be doubts about the sustainability of “The Leftovers,” it clearly seems to be moving in a positive direction creatively even as the show’s overall tone grows more pessimistic.

The San Francisco Chronicle says:

... It's not that the story wouldn't make good TV; it's that in this version, it doesn't. It's confusing, slow-moving and often excruciating. …

The Boston Herald says:

... Rarely has a TV show led me to prayer. But HBO’s “The Leftovers” had me pleading to a higher power for a rapture event so I could be saved from this pompous, pretentious tripe. … What works on the page doesn’t translate to the screen, unless your idea of gripping TV is watching members scribble messages furiously on notepads. …

The Boston Globe says:

... Perrotta and Lindelof are working with an admirably rich premise, which is: How do we deal with the pure randomness of death and life? The show is an attempt to take on one of the most difficult facets of the human condition without any indirection or disguise. “Lost” was a giant mystery, and in every episode we were trying to figure out what was going on. “The Leftovers” doesn’t much bother trying to explain the Sudden Departure. It’s all about the aftermath of inexplicable loss, the way we thinking creatures work to rationalize the sheer arbitrariness and impermanence of our existence. …

Time says:

... it all seems a bit logy and unreal, as if, like the Remnant with their white garb and silence, The Leftovers made its suffering too generic and surrendered its voice. Then comes the fantastic third episode, which follows Mapleton pastor Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) through a crisis of faith, all through a story as neatly and twistily crafted as a Twilight Zone episode. …

USA Today says:

... In the end, you may not be able to escape the feeling that the material, worthy and well-presented though it may be, is being forced into a format for which it's unsuited. It's a mistake even the best can make — and make no mistake, Lindelof is one of our best. …

Variety says:

... undoubtedly interesting; whether it’s worthy of rapturous praise is another matter. …

The Hollywood Reporter says:

... What Perrotta and co-writer/executive producer Damon Lindelof smartly get at with "the sudden departure" is all the character-shaping that derives from the unexplainable. With a series that is a mystery on one level but is really about humanity's reaction to the unknown, you can delve into some hefty themes. …

10 p.m. Sunday. HBO.



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