The Leftovers: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review: Relishing the Remnants

HBO's newest series creates a complex and confusing web of intrigue worth watching and rewatching.
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Those who know me are aware of my regular refrain when the fall arrives: "I don't watch television." With so many movies out there, I find little worth devoting three months of my life to on a weekly basis. Life's too short to waste on bad television. The Leftovers was recommended to me constantly, so I decided to give the pilot a cursory glance....cut to a day and a half later and I'd successfully binged watched the entire series, a first for me. As if that's not already a rare occurence, I rarely ever watch the same season twice but in anticipation of The Leftovers' season two premiere, I pounced on the opportunity to review the complete first season on Blu-ray. One of television's best series, and most mind boggling, The Leftovers questions life, family, religion, and the hereafter while telling an equally compelling drama about suburbanites overcoming tragedy.

A mysterious event has seen two percent of the population inexplicably disappear. The town of Mapleton, New York is one such area with people who lost loved ones on October 14th. Led by Sheriff Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), Mapleton tries to get back on its feet, but incidents keep occuring, some aided and abetted by a local, possibly religious, organization called The Guilty Remnant.

The Leftovers is a show college papers will be written about. Based on the novel by Tom Perrotta, there's a lot to unpack throughout the film's ten episodes and answers aren't forthcoming by the end. Co-created by Damon Lindelof of Lost fame, the lack of answers will frustrate some. Essentially, your enjoyment of Lost dictates your enjoyment of this. There's never any explanation of where the "departures" went on October 14th, and any attempts to do so would be self-defeating. Local pastor Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) and others put a religious spin on it - questioning why perceived "bad" people disappeared - but is there a religious element? Are these people dead or alive? And where did they go based on that? Explaining these things would be akin to explaining what happens after we die, and that opens up the town to showing us the world in microcosm. These events are far out of left field, but they're associated with something we're aware of, but will never understand.

The ten episodes breeze by yet never come off as if corners are being cut. The first four episodes set up the characters - the Garvey clan, Matt, and Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), as well as the G.R. It isn't until the powerful fifth episode, "Gladys" that an actual conflict arises and topical questions Mapleton must deal with in the moment are revealed. There are also a smattering of side stories, such as Kevin's questionable mental state, how his daughter (Margaret Qualley) is handling things, and other moments that are touched on throughout. The series also knows when to step away from Kevin's story, giving us standalone episodes involving Matt's attempt to save his church, and the utterly astounding episode "Guest" that should have nabbed Coon an Emmy nomination. 

This series is an actors' delight, giving us several amazing acting turns. Theroux's Kevin too often falls into "hot cop" territory, with an emphasis on him lacking a shirt and rocking guy liner, but he's a great actor who can skirt the line between jerk and hero. Qualley and Emily Meade as Garvey's daughter, Jill and her friend Aimee, respectively, give us a teen's perspective on events without it ever devolving into ennui and pity. And Eccleston's ambiguous Matt leaves you guessing whether he's a guy trying to do right or is just interested in stirring the pot. 

The true scene stealers, though, are Coon, Amy Brenneman, and Ann Dowd. Coon, as Nora Durst, spends much of the series as the townsfolk's object of pity, having lost her entire family on October 14th. As the series progresses, particularly in "Guest," we learn about Nora's flaws and strengths, and that October 14th might have been a blessing in disguise for her. The core mystery of the series involves the group, possible cult, the Guilty Remnant, led by Dowd's Patty with Brenneman's Laurie as one of its ranks. The group's got so many layers that to write out what they represent (or don't) could be an essay in itself. "Gladys" gives us insight into the group, as well as another scorned Emmy turn for Ann Dowd, while never giving us definitive answers.

Bonus features on the Blu include two episode-specific commentaries that are nice, but fail to go into in-depth examination for fear of revealing too much for future seasons. There's two making-of features, one of the series in general and another on the Guilty Remnant. There's also a conversation with Lindelof and Perrotta and a quick teaser for season two. The Blu-ray also comes with an Ultraviolet code to exchange for an HD streaming copy on the service of your choice.

The Leftovers provides an emotional rollercoaster in a scant ten episodes. With the new season starting (on the fourth), now's the time to get in on one of the best shows of the fall. Wow, I can't believe I'm saying that.

Own it on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital HD October 6, 2015

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