Staying In(Stant): The Underdog I'm Rooting For

leftovers embedPhoto: Courtesy of HBO.
Full disclosure: We love TV. So much so that sometimes we'd rather spend a whole weekend in front of the tube than dancing in da club. Is a lack of television service holding you back from feeling our joy? No problem! You can get by just fine on Netflix, Hulu, and the myriad other streaming services rapidly taking over the home entertainment industry (thank you, Internet!). Some shows are just better when binge-watched. Whether it's the latest BBC comedy, a PBS miniseries from the '70s, or just that cultish show prematurely scrubbed from a network, we're hooked on the stream. Staying In(stant) is your guide to the best of streaming content. Each week, we bring you a show we're obsessed with and think you should be, too.
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This Week: The Leftovers, the dark, disturbing, what-the-fuck-happened-on-October-14 show that will either leave you desperately yearning for more or bitterly throwing in the towel.
Where To Watch: HBO GO
How I Got Hooked: I blame my boyfriend. Three episodes in, he went on a business trip, and he convinced me that it was the perfect time to start watching, so that when he got back we could watch it together on Sunday nights. Breaking Bad was long over; House of Cards wasn’t returning anytime soon, and neither was Mad Men for that matter.
I was more intrigued because Tom Perrotta (Election, Little Children) wrote the book the show’s based on, than the fact that Lost creator Damon Lindelof was behind the series. And, so I tuned in.
Oh, but it was a struggle getting past those first couple of episodes by myself. I liked the acting well enough, but the premise was troubling and confusing and purposefully very vague. On October 14, three years earlier, 2% of the world’s population disappeared in a Rapture-like scenario. The leftovers, as the living are appropriately called — not survivors — are mostly trying to get on with their lives, in spite of having no idea what really happened to their loved ones. The Guilty Remnant, an all-white-wearing, chain-smoking, cult-like group stand apart from everyone else. Their mission is to make people remember that tragic day in history — as if anyone could ever fully forget. They add an eerie element to an already ominous show.
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Justin Theroux, as Kevin Garvey, plays the town’s chief of police. His wife Laurie (a brilliant Amy Brenneman) has joined the GR, his stepson has run off, and his daughter, Jill, has become increasingly withdrawn and hostile. With each episode, we’re introduced to other residents of Mapleton, the fictional town in New York state where the show takes place.
Admittedly, there’s an awful lot to not like about the dark series. Some episodes (“Gladys” comes to mind) were so heinously violent that I had to burrow my head in my boyfriend’s chest until the next scene.
But, as the season continued, I found myself looking forward to watching it. While little about what actually occurred on 10/14 is ever revealed, you learn a lot about the haunted characters — their motivations and their pain — by the end of the first season.
Best Episode: Season 1, Episode 9, “The Garveys At Their Best,” the penultimate episode, takes us back to a relatively simple time before the departure. Kevin’s kids tease each other at the breakfast table, while he and Laurie have an unpleasant if typical marital spat. This is the episode where the we see what happened on that tragic day just as the characters saw it happen — nothing more and nothing less. The most poignant demonstration of this is at Jill’s science fair when she and her brother, Tom, are shown holding hands and laughing as part of a circle of school kids helping with a science experiment. When the camera focuses on the circle after the departure, however, it’s suddenly, shockingly missing people, the confusion and fear in the room palpable.
Why You'll Love It: This is a tough one. I’m not sure I’m comfortable convincing anyone that this show is lovable, but I do think it’s worth checking out. As it recently got renewed for a second season, I’m looking forward to seeing where the writers take it.
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Like many — if not all — HBO shows, the acting is superb. The premise is weird as hell, and it’s looking more and more like the focus is going to continue to be on the leftovers, which makes sense given the show’s title. We may never find out why the 2% disappeared, but I’m okay with that. At its core, The Leftovers is about relationships — the messy, ugly, and complicated interactions we have with people we love and with people we barely know.