"The Leftovers" debuts on HBO on Sunday, and expectations are running high, given the creator's credentials, the cast, and the channel's string of hits.
The drama fantasy series was created by Damon Lindelof, co-creator of ABC's long-running hit "Lost," and Tom Perotta, who wrote the novel on which the TV show is based. It features plenty of established talent behind and in front of the camera: The pilot is directed by Peter Berg, "Friday Night Lights" creator; and the cast includes Justin Theroux ("Six Feet Under"), Liv Tyler ("Armageddon"), Christopher Eccleston ("Doctor Who") and Amy Brenneman ("Judging Amy").
According to the official synopsis: "Three years after millions of people – some 2% of the world’s population – vanished into thin air, residents of Mapleton, New York weigh the pros and cons of a “Heroes Day” tribute to the local “Departed.” Attempting to maintain a sense of normalcy in his strained community, police chief Kevin Garvey (Theroux) faces additional challenges at home with daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley), who’s lost in a cloud of apathy with her friend Aimee (Emily Meade); and son Tom (Chris Zylka), who has gravitated to a cult led by the charismatic Holy Wayne (Paterson Joseph). Also of concern is a silent, white-clad group of chain-smoking men and women called the Guilty Remnant, who team up in pairs to stake out people and places around town. As tension in Mapleton escalates, the lives of Laurie (Brenneman), an unexpected member of the Guilty Remnant, and Meg (Tyler), a recently engaged young woman, converge."
The early reviews are mixed, but mostly positive. Pajiba calls "The Leftovers" the "show of the summer," saying it could even give shows like "True Detective" and "Game of Thrones" Season 4 a run for best show of 2014. Similar praise came from A.V. Club, Los Angeles Times and the Hollywood Reporter, while Vulture had a mixed review, saying the first few episodes were a bit of a slog due to all of the misery and suffering. But Matt Zoller Seitz ended his review by saying, "I’d be lying if I said 'The Leftovers' didn’t fascinate me." The Boston Globe's review noted the characters need to be developed a bit more and the totality of grief and loss could have be toned down slightly to emphasize the emotional impact of the tragedy.
The Wall Street Journal's negative review focuses on the grim tone of the story, saying more satire and a lighter touch would have made the show better. And Salon says the "Big Idea" concept could feel flat and repetitive (the mystery surrounding the sudden, unexplained disappearance of millions of people is constantly mentioned). But there are plenty of episodes for "The Leftovers" to correct those problems.
All of the reviews mention moments of unexpected comedy as well as the intriguing central premise that drives "The Leftovers."
The series trailer, clips, and a "Making Of" feature can be viewed below. "The Leftovers" pilot episode airs on Sunday at 10 p.m. EDT on HBO.