What The Critics Are Saying About HBO’s ‘The Leftovers’

HBO’s The Leftovers premieres on Sunday night. The series, co-created and co-written by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta, based on Perrotta’s novel, concerns itself broadly with the disappearance of two percent of the world’s population. But the mysterious reasons why millions of people vanished aren’t the point of the show, at least early on. The point is to explore grief on a widespread scale, focusing on the citizens of one New York hamlet.

Among the stars are Justin Theroux (Jennifer Aniston’s boyfriend), Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who), Amy Brenneman (NYPD Blue), Liv Tyler, and Janel Moloney (Donna from The West Wing). As you’d expect in a series with this kind of premise, it’s a bleak television show. In my expert critical opinion, The Leftovers will f*ck you up, and touch you inappropriately in your soul.

We will be running recaps of The Leftovers starting on Monday, but if you are wondering whether you should check it out or not, here’s what the critics are saying:

From the NYTimes:

This series may never explain what happened to the people who disappeared, but the measure of its worth is that it may not have to. 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.

From Flavorwire:

Based on its first few episodes, The Leftovers is bleak and depressing. It’s a haunting and heartsick show, and one that’s full of frustration and longing. Its debut episodes are also the most promising I’ve seen this year, and I won’t be surprised if it becomes one of the best series of 2014.

From The AV Club:

The Leftovers is some of the most desolate, despairing television on air. It’s also frequently brilliant, using the central hook of Perrotta’s book not as a pivot into genre fiction but as a pivot into something like a modern version of medieval mystery plays. But instead of God at the center of the story, there’s uncertainty, a Schrödinger’s cat the characters would desperately like to observe, if only they could force the box to open and provide them with answers.

Over on Vulture, Matt Zoller Seitz wasn’t quite as impressed, but he was still deeply affected:

The first few episodes don’t showcase enough artistry to justify all the slogging and weeping, the bloodied faces and broken hearts. But I’d be lying if I said The Leftovers didn’t fascinate me. The totality of the suffering feels new. The scale of it overwhelms, so much so that nitpicking the dialogue, the performances, or the filmmaking seems petty. This is what I meant by “emotional blackmail,” a certain amount of which is baked right into the show’s premise. The Leftovers practically dares you to keep watching, and feeling. At the bottom of the first page of my notes, “sloppy handheld camerawork” is crossed out. Beneath it is “overwhelming pain.”

From Sepinwall over on Hitfix, who was maybe the most effusive of all:

Even in a television landscape that includes The Walking Dead, Hannibal and HBO’s own Game of Thrones — dramas so committed to a violent, despairing worldview that they all but dare you to keep watching — The Leftovers is a show that will make some of its viewers want to slit their wrists. Many will hate it. But there will be viewers in whom it strikes a chord so deeply that they will feel themselves overwhelmed by it in the best possible way: not like they’re drowning in the misery, but like it’s teaching them a new way to breathe.

I fall on the Sepinwall end of the spectrum. I could hardly praise the pilot more. My review from Pajiba:

I’m not sure yet what the ultimate point of The Leftovers is, except to make us feel the sadness and devastation the characters have to contend with, of which the series does an admirable job. But I trust that — in the end — the overall point of the series will not be dissimilar to that of Six Feet Under, only on a grander scale. That point was best illustrated by Nate Fisher in the final episode of the first season when a hysterical woman asked him, “Why do people die?” Nate paused briefly, and then offered the perfect response: “To make life important.”

That, to me, feels like the biggest statement a show can make.

Not everyone loved it, of course. Some took issue with the notion that it’s too bleak. David Wiegan at the SFGate, however, just downright hated it:

All of this worked far better in print than it does in a bloated TV adaptation. 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.

They’re not big fans of the show over on The Wall Street Journal, either:

The first few minutes of The Leftovers yield scenes of devastation and loss—panicked people screaming, dazed, searching for lost loved ones—tragic enough to move the coldest heart. Not for long. As the series moves on to the misery-soaked parade of horror that is, in essence, the show’s plot—and it does that quickly—lots of hearts are likely to harden in resistance to the calculated grimness, the nightmarish images.

I’d definitely say it’s a love or hate kind of show, although the reviews are around 75 percent love, and 25 percent hate at the moment. Ultimately, however, I do think that The Leftovers — along with The Strain on FX — will end up becoming the two most talked about series this summer.