Wow. That was dark and nihilistic. Right up my alley.
I’m talking about The Leftovers, which premiered last Sunday. Based on the 2011 book by Tom Perotta, who co-created the television series with Damon Lindelof, The Leftovers is a spin on the evangelical Christian belief in the Rapture, an event in which all those who are true believers in Jesus Christ as the son of God and the Messiah will be taken from Earth to be with Him in Heaven and which will signal the beginning of the final battle between Jesus Christ and Satan, i.e. the Anti-Christ, in the climatic Apocalypse, after which the victorious Jesus will rule over an Eden-esque Earth for a millennium. (Let me know if this nice Jewish girl got it wrong, okay?)
However, unlike the Left Behind series by Tom LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, in which the authors follows the script(ure) of evangelical Christian belief, The Leftovers offers no easy answers as to why this global Rapture-like event has occurred.
The series opens on October 14th. No year is given. We are introduced to an unnamed woman in a laundromat, a typically mundane scene. She is washing her clothes and talking on the phone over the incessant crying of her baby – in fact, we only catch snatches of her conversation because of the screaming kid. A few moments later we watch the woman, still yapping on the phone – sheesh, it takes me about two hours or more to do the laundry in my laundromat, how the hell long has this woman been on the phone? – strap the baby’s car seat into the car and then get into the driver’s seat. She turns around once to distractedly attempt to quiet her child. The camera moves to the baby, who might be looking up at heaven, and back to the mom, still on the phone…and suddenly the car is quiet.
The baby is gone.
As Mama freaks out – and finally hangs up the damn phone – we also see a young boy yelling for his father (“Where’d you go, Dad?!”) as an empty shopping cart rolls into a parked car’s fender. In the background and a few blocks away we see a (driverless) car slam into another as it speeds through a red light.
Three years later.
A man is running (for exercise, not escape) down a suburban street. He’s wearing headphones, and in an interesting commentary on television and radio punditry we hear analysts and experts and other so-called “authorities” talking about the event, not just on the runner’s headphones, but from a variety of sources. Two percent, approximately 144 million people, disappeared on that day, and everyone is trying to explain it.
Alien abductions? A God-driven event? Well, that may explain the Pope, but Gary Busey? Jennifer Lopez, Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Bourdain are also among the celebrities vanished into thin air. (No mention of the Kardashians, though. We couldn’t be that lucky.) And if it’s about good people having been taken, then why a child beater?
And of course there’s a televised Congressional investigation with scientists and religious experts babbling on with their respective theories.
But nobody knows nothing. Except that I’m fairly certain that the cable news channels are having a field day with this. CNN and the Malaysian plane disappearance, anyone?
The man, Kevin Garvey, is the police chief of a small suburban town somewhere in New York. He’s played by Justin Theroux – of whom I knew nothing about except that he’s been stringing Jennifer Aniston along for what seems like a century, thanks to my tabloid reading while waiting on the checkout line at Stop-and-Shop. Now I know that’s he’s incredibly hot and very good at playing morose and confused, and sees visions of stags. Stuffed stags. Live stags. Run-over stags. Being torn to pieces by wild dogs stags.
About 100 people of his town disappeared in the “rapturous” experience. As the hour progressed we watch and learn how it has affected the “leftovers,” and, by extension, the rest of the remaining population of the earth.
Of course there are cults. One, called the Great Remnant, doesn’t talk, encourages cigarette smoking (“Don’t Waste Your Breath” is one of their mottos), and dresses in white, as if they are on the White Team during Color War at my summer camp. (Kevin’s wife, Laurie, whom we assumed had been whisked off to Never-Never land, is a member of the Great Remnant.) Another cult, one that has not yet been given a name, appears to be ensconced in a survivalist camp of the Neo-Nazi / White Power type somewhere in the deserts of America, although this cult is apparently okay with race, since there is a hot, young Asian chick in a bikini lounging around the camp’s pool as if it’s a luxury hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona. I also know this cult isn’t racist because it’s led by a muscularly endowed black man whose name is Wayne and whom is apparently the “know-it-all” religious leader of this cult. We discover that the police chief’s son, Tom, also belongs and has a thing for the hot young Asian chick, as does Big Kahuna Wayne, who has “plans” for her.
Teenagers are still going to school, but it’s a shadowbox routine, as their real life is taken up with smoking weed, drinking alcohol, fucking and pushing life to its limits – including erotic asphyxiation, which the chief’s daughter, Jill (played by Margaret Qualley, who has amazing “Elizabeth Taylor” black eyebrows and blue eyes) partakes in with some loser named Max. (It seems that Max is dead as we see Jill walk out of the bedroom after their, uh, session.)
I know that I’ve been kind of flip in talking about The Leftovers, but in actuality I’m very intrigued. I think that, in just this one premier episode, the creative team has shed a lot of hokey nonsense about a mass disappearance of humanity (I’m sorry, those of you who are Christian evangelicals, but there is nothing called the Rapture in either the Old Testament or the New – it was dreamed up by a British minister, John Nelson Darby, sometime in the 1830s after one of his parishioners claimed to have had a vision of Christ’s return) and instead has captured the crazy ways that humanity would actually deal with it.
And I do mean crazy.
None of these characters is sane. Nor should they be. Unexplained phenomena is fun to talk about and to base TV shows on – I watch my fair portion of Ancient Aliens and Ghosthunters – but if two percent of the population of the Earth just suddenly disappeared one day, the frenetic behaviors, the fanatical actions, the extreme activities of the “leftovers” would surely rate new chapters in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) of the American Psychiatric Association – that is, if there were any sane shrinks left, much less a professional association.
I think we’re in for a fun – and thought provoking – ride.
And may I say…