When HBO announced this summer that it was going to renew The Leftovers for a second season, the media exploded with reviews, critiques, criticism, analyses and (most frustratingly) painstaking comparisons to creator Damon Lindelof’s previous hit series Lost. Admittedly, the new show bears a ton of similarities to its predecessor – like Lost, The Leftovers is on just this side of being pure fantasy, its characters are all trying to navigate the world knowing that an invisible force is fucking with them at all times, and viewers are forever trying to decipher which characters are the good guys and which are bad. But for all of Lost’s bizarro-world mysteries (polar bears in the jungle, mysterious black smoke that consumes people), The Leftovers is rooted firmly in the mundanity of the real world.
A small percentage of the earth’s people have mysteriously disappeared – nobody knows where to – and the survivors struggle to move on with their lives. In fact, they actually do a terrible job of it, hosting remembrance events and having awkward conversations in which they try not to discuss the thing that happened. Meanwhile, a silent, cigarette-smoking cult haunts everyone and manages to draw new members into its ranks, further diminishing the community’s hope that they’ll ever experience anything resembling peaceful lives again. And that’s where The Leftovers manages to truly distinguish itself from Lost – where Lost was primarily about the mysteries and intrigues of the island on which its characters were stranded, The Leftovers deals in conflicting emotions and inner turmoil of the human beings inhabiting its world.
Viewers don’t tune into the show because we want to immerse ourselves in attempting to solve the mystery at the show’s center – rather, they’re asked to try to feel what it’s like when one’s family, friends, sanity and security are, literally, raptured away by a mysterious and cruelly silent force.