Compelling cults and likeable witches

Compelling cults and likeable witches
Justin Theroux is a police chief who struggles to keep a grip on things in The Leftovers.

Imagine this: On one momentous, horrifying day, 2 per cent of the world's population - about 140 million people - disappear suddenly from the face of the Earth without warning, explanation or a goodbye kiss.

One minute here, next minute gone just like that, like magic. The opening sequence of The Leftovers shows a woman screaming for her missing baby, children calling out for their absent parents in a mall parking lot, and cars crashing as their drivers simply vanish.

I tell you, if people just go poof around me, I will quickly grab that empty train seat.

But HBO is in a very serious mood here with this series co-created by author Tom Perrotta (who co-wrote the 2006 Oscar-nominated movie Little Children) and, man, this is its strangest, most bewildering, most depressing and, ultimately, most challenging show I have watched in a while.

One critic in America slammed it as the worst TV show she had ever seen. Many described it as "fascinating" while they were, I guess, holding on tightly to their loved ones.

The Leftovers has nothing to do with wasted food or snacks. Nope, it refers to the people left behind after "the rapture" of the missing millions - believed to be prophesied in the Bible and dubbed here as "the departure" since no one is quite sure what happened - and the trauma, pain and emptiness which haunt them.

The drama is set three years after about 100 people vanished in the frigid suburban town of Mapleton, New York. The remaining residents are downcast, edgy, paranoid, cynical or just so consumed by guilt and the realisation of being rejected by God that they just do not care about living anymore.

The main character here is the police chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), a husband and a father struggling to keep a grip on things through his increasingly irrelevant sense of law and order. His teen daughter, Jill (Margaret Qualley), challenges him unmercifully as the symbol of callous apathy.

Jill's high-school pal, Aimee (Emily Meade), attempts to block out everything by seeking meaningless thrills in sex.

A woman who lost her family is seen as the town kook most likely to snap and turn into an insane mass-shooter. It is bizarre, but the most interesting aspect of The Leftovers, though, is the new collectives formed.

The Guilty Remnant is a cult group clad in white that decides to bear witness as the fallen ones; the members are so plagued by guilt and punishment that they try to chain-smoke themselves to death and, even weirder, no longer speak as they clam up in monk-like silence and risk being brutally stoned by the scared citizens.

Amy Brenneman, as Laurie Garvey, estranged wife of Kevin, joins this group (maybe because in her previous series Judging Amy, she proved that she has this propensity to look incredibly sad and troubled for no particular reason).

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