Everything Television: Examining HBO's The Leftovers

The Devil is in the Details

There is a fine line between being pedantic and observant when engaging a film or television show. In my experience it represents a Herculean effort to just produce a single paragraph that I can be artistically proud of (I am immediately regretting and rethinking this last sentence), and I cannot imagine the effort that goes into producing an hour of television let alone a whole season. There is a level at which we should approach any artistic creation with a humility that regardless of the outcome someone dedicated themselves (or even hundreds or thousands) to making this object come into being. This sentiment is not far from what Steven Soderbergh expressed in his Oscar speech for Traffic (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JK5slvV7Lbw).

The pilot episode is generally the grace period. It is easier to overlook a show’s shortcomings and instead focus on a show’s promise, but flash-forward a few weeks in and you will see comment sections on any recap overrun by complaints of the sketchy accents of the show’s leads, or the unconvincing special effects or period details, an extensive list of plot holes (both real and imagined), and a countless host of other greater and smaller critiques and criticisms. What is interesting is that the list of viewer complaints usually blurs the line between the careful and considered watcher and the surface level one who is just looking for a safe space to voice their general frustration with the world. Some of my favorite critics will mention similar complaints as some of the most ban-ready internet commenter. From wobbly accents to mentions of thorn-in-the-side actors, professional reviewers can seem pretty pedantic in their criticisms as well, so how do we distinguish between the elements of the show that deserve criticism and those that are just petty nit-picks?

I asked myself this question during and after the second episode of The Leftovers. In that episode, in my mind, there was plenty to be petty about, and I struggled with what was worthy of comment. As representative of a longer list I just want to mention one thing I made note of but did not bring up in our podcast. The scene in question takes place in the coffee shop when Jill and Aimee bump into Nora Durst and notice she is packing heat. They watch as she purposefully knocks her coffee cup off the table and it smashes to the floor. As soon as the cup smashes we hear an employee of the coffee shop (or perhaps it is the owner) yell, “What the fuck!” and come angrily around the counter and towards where Nora is. My first thought was, who says that in response to a broken cup? Even if you weren’t at work and someone in your house dropped a cup would you really have such a vehement response?

It seemed so absurd to me that it has stuck with me for over a week and persisted even through a very good episode. I made note of this scene but then did not bring it up in the podcast, mainly because I think it felt like it was more on the pedantic side of things. There did not seem to be much you could illuminate by discussing that scene and largely trying to make fun of it. Perhaps the show was trying to address the rage that Kevin mentioned in the first episode and show how everyone seems to be “on edge”, but to me it just seemed like a silly detail that was probably an ad-lib by the actor.

I seek to be constructive and instructive with my views on these episodes, but I guess I am realizing that there is no way to fully escape my pedantic side. The internet can be a great place to give voice to that particular demon on your shoulder, but many times it is a slippery slope, and then before you know it, all your conversation is just focused on the small details and you are incapable of enjoying a great episode like “Two Boats and a Helicopter”.  Before this post gets too preachy, I did want to ask and invite anyone else who wanted to add a particular nit they might have with this show, or perhaps with another show from 20 years ago that has stuck with them and they are just looking for a safe space to unload their built up vitriol. As a sign off, what does everything think of the twins?