Like a junkie, I’m always looking for the next TV high — the sweet addiction that comes from losing yourself in 15 straight episodes of “24,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Sopranos,” “The Shield” over a weekend.
Damon Lindelof is one of the creators behind one of the most addictive experiences of my life, “Lost,” a show I had not seen a single frame of before purchasing the entire series. For the next three months, I was the one who was lost — the show owned me. When I started rationalizing that 3 hours of sleep isn’t that different from 4 hours of sleep, let’s just say I knew I had a problem.
Many “Lost” fans complain about the show’s finale.
I didn’t and don’t care.
It was always about the journey.
Anyway, Lindelof returned to television with a HBO summer series called “The Leftovers.” That’s reason enough to cheer, and the concept added another reason: For some inexplicable reason 2% of the world’s population just up and vanished. It happened in an instant and no one knows why. The story revolve around a small New York town of leftovers dealing with the loss and the realization the supernatural does exist in the natural world.
After three episodes, there’s just one problem: the show sucks.
Oh, there’s plenty of HBO sex and moody camerawork and solid acting and teases-about-something-bigger, but it goes absolutely nowhere and seems proud of that fact.
The first episode teased a bizarre cult that doesn’t speak, wears all white, and chain smokes. The second episode… I can’t remember a thing about the second episode. The third episode, which just aired this Sunday, centers on a mean-spirited priest trying to save his church from foreclosure.
I hung in there for three episodes because critics who had seen them in advance swore that episode 3 was where the show would finally take off and come together. “Hang in there; it’s worth the wait.”
No, no it’s not.
Not even close.
“The Leftovers” is an ugly, depressing examination of town full of people driven to despair and nihilism. The central mystery of the disappearances is an afterthought — a dramatic tool to justify the ugliness. There’s no hope, there’s no nothing other than loveless sex and stupid metaphors about chopping down trees and packs of dogs.
“Lost” might not have ended with the kind of answer people hoped for, but the journey was filled with humanism, heroism, decency, love, sacrifice… That show was a feast for the human spirit. There’s no question “Lost” had some very dark and bleak moments, but the characters were always chasing the light. They might not make it, but at least they tried.
“The Leftovers” is the exact opposite. Worse, it’s pointless. Worse still, after each episode you feel like you need a bath.
As a huge fan and defender of Abel Ferrara’s NC-17 “Bad Lieutenant” (1992) and Michael Tolkin’s R-rated “The Rapture” (1991), I have no problem whatsoever with a darker than dark tour of the human condition. Unlike “The Leftovers,” though, those masterworks all had a reason for taking us on that tour beyond a desire to wallow in it.
I’m not done with “The Leftovers” because I’m disgusted or angry — that would mean the show somehow reached me. No, I’m done because I’m bored and don’t care and am the opposite of intrigued.
Nihilism is not a theme, and it’s a lazy way to pose as important.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC