My screener for the series premiere of The Leftovers didn't include an opening-credits sequence. Maybe Peter Berg's post-Rapture drama is the kind of show that forgoes such convention, and if so, just cue up REM's "Everybody Hurts" to get in the mood properly.
A distracted woman in the laundromat parking lot straps her crying baby into the car-seat and talks on the phone as he howls. The child is upset, and then—maybe—his eyes flicker toward something up in the heavens. Another frightened scream, and then silence. Sam is gone, instantaneously, without a trace. While the panicked mother, Nora (Carrie Coon), screams for help, other nearby people are facing the same inexplicable occurrence: A boy yells for his father as the shopping cart he had been pushing rolls into a parked car and a speeding car—presumably now driverless—slams into another.
When we drop in on the hamlet of Mapleton, New York, it's three years after that unexplained global event in which 2 percent of the population—140 million people—instantly disappeared into thin air on Oct. 14. It was a completely random harvest that zapped both Salman Rushdie and Shaquille O'Neal, the pope and Gary Busey, babies and, apparently, child-beaters.
No one knows what happened. The government's panel of scientists and religious experts have reported that they have no clue, though one Congressional witness testifies that whatever happened, "I'm fairly certain that God sat this one out." In Mapleton, blue ribbons are tied around tree trunks, and human-silhouette stencil-art mark lamp posts, eerie markers of presumed vaporizations that evoke some glorified Hiroshima. The first Heroes Parade is planned to commemorate the event, so-called because "no one's going to come to a parade on we-don't-know-what-the-eff-happened day," says the mayor.
Chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) is the police chief struggling to keep his town and himself together in what author and screenwriter Tom Perrotta has called an "epidemic of grief." In the novel (which came out in 2011, right around the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks), Garvey is a retired businessman and political candidate. Making him a police officer for the TV show was smart; not only does it immerse him more deeply with the town's most complicated citizens and its most bizarre goings-on, but it also lends his character a Chief-Brody-from-Jaws-like stature—the last sane man on the island, so to speak. Except Garvey might not be sane at all. He sees things, dreams things—like the buck he sees standing motionless in the dead-dog's owner's front yard, the buck he runs over with his car in his dream, the buck that may or may not have ripped up his kitchen, and the buck that he shares a moment with in the middle of the road before a pack of marauding dogs tear it to pieces. "Am I awake?" he asks the dog-sniper, the mysterious vigilante who shoots the old pets that have gone wild in the woods since witnessing their masters' raptures. "You are now, aren't you," replies the dog-sniper, and both men empty their clips into the pack of ravenous Fidos and Rovers.
NEXT: A family affair