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Josh Reviews The Third and Final Season of The Leftovers

After several years during which several of my friends repeatedly beseeched me to watch The Leftovers, I finally gave it a chance.  I’m so glad I did.  The show is a masterpiece.  It’s a deep character study; a riveting meditation on grief and loss; and a thrillingly ambitious narrative in which I found myself repeatedly, joyously bowled over by how impossible to predict it was.  I enjoyed the first season and I thought the second season was even stronger.

The first season was set three years after the mysterious Sudden Departure, an event in which 2% of the world’s population vanished.  That season was set in the small town of Mapleton, NY, and as we followed many of the town’s denizens, the show explored the myriad ways in which this dramatic event damaged each of their lives, whether they’d lost a close family member to the Departure or not.  The second season expanded the show’s focus to a new location: Jarden, Texas, a town nicknamed “Miracle” because not a single member of the town Departed.  That terrific second season showed us a little more of the (extremely messed-up) state of the world, while at the same time drilling down even more intimately into the emotional lives of the show’s characters.  For this third and final season, the show expanded even further, while at the same time continuing to give us the riveting, tightly-focused P.O.V. episodes that had proven so critical to the show’s emotional power in the first two seasons.  Once again, I am impressed at the continued world-building of the universe in which The Leftovers takes place, and the power of the intimate explorations of these characters.

This third and final season was even shorter than the first two seasons (only eight episodes instead of the previous ten).  I wish there were far more.  But as with the previous seasons, these eight episodes were extremely well-structured to tell the story that the makers of this show (overseen by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta) set out to tell.  There was nary a stinker in the bunch.  (Which, again, has been the case from the beginning.  I don’t think there was a single bad episode in the entire run of this show.  That’s an extraordinary achievement!)  And, once again, I was impressed by the boldness of the storytelling.  In a shorter-than-ever season, I’d never have predicted they’d devote an entire episode to a supporting character who, while important, had never before gotten a lot of screen time!  (That’d be Scott Glenn as Kevin Senior.  His third episode spotlight was a highlight of the season for me.)

As with my previous reviews, I want to dive into the details of this … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Leftovers Season Two

I thoroughly enjoyed season one of The Leftovers.  I thought season two was even better.  I know I’m several years late to the party here, but at this point I am all-in on this show!

I’d been warned that the first season of The Leftovers might be tough to get through, because of the incredibly heavy, sad subject matter, but that seasons two and three were terrific and paid off one’s investment on the show.  On the one hand, having seen the first two seasons at this point, so far I agree with that assessment.  On the other hand, what’s impressive is how creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta have managed to gently tweak the show without turning it into something else entirely.  This is still, unquestionably, the same show.  And I’m starting from a place in which I LOVED season one, even while I freely admit that it was hard to watch at times.  Season two isn’t suddenly all light and frothy!  There are still some tremendously wrenching, sad things that happen this season.  The show’s characters are, once again, put through an emotional wringer.  (As is the audience!)  And yet, the tone has been subtly adjusted, and I found more joy and humor in the show this season, to balance the grief and the horror.  I also found myself hooked even more deeply by the show’s twisty, absolutely impossible-to-predict-what’s-coming-next storytelling.  So that made this season even more riveting for me, as I felt compelled to zoom quickly onto the next episode after ending the previous one.

(I’m going to dive into this season now, so please beware SPOILERS beyond this point.  If you’ve never seen the show before, all you need to know now is that I am a convert and I highly recommend this series to you… and I think it’s best that you stop reading here to avoid having any of the show’s wonderful storytelling surprises ruined for you.)

I commented in my review of season one that I loved how unpredictable the show’s storytelling was.  That was exponentially even more the case here in season two, and the opening episode is one of the best examples of that.  There was so much craziness in the season one finale, and I couldn’t wait to see what was next for all of the show’s characters.  I’m not sure how I expected the second season to begin, but an extended flashback to caveman (and cavewoman) times was definitely NOT it!  And yet, I was absolutely delighted by that completely out-of-left-field opening.  I love how bizarre and confusing it was, while at the same time how beautifully it summed up so many of the show’s themes and explorations … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews The Leftovers Season One

The Leftovers ran for three seasons on HBO, between 2014-2017.  The series was created by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta, based on Mr. Perotta’s novel.  It takes place three years after 2% of the population “departed” — vanished into thin air in circumstances that are impossible to conclusively explain.  (Was it the Rapture?)  The series explores the lives of many of the denizens of a small town, Mapleton, in Upstate New York.  As we get to know these characters, it becomes clear that each and everyone of them has been deeply damaged by the after-effects of the Sudden Departure, whether or not they actually lost any immediate family members.  One of the show’s central questions is whether that damage is beyond any possibility of repair.

Having been burned by the ending of Lost, I was not interested in watching Mr. Lindelof’s next TV series, so I skipped The Leftovers when it originally ran.  (I’ve written a lot about Lost on this site.  In short, I loved the series but was deeply disappointed by the final season.  I actually quite like the final episode itself.  But I was shocked and heartbroken that the final season refused to answer almost any of the mysteries the show had carefully constructed over the previous five seasons.  It felt to me like a complete betrayal of the audience who had invested so deeply in the show’s story.)  Despite the critical acclaim surrounding The Leftovers — I remember reading about it on a lot of best-of-the-year lists during its run — I couldn’t bring myself to take the plunge.  I wasn’t ready to have my heart broken by a Damon Lindelof TV show again, and everything I’d read about the series’ depressing subject matter kept me away.  Over the years, though, various friends whose opinions I respect have been telling me I need to watch the show.  And then last year I watched and loved Watchmen, the HBO series overseen by Mr. Lindelof (based on the spectacular comic book series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons).  So I decided maybe it was finally time to listen to my friends and give The Leftovers a chance.

My friends all told me the same two things about The Leftovers.  They told me that I needed to brace myself that (like Lost) many of the core mysteries at the show’s center would not be answered.  And they told me that while the first season was incredibly depressing, I needed to stick with the show for all three seasons, because it’s be worth it.

Having now watched the first season (and I’m already deep into the second), I am already very glad that I have finally taken … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Premiere of Watchmen

Watchmen, the 1986-87 mini-series/graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, is probably the single greatest comic book story ever made.  The collected graphic novel was selected as one of Time Magazine’s 100 greatest English-language novels of the past century.  (I waxed poetic about the themes of Watchmen here.)  The long considered unadaptable story was adapted into a film by Zack Snyder in 2009.  I quite enjoyed that film and think it’s very underrated, even while I acknowledge that Mr. Snyder failed to incorporate much of the subtext and meaning that made the story so powerful.  (I think the film’s “Ultimate Cut” is a far superior version.  That much-longer version combines an Extended Cut of the film with the animated Tales of the Black Freighter sequences.  If you’re going to watch the Watchmen film, the “Ultimate Cut” is unquestionably the way to go.)

Now Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers) has brought Watchmen to TV, in a nine-episode new series for HBO.  Mr. Lindelof and his team have taken a fascinating and unexpected approach.  This Watchmen show is not an adaptation of the comic.  Rather, it is a new story set in the world of the Watchmen comic, taking place thirty-plus years after those events.  I have watched the series premiere, and I thought it was thrilling and shocking.  I was completely gripped; so right now I am all-in on this new version and very excited to see where this goes.

This first episode of Watchmen contains a number of small touches that tell us that we’re in the same universe as the original Watchmen comic-book, but this first episode presents us with an entirely new story and new characters.  The episode opens with a riveting sequence, set in Tulsa in 1921.  We’re thrust right in the middle of the Tulsa Race Massacre, a horrifying explosion of racial violence and one of the worst riots in U.S. history.  (I’m embarrassed to admit that I knew nothing about this horrible incident and I had to read up on it after the episode.  I feel a little bit better that creator Damon Lindelof admitted — in this wonderfully in-depth interview conducted by Alan Sepinwall — that he too knew little about this massacre when he first came across the story.)  This is not at all how I expected a Watchmen TV show to begin!  It’s only the first of many wonderfully surprising and unexpected choices made by Mr. Lindelof, and it’s a fantastic opening to the show.  (In a separate article by Mr. Sepinwall, who is one of my very favorite TV reviewers, Mr. Sepinwall makes the astute observation that this opening also presents us with … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Tomorrowland

Brad Bird is one of my favorite directors, and so I was excited by the prospect of a new film with him at the helm.  I was also intrigued to see what would result from combining his voice with that of Damon Lindeloff (showrunner of Lost) and Jeff Jensen (a great writer for Entertainment Weekly who shares story credit on the film).  Sadly Tomorrowland is a disappointment, a bland all-ages film that has a few fun moments but otherwise fails to leave much of an impact.

Disney's TOMORROWLAND..Casey (Britt Robertson) ..Ph: Film Frame..?Disney 2015

In 1964, young Frank Walker brings the jetpack he invented to the World’s Fair.  He catches the eye of a young girl named Athena, who helps him find the secret entrance (in Disney’s “It’s a Small World” ride, a nice touch) to a fantastic, futuristic world.  (The “Tomorrowland” of the title, get it?)  Cut to years later, when a teenaged girl named Casey encounters Athena, who mysteriously hasn’t aged a day.  Athena gives Casey a Tomorrowland pin which gives her glimpses of the magical Tomorrowland, and then sets Casey on the path to meet Frank, now a middle-aged man (played by George Clooney) who was banished from Tomorrowland years ago.

I don’t automatically assume that a movie based on something from a Disney theme park will be bad (enough people certainly loved the first Pirates of the Caribbean, though I was never a huge fan), though a movie with such a mercenary origin does tend to inspire some doubt.  Ultimately one of Tomorrowland’s many weaknesses is that we get to spend so little time exploring the actual Tomorrowland itself.

Brad Bird has always made all-ages films.  One of his main skills has been the adult way he has approached those films, refusing to dumb them down for an “all audiences” approach.  His films can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike, and they have always been chock full of humor and heart, with rich characters and real dramatic stakes.  Sadly, Tomorrowland has almost none of those things.  Any edge or sense of drama or danger has been sanded off the film.  There’s never any sense that the characters are in any real danger.  More importantly, there are no real emotional stakes for any of the characters.  Casey starts off the movie happy and well-adjusted and ends the film the same way.  Athena is, by her very nature, unchanging.  And although George Clooney’s Frank is supposed to be a broken man when we first meet him as a grown-up, George Clooney doesn’t give the character any real darkness.  He’s gruff but it doesn’t feel like real anger or bitterness, just a charismatic fellow playing at being gruff.  George Clooney can be a great actor … [continued]