Fall TV Smashcuts: Most Improved Award

Most Improved Award: The Leftovers

If you were equally distraught as I was over the brow-furling depression fest that was The Leftovers season one, then season two will be a welcomed reminder of what made The Leftovers entertaining in the first place. Sheer curiosity at the premise (the sudden rapture of 1% of the world’s population) was often the only reason I returned week to week. Season two better serves the concept by simply expanding the scope; the single biggest improvement (besides show-runner Damon Lindelof not writing out of sheer depression) is just a change of scenery. No more is the cold, drab (and have I mentioned depressing?) set of Mapleton, New York. The move to Jarden, Texas, a community untouched by the global tragedy by occasionally plagued by unsettling earthquakes, injects Leftovers with expansive landscapes, warm, sunlit colors, and some much needed optimism. We get a better view of our newly raptured world; villages of desperate pilgrims, religious fanatics, roves of people grappling with moral and supernatural questions left in the wake of the departures.

For the actors, the switch gives them room to breathe. Justin Theroux is given more than grief to play with for his eternally angry Kevin Garvey (there may even be a smile in there this season), Carrie Coon is given more deserved airtime to dominate the screen, and new comer Kevin Carroll smolders at every occasion. But even with its vast improvements, Leftovers hasn’t lost its frustrating density and insistence bordering on stubbornness. The season opens with a scene of a pregnant cave woman’s water breaking as rocks crash down on her tribe, leaving her alone in prehistoric Texas to eat eggs from nests and fight venomous snakes. Yeah. Damon Lindelof seems intent at getting back at us for bashing the Lost finale by doubling down on the symbolic vagueness. What The Leftovers asks from us is exactly what its own characters are unwilling to give: faith. At least now there is a little more reason to have hope when tuning in next week, though I can’t help but think it will still feel a little like this:

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