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The Leftovers’ turns the Rapture into a turgid drama

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Justin Theroux (right) polices The Leftovers.

Two and a half stars

The Leftovers Sundays, 10 p.m., HBO.

Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof could pretty much do anything he wanted following the end of his massively popular, endlessly discussed series, but he’s opted to return to TV with a show that mirrors many of the elements of Lost. The Leftovers is another sprawling, supernaturally tinged ensemble drama, although it’s much less overtly about mystical mysteries. Based on the novel by Tom Perrotta (who wrote the source material for the movies Election and Little Children), The Leftovers takes place three years after a Rapture-like event caused two percent of the world’s population (or about 140 million people) to suddenly disappear.

Unlike Lost, which was built around the question of why those particular people ended up on that particular island, The Leftovers isn’t really concerned with why so many people disappeared, or where they went. This isn’t Flash Forward (or any of the second-rate post-Lost serialized mysteries), with investigators working around the clock to figure out what happened and why. Instead, it’s a drama about a suburban New York town, where various characters attempt to move on with their lives after what some might regard as the end of the world.

At the same time, there are enough unexplained events and vague hints at the supernatural to frustrate viewers who crave answers. More frustrating is the show’s relentlessly bleak, unpleasant tone, its grating characters (including Justin Theroux as the protagonist, the town police chief) and its almost pompous self-seriousness. Lindelof and Perrotta (who is the show’s co-creator and fellow executive producer) strain to say something profound about grief and faith, but they mostly come up with characters who yell at each other or make empty speeches.

There are some unsettling elements in The Leftovers, including a cult whose members dress all in white, chain smoke and never speak, but those elements are buried under the punishing nastiness and the smug parables (the entire third episode resembles one long Lost flashback about how everything is, like, totally connected). However seriously it took itself, Lost was always about adventure and excitement and wonder. The Leftovers has none of that.

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  • An astonishingly tone-deaf portrait of smug, patronizing privilege—a film that, despite being thoroughly English, exemplifies the concept of the ugly American.

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