Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Small Screen: The Leftovers Final Season Review

It's funny how some movies or television shows are highly anticipated for quite literally years prior to their release, and other things sort of sneak up on you and knock you off your feet. Game of Thrones is a show that the moment the screen went dark on the sixth season, I wanted to know when the seventh would debut and I have been ready ever since. Mr. Robot, I could use that third season now please. Pretty please? I love been in love with Star Wars: The Last Jedi ever since roughly 10 minutes into The Force Awakens, knowing I was ready for deeper exploration into characters new and old, fresh stories to expand the universe.

As of only just a few months ago, I had no interest in diving back into the world of The Leftovers. I watched the first season, I thought it was okay but absolutely nothing that compelled me to come back for a round two, especially because at least the first was adapted from a source material that I found somewhat interesting. Allowing storytellers to go down their own path away from the book can be exciting, but The Leftovers didn't grab me and I figured nothing could be down to pull me back in.

I was so, so wrong.

People love to point fingers and rage towards websites that display critical assessment and consensus of art, like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, and I have always found that hatred so silly and misguided because it's merely just a database of opinions for audiences to refer to. You, the viewer, still holds the right to watch the work and determine for yourself whether you enjoy it or not. No one can take that away from you, no matter what number appears next to the name of the film or series. When I watch a Nicolas Winding Refn or Terrence Malick film, the furthest thing from my mind are what other people thought of the movie, whether they are the guy sitting next to me or the most revered critic on the planet. That isn't to dismiss a critic or their job, hell, that's exactly what I do here on this site as a hobby, but all I am doing is sharing an opinion and possibly, hopefully, providing some insight as to why I feel that way. My goal is never to make it seem like others have to agree with me, and I am not even remotely upset if you don't. In fact, let me know just how much you disagree with me, I welcome it and would love to find out why.

I bring up those sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic because without them I don't know if I ever would have given The Leftovers another chance. I not only didn't watch season two despite its critical acclaim, I pretty much blocked it out of my mind because I honestly don't remember when it was originally on, who was saying what about it and so on. All I remember was positive reactions and me rolling my eyes and thinking nope, can't get me back that easily The Leftovers. Too much to watch, still not interested. That changed when I saw the truly remarkable reviews of the third and final season and I finally considered the possibility that I was intentionally missing out on something special. I quickly ran through the second season and loved it, and the third season turned out to be worthy of all those high scores awarded by critics.

I have come to the conclusion that besides sitcoms, I typically despise the traditional 22+ episodes a season format of network shows. What always happens with this format when it comes to dramatic storytelling is that there is way too much fat and they aren't allowed to trim it, with mandatory 42ish minute episodes edited specifically to fit with commercial breaks. I like the show Gotham, for example, but it has become a background watch while I play my Nintendo Switch, because I can pretty much skip entire episodes without feeling like I missed anything all that important. That should never happen. Therefore, while others see short episode amounts of series like Legion, Stranger Things, or Game of Thrones and complain that they are getting so little, I applaud the creators for focusing on quality over quantity. The fact that The Leftovers closed out the series with 8 wonderfully crafted installments rather than tried to stretch anything out is a great thing, and it shows from the finished work.

All performances in the show deserve recognition and admiration but for me the highlight of the whole thing, and more specifically of the final season was Carrie Coon, an incredible turn while the camera and story were so often fixated on her, and for good reason. If Coon isn't at least nominated this year at award ceremonies like the Emmys or Golden Globes, it better be because the field was so crowded there just wasn't room, but I don't see how that is possible. Being the best thing about one of the best shows of the year seems to be good reason to receive award attention in my book.

What I loved about The Leftovers was the balance the series was able to strike while successfully including so many different tonal shifts, from the bits of comedy needed to add a lightness to the darkness that otherwise surrounds these people and their lives, to the intensely personal drama that both moved and disturbed, to the absolutely surreal moments that felt like creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta were tapping into their inner David Lynch-ian sides of themselves. Well, okay maybe not that weird. If you are watching the new run of Twin Peaks episodes, nothing in The Leftovers even comes close to that level of bizarre, but you get the idea. The Leftovers had everything and I am so glad I gave it another chance after almost 3 full years between watching the last episode of the first season and going back and seeing what all the buzz was about regarding seasons 2 and 3. Who knows, I might just go back and watch it all over again in the near future. It's that good.

Season Grade: A+

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