The Leftovers, Sky Atlantic - TV review: Apocalypse wow! There's still plenty of life at the end of the world


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The Independent Culture

Mystery plots in which the mystery is never resolved are something of a speciality for Damon Lindelof, co-creator of Lost and now of The Leftovers. Sky Atlantic's big new HBO drama import is adapted from a book of the same name by Tom Perrotta and takes place after a rapture-like event, known as the Sudden Departure, which saw 140 million people, or two per cent of the world's population simply disappear.

Why? We didn't know after this first episode and, according to Lindelof, we probably never will: "If that's why you're watching the show, don't watch the show," he warned in a recent interview. But wait. Don't reach for the remote just yet. In The Leftovers, knowing there's no resolution to come – accepting there's no resolution – becomes an unusually effective way to depict grief in the aftermath of tragedy.

Three years on, and the people of Mapleton, New York, are trying to get on with life as usual, including the chief of police, Kevin Garvey Jr (Justin Theroux). That's no easy task, though, when his wife has abandoned the family, his daughter barely speaks to him and his son has become a follower of a mystic called "Holy Wayne" (Peep Show's Paterson Joseph). A series of flashbacks reminded us of the violence and madness lurking close to the surface, but these are more contextless fragments of trauma than useful exposition.

In one of this bleak show's rare light moments, Kevin was in a bar, watching a TV news report on celebrities gone in the Sudden Departure. Pictures of Salman Rushdie and Jennifer Lopez flicked by on the screen. "I get the Pope, but Gary fucking Busey?!" spluttered the barman. "How does he make the cut?" It's not the tragedy itself that The Leftovers wants to explore, it's the difficulty of coming to terms with tragedy's random nature.

Mapleton's morose populace seek answers at the bottom of whisky bottles and in the arms of ill-advised lovers, but it's the depiction of religious solace that's most vivid. The Guilty Remnant are a cult of white-attired, chain-smoking mutes who will stalk your imagination as doggedly as they stalk their targets for conversion. It seems doubtful whether a show with so little forward impetus can maintain our interest over a 10-episode series, but this is great television all the same.