Leftovers-episode-5Analysis: Television Mysteries

On June 29th, a new show premiered on HBO called “The Leftovers.” It was met with moderately positive reviews, critics only faulting it for its overbearing, depressing tone. The finale will air on Sunday and the show is a mystery, asking a lot of questions and answering very little.

The ads for “The Leftovers” were intriguing, so I jumped over to Metacritic to see if it’d be worth my time. The critic’s reviews were alright, but the user reviews were brutally negative, which was odd because only critics had screened the first few episodes. There were several 0/10 reviews from users, without first-grade grammar education, condemning the new show simply because Damon Lindelof was involved.

tumblr_m1ebkpbwiD1qi3lppDamon Lindelof was an executive producer/writer for the show “Lost.” He had wrote the infamous final episode the left the vast majority of fans disappointed. “Lost” was a show shrouded in mystery, people read into every moment of the show. And, like many shows, the ending wasn’t great.

Now as some sort of bizarre form of vengeance, “The Leftovers” suffers (not that many people care about user reviews). Metacritic users claimed that they had thrown away several hours of their lives to “Lost,” then declared that they wouldn’t waste any more of that time on “The Leftovers.”

There’s no doubt that reviewing a show that you haven’t even watched yet is wrong. Who knows if “The Leftovers” will follow in the notorious steps of “Lost,” and end on a sour note.

the-leftovers-christopher-eccleston“The Leftovers” is based on a novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta. Many television shows today are adaptations of books including “Orange is the New Black, “Masters of Sex,” and of course “Game of Thrones.” To avoid show spoilers I haven’t checked out this source material yet. On average, it takes probably four hours to properly adapt a 300 page novel, movies usually leave stuff out, and now, as we’re learning, show’s put more in.

This may be a good sign though, that the conclusion of this show has already been declared. Last episode, many questions were answered, but just like “Lost,” for every question answered we are asking 2-3 more. With “Lost” the writers wrote themselves into a corner and drew up the best possible ending that they could give.

It’s a difficult balance to achieve though, knowing how a series is going to end doesn’t automatically mean it’ll work. Take “How I Met Your Mother” for example. The ending was thought out in advanced, but by that time the characters had changed in ways that the creators and writers didn’t premeditate.

Lost-Top-25-Moments-Jacob-and-Man-in-Black-conversationThe mystery genre has always been a compelling one. Dating back to the Sherlock Holmes novels to the popularity of today’s detective shows. As far as a television show with one collective mystery though, this has been a tough genre for the television medium to achieve.

On average, shows have 4-6 seasons, given the unusual 10-episode seasons that HBO provides that’s about 40-60 hours of content. The ending of a television show is challenged with telling the viewer that every minute of those hours that they spent their life watching mattered. That every scene, every character, every moment, was important.

A mystery is even more challenging, two shows that come to mind that pulled it off are 2004’s “Battlestar Galactica” and HBO’s “True Detective” (though finale only had to cover one 10-episode season). Did every moment in those two shows matter? We could nit-pick a scene or two in them.

“Lost” was a great show. Sometimes when a good show is approaching its ending you have to remember that it’s more about the journey than the destination. “Lost” had some good episodes, good seasons, and you shouldn’t let the ultimate result ruin that for you. “The Leftovers” is probably doomed to have an ending that some people will shake their heads to, but so far, it has been worth the journey.