The Beautiful, Devastating Leftovers

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The Walking Dead sucks so much. It’s not that it’s a bad zombie show, it’s that it completely misses the point of what it should be. The idea to me of every apocalypse type show isn’t the big event that made it all happen, but how this event affects the people on a personal level and how it messes up every single relationship and sense of normalcy. Sure, zombies are fun and the threat of them is scary, but what really matters is the universal idea of being without your sister, your father, your dog, whatever, who cares, what caused it, forget zombies, how are you dealing with this very real issue of this massive change to every facet of your life?

Enter the goddamn “Leftovers,” the most depressing show ever that I thought, “well, goddamn, I never thought a TV show would entirely get ME, and it kind of sucks when said show is one of the most depressing of all time and what that says about me, but here we are.” See, The Leftovers is a show about 2% of the population disappearing and instead of really focusing on exactly WHY that happened, it’s more concerned with HOLY SHIT, how am I supposed to deal with so-and-so randomly being eliminated from my life. It’s a show that really doesn’t care beyond some brief broad strokes how they got to this point and what could be the mysterious thing that caused everything to happen, but instead the here and now of these people dealing with this very real fallout.

I have upper echelon shows that I always refer to as my favourites, with the idea that nothing currently could touch them and certainly not right away. The Sopranos, The Wire, The Shield, Mad Men and The Simpsons are my big five perfect shows and I thought it would take awhile for something to sit in that company, but what The Leftovers has accomplished so audaciously building in quality season over season and with the absolute masterclass of a finale, it has shot right up there. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been moved and effected by a show like this. Not that there hasn’t been a good bunch of shows since then that I enjoyed, but it weirdly makes me feel alive that there is new art and television still able to be created that makes me feel so much (and it especially a show like this that puts FEEL in all caps) and evokes such emotion out of me like this one.

They only had three seasons and 28 episodes in total, but it was such assured and focused appointment TV that everything was struck with meaning and no note was left wasted. This is a show that literally got better season to season, and sure there’s only three seasons, but I’m remised to think of a show off the top of my head that did it quit like this. Its first season was more concerned traditionally with what you’d think about the show, where it was trying to find out more of the mysteries of what was behind this all, season 2 was delving deeper into these people and their progression beyond what happened and season 3 was about resolution and finding a way to move past things if you can and how it shaped your future life beyond just being defined by this event.

I could go on and on and on, but mainly I wanted to write this because of how perfect the finale was. The Leftovers was in a spot where it could’ve went ANYWHERE for the finale, it could’ve went all supernatural and really honed in on what caused everything, it could’ve just went weirdo insane, but what it ended up doing so beautifully was telling a small love story that played like a foreign film or something. Because at the heart, crux and end of it all, The Leftovers is a love story about Kevin and Norah. The whole hour plus episode was a literal masterclass of acting, emoting and reacting from Carrie Coon and Justin Theroux. I can’t even quantify how good both of them are and I’m going to be pulling my hair out when they don’t get any awards love. What made the finale so good on top of all that is you got the whole base love story/reconciliation angle that shaded in one side of things, and then you got Norah giving the mystery-interested people their answer of her going to the other side where the people on this world disappeared to and delivering the simple yet perfect yet devastating realization that they had their own “Leftovers” event but instead of 2% of their population disappearing they had 98% of theirs disappear to the other side. Norah realized she had no place in that world and came back to her original world. Now watching Carrie Coon deliver her monologue with such conviction it seems so true, and I believe her. But, there are others who believe she made up the whole thing to Kevin and that she did absolutely none of that. I don’t know if there’s an answer and I think it was precisely meant that way for you to interpret the meaning how you will. That’s where the finale works on another level, leaving that dangling thread for people to argue with years later, but nothing too extreme or over the top that it leaves people dissatisfied or missing a piece, just a lynchpin in how two different types of people approach one idea, can there be two truths?

This is basically 1,000 or so words of gushing, but damn am I so happy to do it when it feels like forever since I’ve felt this strongly for a show. I guess in a weird sort of way it’s kind of ironic that this soul-crushingly depressing show has reinvigorated some spirit inside of me, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The Leftovers was a raw nerve of a show and one that wasn’t afraid to get to the rotten core of everyone and reveal said rottenness, but maybe also sparring a few seeds for some future revitalization. It never sacrificed the “real” just because maybe that would make for a more palatable TV show, it bared everything out front and dared you to stick around, because things might suck a lot in the moment, but there’s always that glimmer in the future, another person or an idea that keeps you moving and keeps you alive.

‘Home Movies’: An Animated Show With A Unique POV

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I never really put too much stock in an animated show. Of course, I grew up watching and loving them, but over time my attitude towards them has kind of diminished. Sure, I still watch them, but really as just an easy, joke machine that I can use when I want a quick laugh, or lighten the mood after watching something dark. The vast majority of animated shows are like this, a conduit for easy jokes and ones in which you really couldn’t make through any other genre of television. I guess I should clarify that I’m talking about the like “teenage to young adult”-type of shows like the Sunday line-up of Family Guy, American Dad!, and The Simpsons and such on FOX, and as well as the more adult-orientated programming on Adult Swim, which I’m less familiar with, but know enough about.

Where shows like Family Guy and American Dad! are strictly joke machines with no heart, or they at least try for heart but never maintain it, thanks to Seth MacFarlane they’re a beast of their own. Home Movies is something different though, and reminded me, at least dramatically of early “Simpsons.” The Simpsons has always been an extremely funny show, but what always took it over the edge for me, especially beginning in seasons 4 through 6, was the heart it displayed and its willingness to tell stories about pain, trouble growing up, tribulations of parenting, and just deal with human issues along with the comedy. It was a beautiful thing and an insane clip at how many of these episodes were being produced and to the extreme quality that they were maintained at. Of course, now that they’re pushing double-digit seasons, it hard to maintain that balance, and the easier course of more stricter reliance on joke-telling begins to win out, and thus a big source of the dip in quality. South Park is more inherently out to tell jokes, but especially nowadays is heavily and brilliantly marred in the veil of satire, which lets them turn real and serious current issues and events into dick and fart jokes.

Where Home Movies plays into this all is its refusal to shy away from any of its subject matter. Where a multitude of more sit-comy animated shows revolve around a whole family, Home Movies is just Brendan Small, an eight-year-old, living with his divorced single mom and his younger sister. They deal with the traditional problems this situation would lead to, Brendan wondering about where his dad is, Paula (his mom) struggling to find steady work and provide for her son and create a good environment for him. The show is titled Home Movies because of Brendan and his friends Jason and Melissa’s penchant for making movies, basically at least one an episode, and also provides away to channel the themes of an episode and create an outlet for Brendon’s feelings, although it’s not always that blatant. I’m kinda making this show out to not be funny at all, but trust me it is, and H. Jon Benjamin is a huge part of it. Benjamin’s Coach McGuirk, Brendan’s soccer coach, is an increasingly big part of the show, as sort of a pseudo male role model to Brendon, but in the worst way possible with him saying and engaging in conduct that wouldn’t be the best for an eight-year-old to emulate. He’s endlessly funny, and is dually fantastic in large part to Benjamin’s skill as a voice artist.

Home Movies is great firstly because it’s funny and very much so, but also because of it’s realism and dealing with real human and family issues within this animated comedy framework, that usually doesn’t go that far. It’s an unseen point of view on my albeit limited experience with animated shows, but one that made the comedy realer and helped create a more lived-in universe.