This book unpacks and analyzes the central themes of sacrifice, melancholy, apocalypticism, and the nature of family and home in HBO’s The Leftovers to demonstrate the key role it played in the development of early twenty-first-century television. Eliot Borenstein argues that the story of The Leftovers is the most sustained exploration of loss ever to appear on American television and subverts the expectations of viewers who look to prestige dramas as puzzles to solve by providing no clear answers the mysteries most central to the show’s plot. Instead, Borenstein posits, the series endeavors to provide more nuanced and realistic portrayals of the melancholy that occurs when people’s lives are unmoored, leavening an inherently depressing experience with absurdity and moments of grace.
Eliot Borenstein is professor of Russian & Slavic Studies and vice chancellor and vice provost for global programs at New York University.
Chapter One: The Lessons of Lost, or, Serialization and Its Discontents
Chapter Two: Suburban Rapture: From Book to Series
Chapter Three: Melancholy, Baby
Chapter Four: The Shaman of Melancholia
Chapter Five: No Child Left Behind
Chapter Six: Giving Up Baby
Chapter Seven: Killing the Apocalypse
Chapter Eight: The Wrong Kevin
Chapter Nine: Letting the Mystery Be
Few shows in the history of television have been as mesmerizingly brilliant as The Leftovers, and few have left viewers with as much to unpack, discuss, and contemplate long after their sudden departure. Borenstein does a wonderful job with these tasks, commemorating the show with a welcome, thoughtful companion.
Borenstein’s book successfully analyzes the unique and mesmerizing Leftovers, unpacking issues like melancholy, religion, and morality. Moreover, like the show itself, one of the greatest traits of this monograph is its ability to do it with a way that is simultaneously beautiful, mysterious, and delicate.
In this scintillating book, Borenstein pulls off a remarkable accomplishment, using an initially underrated and overlooked HBO series to illuminate the complex relationships between several major themes. These include the logic of melancholia and mourning, the unique potentials of the serial narrative form, attitudes to death and loss, and the enduring power of apocalyptical thought. Applying a highly creative synthesis of Freudian psychoanalysis, adaptation theory, Queer Theory, and biblical hermeneutics in an astute close reading of every episode of The Leftovers, Borenstein consistently generates insights of great profundity. Yet he wears his theory lightly and his text is never anything less than engaging, accessible, witty and, at times, quite moving. Put simply, this is cultural analysis at its very best.