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7 Shows like The Leftovers: You Don’t Have to Be Mad to Work Here

Will Howell-Cornes itcherDespite its bleakness, Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta’s HBO series, ‘The Leftovers’ is TV heaven. Following the Garvey family three years after two percent of the world’s population disappeared in a Rapture-­like event, the more upbeat season two moves proceedings from Upstate New York to a miraculous town, Jardin in Texas where no souls departed. So, from ‘Lost’ to ‘Rectify’ to ‘Wilfred’ let’s take a look at some TV shows like ‘The Leftovers’.
~ Will Howell-Cornes

Getting Lost All over Again……

I could seriously write about this show for a week (but I won’t). Just as ‘Lost’ was a show about how to live life, ‘The Leftovers’ is a study on grief, depression and how not to live life.

Damon Lindelof’s writing just speaks to my soul, and I am often just left mouth agog at what he manages through his use of metaphor -­ in one episode he conveys Nora Durst’s grief via boxes of cereal. He is, for me, the best writer to have graced our screens.

Three years after The Departure, cop Kevin Garvey tries to keep Mapleton, NY under control. Easier said than done when your wife has left you to join nihilist cult The Guilty Remnant (who are terrorising the town), you’re doing crazy things like shooting packs of wild dogs while sleepwalking and can’t tell reality from dream as you come from a family with a history of mental illness…


Shows Similar to ‘The Leftovers’…

‘Lost’ (ABC, 2004)

Love it or hate it, Damon Lindelof’s first series as showrunner changed TV forever -­ just look at its never-­before-done narrative structure.

‘Lost’ is so much more than plane crash survivors surviving on a magical island. Using the spiritual framework that underpins all storytelling, Lindelof explores life, death, love and the fact that however lost you are, you always have a second chance.

While fan-­boy haters still vent their hatred at its mystery box structure, they fail to recognise that ‘Lost’ successfully answered the most philosophical question that humankind can ask.

Similarity Match: 85%
A more action­packed tale of good versus evil than ‘The
Leftovers’, this ground­breaking show also has it’s fair share of deluded, flawed and hallucinating characters, plus many a supernatural and miraculous event.

‘Awake’ (NBC, 2012)

After a car accident with his wife and teenage son, each time he sleeps or wakes, Detective Michael Britten finds himself alternating between two realities ­- one where his wife died but son survived the crash and one where his wife survived but son died. The dramatic question is, which world is real?

Similarity Match: 80%
Less miraculous than ‘The Leftovers’, this excellent show – which staggeringly only lasted one series – nevertheless features a character that like Kevin Garvey also lives between two worlds.

‘Rectify’ (Sundance TV, 2013)

Released after his conviction and 19 years on Death Row is quashed, ‘Rectify’ is the story of Daniel Holden trying to reintegrate into family and town life. Some, like the town’s senator (who rode to office campaigning for his execution) want the case re-­opened while some, like Daniel’s sister still maintain his innocence.

Similarity Match: 75%
Closer in subject matter and style than ‘Lost’, Ray MacKinnon’s series uses radical, Lindelofian storytelling techniques to delight, discombobulate and draw you in.

‘Hannibal’ (NBC, 2013)

How is the story of FBI consultant Will Graham and the world’s most famous cannibal serial-killer a TV series similar to ‘The Leftovers’? Well, showrunner Bryan Fuller’s exquisite and exhilarating series is just as bleak, albeit in a far more macabre way and Will Graham’s borderline mental illness is what makes him such a expert profiler.

Despite its rating as suitable for 14 year olds, this show is for adults only. To watch
‘Hannibal’ is like watching a dream unfold on your TV screen. A beautiful, terrifying dream.

Similarity Match: 70%
Of course, this show about a serial-­killer is uncomparable, but ‘Hannibal’ is just about the only show that delves as deep into the psychology of its characters as ‘The Leftovers’ delves into the human condition.

‘Rubicon’ (AMC, 2010)

Mourning the death of his wife and child in the 9/11 attacks, Will Travers’ skill for pattern recognition comes in handy at the federal intelligence agency he works for. Lonely and depressed, he finds a code in crosswords that leads him into a web of paranoia and conspiracies.

Similarity Match: 60%
Differs from ‘The Leftovers’ inasmuch as this is a straight-­out conspiracy thriller but the grief, the sense of emptiness and mystery are similar.


If You Like ‘The Leftovers’, You Will Like…

Okay, pop­pickers ­ while those shows are a little like ‘The Leftovers’ the following might take a little more of a leap to see the similarities. But I assure you, while maybe not as good as my favourite TV show of all time, they are sure to make you reflect and laugh…

‘Wilfred’ (FX, 2011)

Elijah Wood plays Ryan, a young wannabe professional dogged by the fact he is the only person who sees his neighbour’s dog as a burly, pot­-smoking, mischievous Australian man in a dog suit.

Brilliantly funny, ‘Wilfred’ is a subtle look at mental illness through the eyes of another man who doesn’t quite see the world as it really is.

‘BoJack Horseman’ (Netflix, 2014)

Self-­loathing ex­star of his own 1980’s sitcom, BoJack is lost in a world of drink and loneliness until he decides he’s making a comeback!

This cartoon is yet another accurate and astute study on depression and delusion.


Reality Is Overrated

So there we have it, from FBI Profilers to conspiracy theorists and cartoon horses via a magical island. Never say we don’t covered all bases! In wanting to write about the all­round awesomeness of ‘The Leftovers’, I kinda set myself an impossible mission but please check out one or two of these shows and see if you see the world through similar, deluded eyes to me!

Whether you do, or whether you don’t, you can leave your comments below…

Will Howell-Cornes is a writer, photographer and TV editor. He’s been trying to write three TV shows for a while now, which he hopes will be like ‘Lost’ ‘Hannibal’ and ‘The Leftovers’. He used to be a stand-up comedian but stopped being funny around July 2012.
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