Show Me a Hero / *****

show_me1_bigThere is no one alive who does television like David Simon. No one. Ever since The Wire, Simon has shown a willingness – even an excitement – to engage with complex social issues in an intelligent, well-informed way, one that offers equal parts education and entertainment. Few TV shows could legitimately lay the claim to being “life changing,” but The Wire may hold that honor, offering commentary and insight about the drug trade, police procedures, journalism, economics, and more, all while still being an engaging, entertaining piece of television. And even in subsequent projects – the brilliant Iraq War miniseries Generation Kill and the New Orleans paean of Treme – Simon has refused to back down, exploring ideas with nuance, thoughtfulness, and a refusal to let anything be simplified or dumbed down. And his TV work doesn’t even begin to touch on his work as a writer, as the man has managed to write two genuinely brilliant and profound works of social observation, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood.

But even with Simon’s credentials, it feels like Show Me a Hero is a challenge. Here’s David Simon trying to make a piece of entertainment about the fight over public housing. And to do the story justice means diving into zoning battles, housing design, and local politics – to say nothing of the fact that this is a story that brings out many of the worst sides of people. The fight over Yonkers’ public housing was an ugly one, and one that drug through the courts, invoked ugly displays of racism, and much worse before it was all done. Even by Simon’s standards, this seems like a hard show to dramatize.

But somehow, he did it, delivering another masterpiece in a career that’s been nothing but.

No small amount of the credit has to rest on the shoulders of Oscar Isaacs, delivering yet another fantastic performance that shows off his naturalism, charisma, and perfect sense of timing. As Yonkers politician Nick Wasicsko, Isaacs is as close as the series gets to a main protagonist, and it’s on his shoulders that most of the series’ early going rests. And he holds up beautifully, giving a performance that completely makes you understand how this man could get elected as mayor – and why he’s the kind of man who comes to feel that ideals are more important than politics. It’s a dangerous game Wasicsko is playing, but an important one, and Simon does what he does best: showing you both the nobility of his actions, and the righteousness of his cause, while never letting you forget the price he’s paying, both politically and personally. And with Isaacs’ performance, Wasicsko is compulsively watchable – you admire him, you worry about him, you enjoy him, and you’re fascinated by him.

And that same complex approach applies to the rest of the series. There are no easy victories in Show Me a Hero, and nothing gained without a price being paid. That prevents the series from being an audience pleaser, of course (as though Simon could ever be accused of being an optimist), but it gives it an honesty and a power that’s impossible to ignore or shrug off. Simon lets his characters be people, first and foremost, and that means showing them with their flaws, warts, and greatness, all on display, and all done without apology or justification. That’s maybe most notably present with Catherine Keener’s fantastic performance as a local citizen who loudly, angrily protests the housing projects, only to show nuance and thought when we least expect it. But it continues through the rest of the cast, most importantly with the depiction of the various tenants of Yonkers’ already existing projects. Some of them are great people; some are awful; but most? Most are just people – flawed, struggling, and doing their best. And it’s a fact that Simon never lets us forget, no matter what he’s showing.

As you’d expect from Simon, there’s a lesson to Show Me a Hero, and it’s not one that’s easily summarized. It forces you to look at the complicated issue of public housing, and see it in all of its complex reality – the good, the bad, and just how difficult it is. It looks at politics, and sees both what can be done, what can be prevented, and just how addictive and intoxicating power can be – and how losing it all can truly leave a person without anything. It reminds you of how important human kindness can be, but it also makes you see how painful and damaging cruelty really is. And it does all of this while entertaining, engaging, and telling a great story. In other words, it’s a David Simon project, with everything that implies and then some. And with Isaacs and a slew of other great performances, a naturalistic feel that works to the series’ advantage perfectly, and a gripping real-life saga that moved me deeply, it ranks up there with…well, with everything else the man has done.


Silicon Valley / Veep

Over the past few years, Silicon Valley and Veep have become a reliable, fantastic one-two punch on HBO’s Sunday nights. Veep, by far, stole the evenings, delivering inspired and insane bursts of profane brilliance, and weaving in and out of the insanity of modern politics. But Silicon Valley just kept getting better and better as it went along, using its low-key charm and quiet sense of humor in incredible ways, and finding a great comic rhythm in its supporting cast.

And now, as Silicon Valley finishes its third season and Veep its fifth, something surprising happened: Silicon Valley outdid Veep handily this season, delivering more laughs, and bigger laughs, with a greater consistency than Veep for the first time since either show started.

veep-season-5-poster-trailer-01Part of that, it must be said, has to be laid at the fact that Veep‘s showrunner, show creator Armando Iannucci, stepped down at the end season 4, handing the show to a new showrunner this season. And while new showrunner David Mandel found his way into the show’s wonderful comic timing as the season went along, there was a sense, even from the early going, that this wasn’t quite the Veep that I had fallen in love with over the years. The rapid-fire pace seemed slower; the razor-sharp political jabs seemed lacking; the characters seemed…meaner. Which, admittedly, is an odd comment to make about a show that’s so gloriously, viciously profane about every person, but there was a darker cruelty to some of the plotlines this season that seemed out of place with the show.

It didn’t help, either, that the show felt more plot-heavy this season. Veep worked best as a study in Meyer’s inefficacy as a vice-president, an empty placeholder who was capable of doing little more than symbolic gestures. And while moving her to the presidential position let the show get more into the intricacies of political maneuvering (which gave the season some of its best moments), it also ended up making the show slower and clunkier than it used to be. Yes, as David Mandel argued, maybe letting an American run the show allowed the politics to be more detailed…but maybe the lack of details allowed the show to be as funny as it was.

Did I still enjoy this season? Sure, on the whole. The supporting cast on Veep is too funny not to love at times, with Sam Richardson’s Richard Splett stealing every scene he was in. And as the show found its pace, it began to really move along…until a strange finale that felt like it was taking the show in a bizarre direction that didn’t fit at all. Will I watch next season? Sure…but I can’t help but feel that Veep may not entirely recover from the loss of Iannucci. Veep (Season 5): *** ½

silicon-valley-season-3-posterAnd meanwhile, while Veep struggled, Silicon Valley became funnier than ever. Always more plot-heavy than VeepSilicon Valley had worked in large part before thanks to its astute casting choices, most notably the brilliant comedic pairing of Martin Starr and Kumail Nanijani as the company’s coders. But given just how much was always going on in Silicon Valley – from the gleeful Google-skewering plotline at Hooli to Pied Piper’s efforts to make a name for itself, the show still struggled balancing story and comedy.

Not so this season. Rather than introducing new characters (with the welcome exception of Stephen Tobolowsky as a famous CEO), season 3 of the show narrowed its focus, letting existing characters take center stage, giving nominal lead Richard (Thomas Middleditch) more to do, and letting the characters’ banter become part of the story as much as anything else. More than that, it found a way to harness the gleefully anarchic comic energy of T.J. Miller in a way that served the story finally, letting him feel like more than a shoe-horned in element of the series. (Even with all of that being said, the show may never do better than simply letting Starr and Nanijani just bounce off of each other, no matter what else is going on; there’s no scene between the two of them that didn’t kill me this season.)

What’s more, the show made the plotting work, finding a way to make the struggles of a tech-heavy company not only comprehensible, but engaging for a wide audience. And even more important, the show managed to invest us in the company, making us want to see it succeed as much as the characters do – which means that every setback affects us just as much as them. And by doing that, the show has managed to humanize its characters, whether by letting us see some humility and shame at the core of Erlich Bachmann or making “Bighead” more than just a running joke.

It all plays to Mike Judge’s strengths – letting the jokes come as much from the characters as the situations – and allowing him to mix the broadly silly with the specific. And as funny as this season was, and the fact that it seems to get better as it goes, I’m fine with watching the boys of Pied Piper continue on this path for a long time. Silicon Valley (Season 3) / **** ½

IMDb: Veep | Silicon Valley

Game of Thrones (Season 6) / *** ½

game-thrones-season-6-poster-facesWould that you could judge an entire season on one episode. Because, if all that happened in season 6 of Game of Thrones was the final episode, “The Winds of Winter,” you’d have a pretty great season. Plots moved along. Shocks were dealt out (my favorite involving Arya). And more than anything else, the show seemed like it was moving towards an endgame – and given that rumors tell us we have as few as 13 episodes left, that’s quite a big deal.

Unfortunately, you can’t judge a season based on an episode; you have to look at the whole thing. And on the whole, this was a pretty weak season of Game of Thrones, one that felt like the polar opposite of that finale. Just about every plotline seemed as though it had hit a patch of molasses, sometimes to the point where it literally induced disbelieving laughter out of me (I’m thinking here of the arbitrary fire that beset Daenerys’s fleet when she was just about to leave, you guys!). What “shocks” there were often ended up badly telegraphed, or played out in such a way that they felt muted and empty. That’s maybe nowhere near as evident as it was in the penultimate episode, where two foes fought a battle whose outcome was all but written into the title cards of the episode, and whose excesses often felt less impressive and more tiresome – a big disappointment from the show that brought us “Hardhome.”

But that often was true for the whole season. The resolution to the Jon Snow storyline took about an hour longer than it should have, and many of the moments leading up to it felt tedious, as if the show were treading water and waiting on people to get into place. That felt doubly true with Arya’s storyline, which felt as if the show suddenly realized that it didn’t care at all about it, and had simply been killing time until it could drop her in as needed. It’s also true where a long-lost character made an odd return, one that felt like it should have been more momentous – and more important – than it was.

To be fair, many of these problems are hard-coded into the material itself. After all, George R. R. Martin famously struggled with this very issue as he wrote the books, referring to it as the “Meereenese Knot,” and having it end up delay the books to an infamous degree. And, because of that delay, readers have had a longer time than usual to theorize and hash out ideas, which in turn means that a lot of this season’s big moments had their thunder stolen a bit. That’s not the fault of the show, but it doesn’t make the season work any better at times.

And yet…

And yet, there’s that finale, which felt like the show finally got all of its ducks in a row, kicked the dust off of its shoes, and got things moving. And it paid off all of the patience it had asked for, and delivered so many great scenes, and even managed more than its share of shocks. And most importantly, it felt like, after a season of inertia and place-setting, there was genuine movement, and exciting movement, at that. It didn’t make up for the slow pacing and lack of excitement before it, but it certainly helped quite a bit. And it renewed my excitement for a show that I had been getting frustrated with along the way.

I still don’t forgive them for wasting Ian McShane, though. And I never will.


Finding Dory / **** ½

12792317_10154164942382240_2487411388686774115_oWhen you have kids, one of the secret pleasures is getting the excuse to take them to see “children’s movies” that you’re secretly wanting to see anyway, without feeling like a weird adult sitting with a bunch of children. Sure, that means you end up sitting through some Hotel Transylvania 2‘s along the way…but it also means that you get an excuse to see every new Pixar movie. And when you’re a studio that’s managed to only make two weak films out of 17 releases, that’s no small thing.

With that being said, there’s no denying that Pixar hasn’t quite been able to pack the reliable magic it once did. Setting aside the magnificent Inside Out, the studio has been turning out either sequels or less successful standalone films for a while now (maybe since 2010, when Toy Story 3 was released), and while most have been fine…well, “fine” isn’t what you tend to hope for when you see a Pixar film. They’ve been a victim of their own success, to no small degree. And let’s be honest: an over-reliance on sequels for a studio which soared with originality for so long has been a bit disappointing.

So now comes Finding Dory, another sequel. But with it also comes the return of Andrew Stanton, the man behind some of the studio’s best films (including their best, Wall-E), as well as a return to a pretty beloved original film. Add to that my personal love for Albert Brooks and Ed O’Neill (who return as Marlin and appear in a major role, respectively), and that’s a lot of good signs.

Turns out, Finding Dory deserves those good signs and then some, delivering one of the most enjoyable of all of the Pixar sequels, as well as a movie that works on its own terms, and doesn’t just rely on the original for its good will. (As much as I enjoyed Monsters University, that was definitely the case there.) More than that, though, it’s a reminder of how original Pixar is when it comes to the messages they choose to deliver. In a marketplace where most kids’ movies tell the importance of being yourself, or standing tall, not many would do what Finding Dory does: show what it’s like to live with a disability, and what it’s like to raise a child with one.

Mind you, as with all of the best Pixar movies, you could miss that message, if you so chose. Finding Dory is first and foremost a comedic adventure, and it handles both halves of that title wonderfully. Filling the world with a wide assortment of great characters and sharp gags, giving them great dialogue and interesting personalities, and imbuing every element of the world with personality and charm, Finding Dory reminds you of how, really, no other animation company can touch what Pixar does when they’re on their game. As always, the graphics are astonishing, from the texture of different fluids to the attention to detail, and it says something that you barely even notice it anymore – it’s just part of what you expect from them. No, as always, the beautiful computer work is superb, but exists to support the story, letting the characters and the world speak for themselves and come to life.

It’s that story that really makes Finding Dory work, though. One of the things that hurt some of the other Pixar sequels was their arbitrary nature. There was never a sense that Cars 2 or Monsters University were stories that had a point, or much need to be told; they were there to play around, or because the studio wanted to make a sequel. But Finding Dory feels like a story that Stanton thought about, and a lesson that fit this world, rather than being forced in. In following Dory’s journey to find her family, as well as her own past, Stanton feels like he’s deepening a character we already love, turning her comic relief beat into something more complex and ultimately a little heart-breaking.

All of that, though, doesn’t keep Finding Dory from being a blast of an adventure, and a genuinely funny one throughout. There’s some fantastic new creations, including a pair of sea lions whose personality takes what could easily be a one-note joke and just makes it work for them. (In addition, the realization of who voiced the sea lions made for a great moment for me personally, given how they represent a pretty amazing TV reunion.) And, of course, there’s Ed O’Neill as Hank, an octopus – well, technically, as Dory points out, a “septapus,” since he only has seven tentacles – who runs into Dory and becomes part of the plot. Hank’s grouchy, gruff demeanor makes him a great foil for Dory’s unquenchable optimism, and grounds her character perfectly.

Finding Dory still has some issues, and ironically, the biggest comes from its nature as a sequel: in focusing so much on Dory, it never quite knows what to do with Marlin and Nemo, who always feel like a bit of an afterthought in the film. That’s a shame, and doubly so given my aforementioned love of Albert Brooks, who’s largely wasted in the film. Indeed, many of the links to the first film end up feeling a bit thin at times, especially given how rich and detailed the new material is. And yet, if that’s the worst you can say about it, that’s not a bad thing at all. And given how funny, exciting, engaging, and fun the rest of the film is, a few bad callbacks and one wasted returning cast member…well, that’s a price I can live with.

The short: As usual, Pixar preceded its new release with a short film, this one entitled “Piper” and telling the story of a little sandpiper trying to learn how to deal with the tides. It’s an incredibly charming and simple little film, one done without any dialogue at all and relying only on some photorealistic graphics to tell its tale. It’s the perfect example of a Pixar short – funny, sweet, charming, and likable, telling a simple story simply and doing it well. It’s not the best – it’s no “Presto” or “One Man Band” – but it’s a sweet little joy. And it’s definitely not “Lava,” thank God.


Before They Are Hanged, by Joe Abercrombie / *****

902715Middle entries in a trilogy are always complicated. You don’t get that exhilaration of a new story, nor the joys of watching plotlines end; instead, you’re watching pieces move around, setting up the finale yet to come. They’re hard books to write, and hard ones to evaluate on their own terms. And if anything, Before They Are Hanged has an even bigger problem: the lack of obvious structure of The First Law trilogy. So many fantasy series have an obvious endgame – the destruction of the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings, the Iron Throne in A Song of Ice and Fire, the Last Battle in The Wheel of Time, and so forth. But The First Law doesn’t have any such obvious structure or endgame that’s apparent yet. There’s a country in peril of two different invaders (as well as a peasant uprising), the journey of a powerful wizard to retrieve a dangerous object, and a slew of more personal plotlines ongoing, and no immediately obvious place for them all to go.

And yet, for all of that, Before They Are Hanged works not just as a middle book, but as a book on its own terms, delivering an even better tale than The Blade Itself, outstanding character work, incredible action, great plot development, and such rich worldbuilding and evolution that you’ll be hard-pressed to stop for even a moment.

Much of that joy comes from author Joe Abercrombie’s outstanding ability to let his characters live and breathe, and more than that, to let them evolve and change. If The Blade Itself represented the setup for the series, Before They Are Hanged is the section where the characters begin to be shaped by – and shape – events around them in fascinating ways. Logen “Bloody Nine” Ninefingers begins to reveal exactly how he became the leader he once was held to be, as well as showing signs of the human being under the grizzled warrior. Sand dan Glokta, the mutilated prisoner, is still capable of brutal and horrendous acts, but also shows himself capable of incredible leadership – and surprising mercy. And Jezal dan Luthar, the arrogant swordsman, begins to see the world beyond himself for the first time. It’s all done wonderfully, with care and slow patience, and it gives the book a richness and warmth that’s often lost in the plotting of an epic fantasy trilogy.

But Abercrombie proves to be no slouch at all the trappings of the genre, either. Before They Were Hanged delivers some absolutely fantastic battle sequences, and Abercrombie shows himself equally capable of handling both the big picture as generals watch the fronts battle and the up-close and personal one-on-one combat, with the latter delivering some truly brutal and disturbing violence at times. More than that, he knows when to use it and when to leave it offscreen, allowing the incidents to occur when they matter most, and when they can impact the story or the characters as much as possible.

And then, beyond that, there’s the rich story, which manages to follow two very different martial fronts and a quest to the edge of the world, and weave between them effortlessly and yet perfectly, allowing each plot to come in at the maximum point where tension can be drawn out. More than that, Abercrombie lets each story follow its own pace, which lets the books feel less plot-driven and more driven by the characters and the world, something that so often fails in epic fantasy series. And yes, it’s all done with Abercrombie’s pitch-perfect mix of cynicism, black humor, character work, and skilled writing.

As I’ve said, I’m still not entirely sure where The First Law trilogy is going…but that’s okay. Because every storyline, and every character in them, is riveting enough on any number of levels to keep me reading, and render me excited that there’s more books set in this world, and had me opening up the third and final book within seconds of finishing this one. It’s all really become one of my favorite fantasy series in recent memory, one that draws on any number of inspirations while still feeling like its own unique, standout creation.


Hap and Leonard (Season 1) / **** ½

Imv5bngflodiyyzqtmmvmyi00mdq1lthmmgutnmm3zjhkntrhzdhhxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyndi0mtyynzu-_v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_‘ve been a fan of Joe Lansdale’s writing for a long time now, and the Hap and Leonard books almost as long. For those of you unlucky enough to never have read Lansdale, suffice to say, you’re missing out; his books are almost entirely unclassifiable and unpredictable, running the gamut from all out horror to low-key dramas, from neo-noir to supernatural thrillers, and all done with a wicked sense of humor that’s hard to ignore. Lansdale writes what he wants, but the closest thing to consistency he’s ever done is the Hap and Leonard series of books, which follow around the titular characters as they get involved in all kinds of complicated situations. It’s pure Texas noir, done without any flinching but a beautiful sense of humor, and reading them is an absolute joy.

So when it was announced that the books were being made into a television series, I was equal parts excited and worried. I love these books quite a bit, and they’re low-key enough that you could easily do them on a TV budget. More than that, the choice to make them into a TV series instead of a movie seemed right; it would allow the stories to be told, while also allowing for the derails and character work that makes the books so good. And yet, I also worried that it wouldn’t hit the tone right. The Hap and Leonard books are pure noir, yes, and they’re unflinchingly so…but they’re also really, really funny, an element that’s inextricably linked to their appeal. And more than that, there’s Hap and Leonard themselves, whose unlikely friendship works because Lansdale simply accepts it – not overexplaining it or underexplaining it, but just letting it be, and letting these two men exist with all of their complications, contradictions, and personality. And I worried that the TV series might explain too much, or lean too heavily on the comedy over the noir (or vice versa), or soft pedal things…or, mainly, I just worried that it wouldn’t do the characters justice.

And yet, I’ll be damned if Hap and Leonard doesn’t work and then some. Adapting the first novel in the series, Savage Season, the first season tells the story of how Hap and Leonard end up entangled with Hap’s ex-wife, a group of 60’s revolutionaries looking for a lot of money to keep their ideals going, and a psychopathic drug dealer. As you’d expect with noir, there’s a slew of betrayals, a plot that keeps doubling back on itself, and all kinds of bad behavior, to say nothing of some brutal violence. But there’s also a lot of thematic richness, as these hippies (Hap included) try to make their peace with the change in the world, as well as dealing with what happens when your ideals die.

Even better, though, it deals with all of that while being exciting, bloody, and really funny. The casting can’t be shortchanged here, especially James Purefoy as Hap and Michael Kenneth Williams as Leonard. The two men play off of each other beautifully, depicting an old friendship between two very different people, and an easy comfort and familiarity that can’t be faked (Purefoy and Williams are reportedly friends in real life as well). That also means that both men get some great dialogue and one-liners, especially Williams, whose sarcastic (and cynical) worldview means he gets to be the voice of cynical realism at all times.

But the supporting cast is no slouch either. Christina Hendricks rocks as Trudy, Hap’s ex-wife, and turns what could have been a generic femme fatale role into something richer and more complicated – a performance that makes the character work, as her contradictions constantly surprise the viewer and the characters. And Jimmi Simpson just about steals the show as Soldier, the aforementioned drug dealer, with a scenery-chewing performance in the best way possible. Soldier is definitely the most over-the-top role in the series, but Simpson makes it work, creating a truly chilling villain who’s constantly watchable, and whose presence escalates the action in a way that’s impossible to ignore.

Hap and Leonard isn’t perfect, of course; it starts off a bit rushed, barrelling along without spending quite enough time setting the stage, and it stumbles a bit in the epilogue to the story. But by and large, the show works, bringing this world to life, and more importantly, capturing the vibe of the books wonderfully, and bringing all of the comedy, darkness, thematic richness, and character work to the screen. And given that the first book may be my least favorite so far (even though I like it a lot, I think the books only get better), here’s hoping that they get to keep making this show for a while to come.


The Leftovers (Season 2) / *****

the_leftovers_season_2_official_artI was blown away by the first season of The Leftovers, but at the same time, I knew how divisive the show was. It was a series full of the supernatural, one which revolved around a single incredible event – the instantaneous and mysterious disappearance of 2% of the world’s population – and yet had no interest in explaining what happened or why it happened. It was a bleak series, one that explored depression, grief, and loss in unflinching terms. It looked at religion, faith, and morality in fascinating ways, gave us broken and damaged characters, and simply watched. And for that reason, a lot of people hated it, or simply couldn’t handle it – because make no mistake, the first season of The Leftovers is punishingly, crushingly bleak. And while the emotions it raised, the themes it explored, the characters it created – while all of that was masterfully done and beautiful, it could be a hard show to watch, emotionally.

And then came season two…and the show felt entirely different.

Here’s a quick example of how different the show felt. Here are the opening credits of the show in season one. They’re ominous, dread-soaked, and oppressive.

And now, here are the opening credits of season two, which couldn’t be more different in every imaginable way.

A different song, different images, a different tone…all of which might leave you wondering if this is the same show. And it is…but it’s also not.

Season two of The Leftovers takes place in a small town in Texas known as Miracle, because of the fact that, on the day of the Departure, Miracle lost no one. Not a single soul. And in the years since the Departure, Miracle has become a national landmark, a park where people flock – maybe for answers, maybe for safety, and maybe just for hope. It’s the new home for some of our main characters, who left Mapleton after the end of season one in the hopes of getting a fresh start.

And then three young girls disappear in truly bizarre circumstances…to the point where people begin to think there must have been another Departure.

That’s about all of the story I want to get into here, but suffice to say that the disappearance is the point around which the entire season revolves. That’s an interesting choice, and one which gives the season a bigger narrative hook than the first season ever had. It’s a mystery that we think might have an answer, one that seems less daunting than the Departure itself. And as we start to question the role of various people in that disappearance – as well as the nature of Miracle itself – the season feels less abstract, more directly compelling than the first.

And yet, for all of that, this is still The Leftovers. There may be more “plot” to grab onto. There may be a less pervasive sense of hopelessness and despair. There may even be hints of a sense of humor (as well as a wonderfully meta tone at points that allows the show to take jabs at itself and answer some of the complaints about the series). But this is undeniably the same series, with the same preoccupations: death, loss, grief, healing, religion, faith, doubt, madness – all of them and more. And by the end, it becomes clear just how much the show is still dealing with the same material, even if the approach is different. This is still a show that deals with heavy material, and does so unflinchingly when it needs to.

But it’s also a show that’s given itself permission to be daring, and audacious, and even funny – to say nothing of gleefully weird. There’s a plotline about an odd hotel, for instance, which manages to be part Lynch film, part Sopranos homage, and entirely, wonderfully odd – and completely captivating, as well as unmistakably part of the same show. And that doesn’t even get into the fact that one character may be hallucinating a a dead visitor who seems to enjoy nothing more than taunting him at all times. Beyond that, though, the show shows a willingness to answer some questions, even ones you don’t expect entirely – and given some of the weird details about life in Miracle, there’s quite a few. And there’s even a willingness to play with the season’s structure, telling an overlapping story through a series of rotating perspectives that makes for a fascinating, compelling plotline.

The Leftovers still isn’t a show for everyone, and that’s okay. Indeed, that’s part of the joy of the show – a refusal to compromise, or to fit in, or to accommodate everyone. Even the show’s re-invention this season feels organic, less a choice to attract a bigger audience and more a choice to tell a different kind of story. But it’s still a show about big, weighty issues, one with an incredible cast, a willingness to take on big ideas in an intelligent way, and a beautiful sense of style and purpose that’s hard to ignore. And while it can be a rough watch, and even an emotionally draining one…but it’s also among the best shows on television. And given how much great TV there is these days, that’s no small thing.