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'The Leftovers' Season 1 review: Summer TV's addictively watchable success story

Emily Mead as Aimee and Margaret Qualley as

Emily Mead as Aimee and Margaret Qualley as Jill in "The Leftovers," which will get a third and final season on HBO. Photo Credit: HBO, Warner Brothers / Paul Schiraldi

THE SHOW "The Leftovers"

WHEN|WHERE Sunday at 10p.m. on HBO

WHAT IT'S ABOUT In the first-season finale, "The Prodigal Son Returns," the Guilty Remnant cult plans -- per production notes -- "an elaborate Memorial Day initiative" that "plunges Mapleton into chaos." And this: Holy Wayne (Paterson Joseph) "grants a final wish" and Nora (Carrie Coon) "makes a life-changing decision." No review copy made available.

MY SAY I wrapped my review of "The Leftovers" launch in June with this line -- "a sincere and earnest attempt to understand death, human loss and the inexpressible mystery of the hereafter. That's a fascinating and admirable ambition -- just not always a watchable one." All true, I'm happy to say, except that last bit: "The Leftovers," in fact, turned out to be strangest, saddest, gloomiest -- and most addictively watchable -- TV success story of the entire summer.

Because TV (after all) is the art of getting someone to watch, this could be -- like the missing themselves -- a mystery too, except "The Leftovers" has done so many things right. Among them: Taking the commonplace (a word, a glance, a sigh, even an act as simple as selecting a box of cereal for breakfast) and imbuing it with a powerful, cosmic wallop. There's a divinity that shapes the ends of these forlorn characters -- or is there?

The uncertainty of the answer drives you -- or at least me -- from scene to scene, relentlessly.

FIRST-SEASON GRADE A-

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