Damon Lindelof's last show, Lost, struggled with the unknown and the audience's desire for an explanation. His new one, The Leftovers, goes in the right direction—it's about struggling with the unknown. In this case, it's novelist Tom Perrotta's concept of a rapture-like event where two percent of the world's population suddenly disappears; there's no enlightenment as to why, and no outward sign of impending religious doom. But the central question Lindelof and Perrotta ask in the pilot of The Leftovers, which focuses on four members of a splintering family three years after the disappearances, is whether we can see the forest for the trees.
Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), chief of police in a suburban town, basically presents as normal, and that's because he is—he's embittered by a fractured family situation and drinking a little too much, but these are not problems one can blame on the supernatural. Kevin is just someone trying to keep it together in the face of something he can't hope to explain, which is of course how most people deal with such things. At the same time, the rapture is lurking in the backs of everyone's minds, an excuse for everyone's behavior, a slow, creeping reason to leave the old tenets of society behind.
Lindeolf is consciously steering away from the pulpy hallmarks of Lost. There are brief flashbacks to darker times, but they last only a few seconds, not like the long, specific character-shading provided in every episode of the ABC blockbuster. There's no real effort to address the central mystery, or point the audience in a direction that will leave them salivating for answers. The Leftovers is very much an HBO show in that regard—it's much more concerned with setting an overall mood and giving us a visual aesthetic to hold on to.