Last night’s episode of The Leftovers (“The Garveys At Their Best”) was one of the most intriguing, although in the context of this show that almost means “it’s less irritating than the other episodes.” The whole thing was a flashback showing all the major characters living their normal lives and coping with their issues two or three days before the Big Departure, when 2% of the world’s population vaporized. It was certainly the best episode since “Guest”, which was strongly dominated by Carrie Coon‘s Nora Durst and pretty much put that actress on the map.
But I was also reminded last night what my big stumbling block with this series is, and the reason why I’m always half-frowning and sometimes even scowling when I watch it. I’m talking about Justin Theroux‘s Kevin Garvey, Mapleton’s chief of police and easily the weakest, most unstable asshole I’ve ever come to know over the course of a dramatic series, especially given that he’s the central figure and, in Theroux’s own words, “the symbolic center of the town as far as trying to keep his arms around it and hold it together.”
Hold it together? Garvey is a wreck. He looks scared all the time, and when he’s not scared he looks befuddled. Everything throws him. That stupid two-week beard makes it look like he’s been on a bender. He’s always struggling to find words. He can’t hold his temper and is always swearing…”fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.” He’s short. He can’t seem to hang on to his white cop shirts. That lost bagel…what was that about? Always banging into walls and stumbling around. Always going “whoa, I don’t get it…do you know what’s going on?” 90% of the time his mouth is hanging open. Whenever he’s outside you’re always expecting birdshit to land in his hair. He’s that kind of guy.
I realize, obviously, that everyone in the post-Departure world is, to put it mildly, off-center and unhinged and more than a little stunned. Nobody is going to be cool, calm and collected. I get that. But you want at least a semblance of occasional calm from a lead character, for Chrissake. You want a guy who might be understandably frazzled or even dumbfounded from time to time, but at least he’s able to settle down and exude a little adult male behavior from time to time. Some kind of weary stability, something you can hang onto at least a little bit while the world turns weirder and weirder.
I can think of 100 actors who could deliver this thing I’m talking about and Theroux clearly isn’t one of them. Or the Leftover show-runners aren’t letting him go there. I guess I’m talking about the quality that Clint Eastwood had in that New Orleans drama, Tightrope, in which he played a detective in thrall to certain nocturnal inclinations. Clint wasn’t a rock of stability or self-awareness but at least you could tolerate him, which is more than what you can say about Kevin “lost in the woods and can’t take a leak without spilling a couple of drops on his shoes” Garvey. You know who’d be perfect as Garvey? The 1968 Steve McQueen back from the dead. Give him the exact same lines and the exact same things that Theroux responds to, and he’d be totally cool and right. He’d nail it.
Listen to Theroux talk about Garvey in the video below, starting around 25 and ending at 53. On his own Theroux has it — he’s fine. It’s unfortunate that he’s been directed to play Garvey like such a putz. If only Garvey could be accidentally shot by that dog-killing guy. I would be completely cool with Carrie Coons taking over…seriously.