If that was the Christian rapture, then some of the worst people were chosen for eternal salvation.

On "The Leftovers," a spooky new series starting on Sunday on HBO, about one person in 50 vanished on Oct. 14, without any discernible pattern: babies, lawyers, drunks, thieves, surgeons, murderers, grandmothers, bartenders, celebrities and even the pope are gone.

"The Leftovers" slowly and enigmatically peels back the responses of people in one suburban town, the fictional Mapleton, New York.

Three years after 2 percent of the world's population suddenly disappeared, lots of people believe it was an act of God, but nobody has any answers, especially not special commissions reporting to Congress. Some churches close, and new cults form, including one called Guilty Remnant, whose followers wear white, take a vow of silence and chain smoke.

Most survivors just try to get back to normal, but the collective mood - reflected in the show's sepulchral lighting - is so gloomy that even bright daylight looks a little dingy.

The story is adapted from a novel of the same title by one of the show's creators, Tom Perrotta ("Little Children").

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"The Leftovers" has an in triguing premise that is intelligently and artfully presented, but there is a question of trust, especially given the provenance of the show. The other creator is Damon Lindelof, a creator of "Lost," the twisty ABC science-fiction series that angered fans by ending after six seasons with out properly tying up loose ends.


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"The Leftovers" takes its time, and not all viewers will have the patience for a slow, oblique narrative buildup. The premiere withholds as much as it reveals.

This series may never explain what happened to the people who disappeared, but the measure of its worth is that it may not have to. As with any good drama, the mystery lies in human nature more than in the supernatural. Once the show gets going, and it takes more than one episode to do so, "The Leftovers" bores into the characters and the fissures that crack their community so astutely that the cause is almost secondary.

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The story really begins on the third anniversary of the disappearances, when Mapleton is holding a commemorative parade, despite the objections of Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), the town's police chief, who thinks the gathering will draw trouble. A featured speaker at the Sept. 11-like ceremony is Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), a woman who lost her two children and husband on that day.

The blow Kevin experienced was nowhere near as bad, and yet still devastating. Neither his wife nor his children disappeared, but he lost them, nevertheless. His son, Tom (Chris Zylka), dropped out of college to join a cult led by a man who claims that he can hug the pain out of people. His daughter, Jill (Margaret Qualley), is still in high school, but is sullen and uncommunicative with everyone except her wild best friend, Aimee (Emily Meade), who has all but moved into the Garvey household. His wife, Laurie (Amy Brenneman), is gone, but it isn't immediately apparent where or why.

Kevin drinks when he's off duty, and turns belligerent and even violent when he has had a few too many. As he tries to maintain order in Mapleton, some of his colleagues worry that he might be losing his grip.

Then again, a lot of people in Mapleton aren't quite themselves anymore.