Sunday, March 15, 2015


Article originally written for Seat42F.

A&E’s new series THE RETURNED is based on the French series Les Revenants, which re-aired on Sundance and Netflix with subtitles under the name The Returned. I haven’t seen the original yet, though I keep meaning to watch, so when viewing this pilot, I was instead comparing it to last year’s Resurrection on ABC, which in turn was based on an unrelated book called The Return. Is that confusing enough for you?

All of these stories may be similar, but if you haven’t seen any of them, the premise of THE RETURNED is this: A girl named Camille (India Ennenga, Treme) dies when her bus runs off a cliff. Four years later, she returns home to her parents, Claire (Tandi Wright, Nothing Trivial) and Jack (Mark Pellegrino, Lost, The Tomorrow People), and twin sister, Lena (Sophie Lowe, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland), unaged and with no memory of the past four years. She’s not a zombie or a ghost; the first things she does are to fix herself a sandwich and take a bath. But she has no memory of the crash nor explanation as to where she’s been, nor any sign on injury, healed or otherwise.

Then, other dead people start showing up around town, too, not her classmates from the bus, but others that have passed in various years past. A man finds his fiancé getting remarried after a long mourning period. A wife who appears to have died decades ago goes home to her now-elderly husband. And there’s a little kid that no one seems to know, but may just hold the key to the mystery.

I have seen reviews for THE RETURNED that say this new series is to Les Revenants as Gracepoint is to Broadchurch. If you don’t get that reference, Gracepoint is a decent FOX series that aired this fall that is extremely similar to a superior show called Broadchurch, which was made in England. Without that knowledge of the source material, I like THE RETURNED, but those who have viewed the original may think this is a pale imitation. I cannot comment on that.

I can say THE RETURNED is about ten notches better than Resurrection. The story is far more cohesive, and the characters are compelling. There is a definite, big unanswered question in the pilot that I doubt the show will solve soon, but while I want to find out the answer, I’m also happy to enjoy the ride getting there.

The cast is phenomenal. Besides those mentioned above, the ensemble includes Jeremy Sisto (Suburgatory), Michelle Forbes (The Killing), Aaron Douglas (Battlestar Galactica), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Sandrine Holt (House of Cards), Kevin Alejandro (True Blood), Leah Gibson (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Agnes Bruckner (Private Practice), Dylan Kingwell (Big Eyes), Mat Vairo (Revolution), and Rhys Ward (Heartland). Not all of these people are well known, but most are, and have been in some of the best shows on television in the past decade. There aren’t any huge movie stars present to distract from the others, but these are some strong small screen performers.

The cast is super important to THE RETURNED because the program will hang on the characters. With the mystery of the show being so strange and obtuse, there aren’t likely to be any major clues anytime soon. Instead, the drama will live in the interaction of the players, and how the various people deal with coming home having lost years or welcoming back someone they believed gone forever. Not everyone handles it the same way, one person tragically unprepared, but this what viewers are going to want to see.

THE RETURNED is also a little creepy. The living dead do not appear to be monsters or killers, but who has brought them back and why? One of the main characters (not one of the returned) is exposed as having done something really horrible to another. Human nature can be dark, and pairing THE RETURNED with Bates Motel likely signals that this more negative side of personality will be explored, at least in conjunction with the positive.

I don’t know what THE RETURNED has in store, and I’m likely to still watch Les Revenants in the meantime, which could change my opinion. But for now, I’m very interested to see where the series is going.

THE RETURNED airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on A&E.

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