What Happened to Scary Zombies? A&E's American Adaptation of The Returned Gets a Series Order

By Tim Surette

Apr 29, 2014

For ages and ages, the idea of the dead coming back to life was terrifying. Even before George Romero added brain-eating to the mix, cavemen would gather 'round their campfires and tell ghost stories about zombies. There's just something not right about switching from dead to undead, thank you very much, and until now, every generation of storyteller has understood that.

Pop culture gobbled up the undead idea, and the zombie trend hit its zenith with The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman's never-ending comic book and television series about the zombie apocalypse. While the show examines (or at least tries to examine) plenty of themes about humanity, there's one undeniable message: Zombies are totally scary!

But now word has arrived that A&E has gone ahead ordered 10 episodes of an American version of The Returned (a.k.a. Les Revenants), the excellent, not-quite-zombie series about the dead returning to life that SundanceTV imported from France last fall. Carlton Cuse (Lost, Bates Motel) will produce the series along with True Blood's Raelle Tucker. The main difference between The Walking Dead and The Returned? The dead that come back to live are actually quite pleasant! Or at least as pleasant as they were when they died. 


Set in a small French town, The Returned shows us what happens when people who've died show up in the present day as though nothing has changed. It's emotional, it's thought-provoking, and it's beautiful. It has also firmly entrenched itself as the best series on television about the the dead returning to life and not eating people, and the way I see it, the only series we need on the imaginative-yet-narrow subject.

But as we know all too well, trends that've reached their saturation point often mutate into new strains, and television is currently suffering an outbreak of zombie shows featuring formerly dead people who just want to find their old high-school girlfriend or continue the childhood that was interrupted by a fatal bus crash. In addition to A&E's adaptation of The Returned, the second season of the original French series will air on SundanceTV, ABC's dead-are-back Resurrection has a great shot at returning for a second season next year, and NBC is developing Babylon Fields, a pilot that was actually in development at CBS in 2007 before—AHEM COUGH TERRIBLE PLAY ON WORDS ALERT—coming back to life at NBC. Unless NBC plans to dramatically change Babylon FIelds, all four of these shows feature the dead coming back to life and NOT eating the flesh of the living. 


I'm on my soapbox, people! One show about friendly formerly dead folks is enough, and we've already got it in The Returned: Original Flavor (which itself is an adaptation of the 2004 film Les Revenants). A&E's version will undoubtedly cling quite tightly to its source material's formula and allow people who are too lazy to read subtitles to get into the show. Resurrection is really only a shell of The Returned, and there's a reason that CBS passed on Babylon Fields seven years ago. Garbled, jumping-on-the-bandwagon shows have a knack for spreading much faster than the groundbreaking original they're trying to mimic, and in only two years, television is already in danger of running this idea into the ground. 

Guys, I believe that TV is better when it attempts to come up with creative new ideas instead of just relying on re-hashes, spin-offs, adaptations, "recognizable brand" shoehorn jobs, and trend pile-ons. Does that make me a dreamer? Maybe. While "traditional" zombies will always exist in the world of pop culture, the Scary Man-Eating Zombie is carved into the the Mt. Rushmore of Horror (alongside with vampires, werewolves, and slashers), and therefore will never overstay its welcome. But the idea that television could have FOUR series examining the philosophical impact of dead people coming back to life but not shredding the flesh of hapless humans is an insane and depressing blow to originality on television. 


QUESTIONS FOR YOU, DEAR READER

The Walking Dead is a massive ratings Gigantor that crushes its competition, so why are networks trying to copy a small, foreign, low-rated art-house series instead of The Walking Dead? EXPLAIN THIS TO ME!

– Do you think we need an American version of The Returned

– Do you think there are many more stories to tell about the dead returning as "normal" people?

– If you die and come back to life, will you look for your old high school sweetheart, or will you start biting people?


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  • LeahLefler May 02, 2014

    In the Flesh is really good, and there's no biting on that show. Not really.

  • Rolamb May 01, 2014

    I do not believe we need a remake, we seldom need a US remake. I also believe that part of the US viewers are fed up with the violence, unnecessary fast pace, shallowness, fake reality and beauty (meaning that only the young and beautiful play in it) of US series. Many of the European series give more of a feel that we can relate to in some way instead that we 'would like to be' like in US shows. Don't get me wrong, I love many of the US shows, but they feel different.

  • ted2332 Apr 30, 2014

    It is a little stupid to redo a French art house series ( though excellent) when The Walking Dead and World War Z are monster hits.
    It's not that hard to make an apocalyptic sci-fi series (Revolution, Falling Skies etc) so why are we not seeing rip offs of The Walking Dead?
    Zombie apocalypse books have really taken off recently too, but I have only seen a pilot of a Zombieland series and heard about another proposed series (I can't remember its name) to take advantage of the trend.

  • ElisaDiaz Apr 30, 2014

    I have been watching Resurrection, after I watched Les Revenants. There is nothing wrong with Resurrection so far, the story is well paced and compelling enough. Very similar story, same premises and rules in both universes. And what are we saying, that this is wrong? Wait... isn't there like a million vampire shows out there already? Would it be better if we had a second version of TWD, you know, with the traditional zombies? Why would that be better, I wonder? Yes it is the same premise twice and yes for me the first one was better, but this is ok for people that don't like subtitles, for example. One reason for this inclination towards "personal" zombies can be budget, just like that. Or maybe more people watch TWD for the "personal" pieces than the gore, against what Tim might think, you never know.

  • tamaracassill Apr 30, 2014

    The Returned wasnt that amazing - seriously it was ok, but not awesome. And if I only see the photo of Camille.. god she was annoying

  • Rolamb May 01, 2014

    Good acting, wasn't it!

  • No1Slayerette Apr 30, 2014

    For me, this raises the question: at what point does a trend, defined as a temporary change that fades over time, become a more permanent part of culture in general?

    Are we really still at the stage where we consider an abundance of vampires, zombies, witches and werewolves (or any other supernatural entity for that matter) in television, film, novels, comic-books etc. a mere trend? I think it's safe to say that all of them have been common staples for storytelling ideas for quite some time, and that we should probably accept this and move on to a more pressing question: how can these ideas, that have been used many times before, be presented in a new and exciting way?

  • AndreaMcCooey Apr 30, 2014

    TWD is not a good show, it baffles me why people are still watching.

    A lot of shows never need American remakes, but ye still do 'em; so what does it matter what we think, huh?

    The Returned did it perfectly. In fact, The Returned is infinitely better than Les Revenants (film), despite the film being it's source material.

    If I came back from the dead, I would immediately begin to start trying to figure out what other superpowers I had.

  • SegunAyadi Apr 30, 2014

    Tim dats just the way it is, the returned is enuf for me, but tv will be tv, we even hv zombie vamps on the up coming seasone of true blood, dats d way it goes

  • DonovanBrown Apr 30, 2014

    The amount of whining over remakes in this thread is sad, but also a little bit amusing. Sometimes remakes work. Sometimes they don't. In either case nobody is forcing you to watch it. And it's popularity can even help the original.

    How does an adaptation, even if it turns out horrible, in any way diminish the original? If it's as good as you say it will stand on its own.

  • zorannikolic7984 Apr 30, 2014

    I like remakes! I am watching right now Les Revenants but I will also watch American remake :) Same: I like original songs, but I also like remakes, remixes etc. ;)

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