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?
AIRED ON 12/17/2012
Season 1 : Episode 8