"Sundance" is NOT just the name of my raw foodist downstairs neighbor who suffers from BOISTEROUS night terrors, it’s also a very respectable brand when it comes to film, TV, and Robert Redford festivals. Lately, the sister channel to AMC has been plopping out some way worthwhile content, what with the success of Rectify and Top of the Lake
and also Meet the Deedles 2: Back in the Habit. The network's latest offering, The Returned, may not be an original creation, but the French miniseries is new to us Americains, so unless you get "Canal+" you've likely never heard of it... until now. There’s drama, romance, supernatural junk, and "technical" zombies—but more on that later. I have stopped buying blankets at the thrift store long enough to view the first four episodes, and would like to share my thoughts/ravings as pertains to Le Show. So without further adieu, on y va!
Wow The Returned? So it's about overdue library books? WHATEVER.
Mais non! The basic premise here is that in a gorgeous mountain town, select individuals of all ages who happen to be deceased inexplicably return from the dead. These folks have no knowledge of how they came back, and can only remember up to the moment before the chain of events that led to their demise. Though the press materials suggest this is a "zombie drama," these villagers aren’t so much reanimated corpses as they are miraculously resurrected, so no one’s eyes are falling out and no brains are getting eaten. At most, those who come back have a hard time sleeping and are pretty hungry.
To spice things up, though, among the "Returned" is former serial killer Serge (Guillaime Gouix), who sets back to his old murdery ways. Such is the genius at work here: Rather than rely on the already fascinating hook, each character has a compelling, nuanced tale worthy of its own show, such as Camille (Yara Pilartz), one half of a telepathic set of twins, and the focus of the pilot. As the 11-year-old’s broken family—estranged father Jerome (Frederic Pierrot, Tell Me I’m Dreaming), newly religious mother Claire (Anne Consigny, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), and the now older, rebellious twin-sister Lena (the soon-to-be mega-star Jenna Thiam)—struggles to understand the mystery behind this eerie phenomenon, an actual murder mystery unfolds and the tight-knit community gets upended by the "return" of other resurrected figures. Layers upon layers of energizing, heartfelt drama ensues.
Whoa, crazy. So who’s behind all this?
Fabrice Gobert adapted the series using themes from the 2004 film They Came Back by Robin Campillo; he also directed the pilot. Scottish post-rock band Mogwai performs the haunting music, which makes an awesome standalone album in its own right.
(Bear with me, this next part has a bunch of names that might not mean a lot to you until you see the show, but these actors deserve MAD credit...):
While each episode highlights the backstory of a different character, every player here weaves in and out of the larger chain of events. In addition to the aforementioned townsfolk, The Returned also features Pierre Perrier as groom and ill-fated father-to-be Simon, as well as Clotilde Hesme as his ex-fiancee Adele; Samir Guesmi functions as the town’s police captain and Adele’s current lover, Thomas. Celine Sallette plays nurse Julie, who takes in the mysteriously orphaned Victor (Swann Nambotin). Rounding out the cast are Alix Posson as police officer Laure; Jean-Francois Sivadier as Pierre, a community leader who seems to have inside knowledge as to what's behind all this; and Gregor Gadebois as Toni, owner of the the local pub, with a dark secret of his own.
Anyway, this all might seem like a lot to swallow, especially if you're not familiar with French entertainment, but trust me, the ensemble cast brings its A-game, creating a world of dense, rich individuals.
When does the undead moodiness stumble into our homes?
Thursday, October 31 at 9pm, just as your house is getting TP'd.
Who will enjoy The Returned?
Honestly, fans of Sundance’s own Rectify will appreciate this tonal companion, what with its subtle philosophical flourishes and cinematic dreaminess. Add a dash of Lost’s character-centric supernatural staging, a few of Six Feet Under's more poignant moments, and a hint of Twin Peaks for that cozy mountain mystery feel, and you'll have a good idea of what's in store.
What’s the best about The Returned?
The way the show's very premise takes a back seat to the fascinating human conflicts that arise after the dead come back. The relationships between ex-lovers, orphaned children, and betrayed family members are built in such a way that only this unique phenomenon could elicit the existential responses that occur and carry The Returned past the "how" and "why" of such a supernatural event. The series artfully features every human emotion connected with the loss of a loved one, all without the finality and (let’s face it) boringness of death. With a plot that would be gripping even without the element of resurrection, and visuals that are equal parts beautiful, comedic, and suspenseful, this series uses everything at its disposal to go straight for the heart in ways that don’t take viewer attention for granted. Which is to say it clips along and never gets indulgent. Also, for those gorehounds, there's plenty of creative violence to offset the melancholy stretches.
Every last detail is meted out in a way that juggles suspense, pushes the story in new directions, and keeps each character fresh the whole time. The twisty-turniness is PERFECT for group viewership, and never outstays its welcome. All in all this is next-level TV and it even makes you feel smart for watching, when really it's just a damn good piece of art.
And what’s the not-best/worst?
For real, not a whole damn much. Some of the character dynamics are more interesting than others, but everyone will have their own preference.
Let’s cut to the chase: Should I watch this?
Can I see a preview?
What should I drink while I watch The Returned?
Some haunted lake water mixed with un Orangina, n'est-ce pas?
AIRED ON 12/17/2012
Season 1 : Episode 8