Review by C.J. Bunce
Fans of Twin Peaks, American remakes of European series, fans of Tim Seeley and Mike Norton’s Revival, the short-lived Under the Dome, Malcolm McDowell and David Warner’s Time After Time, and anyone after the next great, creepy mystery series take note: A&E’s The Returned has so much going for it you’ll want to watch it twice. What would you do if someone close to you that died prematurely suddenly walked back into your life, alive and well, just as you remembered them? Would you scream, cheer, cry, laugh, be afraid? You’ll ask that question over and over as you watch the residents of a small Pacific Northwest town as they react to the formerly dead as they re-enter their lives. It’s compelling stuff.
The Returned is an American remake of the French series Les Revenants (French for The Returned and the double meaning of a ghost returning from the dead), which itself is entering its second season on the Sundance Channel (with English subtitles) and was based on a 2004 French film of the same name. Fans of any one of the many well-known character actors will have an easy excuse to give the American show a try. The Returned features a top-notch cast, including Michelle Forbes (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Battlestar Galactica, Orphan Black, Homicide), Jeremy Sisto (Law & Order, Clueless, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits), Carl Lumbly (Chuck, Battlestar Galactica, The X-Files), Mark Pellegrino (The Closer, Chuck, Castle, The X-Files, Lost, Supernatural), Aaron Douglas (Battlestar Galactica, iZombie), and Kevin Alejandro, who we most recently saw as Sebastian Blood on CW’s Arrow. But the best on the series may be the perpetually young-looking Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Final Destination 3, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Sky High, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, The Thing, Live Free or Die Hard, Tru Calling) as the troubled former fiancée of one of the Returned, newcomer India Ennenga as Camille, the most interesting of the Returned, Tandi Wright (Jack the Giant Slayer) as her mother, and Sophie Lowe as her “older” twin sister. But we’ve seen many a series with great actors but backed by a less than desired story. Not so here.
Comparing the original to the remake can be a bit of a fun game to play in itself. When the American actress mother encounters her dead daughter for the first time, she inspires a humorous viewer reaction, but with the French actress, the response is full of fear and shock. Both series are billed as supernatural dramas, but Les Revenants’ photography and music appear as more on the horror end of the spectrum. On paper these are zombie series, but from the first two episodes they seem far from other entries in that genre. You’ll get the Twin Peaks vibe instantly, but without David Lynch’s trademark quirkiness. The return of a serial killer from the past may have you recalling Jack the Ripper’s return in Time After Time, or the recent BBC America series Intruders. But you won’t find any ghoulish shambling goons here.
If you watched the French version of the series first, you may find it doubly spooky how American creator Carlton Cuse and director Keith Gordon so closely mimic Fabrice Gobert’s original. Many of the American actors looks like their French counterparts, the little French town nestled in the mountains has become the town of Squamish, British Columbia, nestled under the often-seen on film mountain Stawamus Chief, nestled in the tall Pacific Ranges between Vancouver and Whistler. Even the settings are similar, including the multi-windowed home of the twin girls.
The Returned airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. Central on the A&E Network, and Les Revenants season two will air later this year on the Sundance Channel. We recommend watching the American version first, then follow up with the corresponding French episode, which makes it easier to follow along without having your eyes glued to the subtitles.