A quiet mountain town experiences an emotional blend of confusion, joy, fear and disbelief as residents who’ve been dead several years’ prior start reappearing, one by one. Those miraculously brought back from the dead are faced not only with the challenge of discovering what really happened to them, but also adjusting to the drastic changes undergone by their loved ones during their absence.
Executive producer Carlton Cuse’s new creepy drama establishes an effective metaphor between the show’s setting and its revived characters in their isolation and loneliness. The 2012 French source material won the International Emmy for Best Drama Series two years ago, so can this US adaptation prove just as good?
I must confess, I’ve not seen ‘Les Revenants’. However, it could be considered a good thing given the fact I had literally no idea what this show was about prior to watching it. After blitzing through ‘American Horror Story’'s third season (the one I’d consider the best so far) I chanced upon the show in my recommended list, so I opted to give it a go.
‘The Returned’ offers an interesting premise and its ability to build tension makes it an engaging watch. However, after two episodes the show is currently keeping its cards close to its chest; we’re lacking any explanation at all as to how or why its previously deceased characters are miraculously coming back to life. The eerie sense of mystery is mostly applied effectively, but I have my doubts about whether Netflix’s new weekly original will play a winning hand at its climax.
A show with this kind of supernatural foundation can either be developed brilliantly, or extremely poorly. After two episodes I find myself already asking questions along the lines of ‘Where is this going?’ This kind of unpredictability, clearly intended by the show’s writers, is a very risky form of plot. I refer you to Nicholas Cage’s cataclysmic failure ‘Knowing’ for a frame of reference as to how keeping an audience in the dark can go seriously wrong for you. I mean, that was just a 121-minute feature film with a somewhat-redemptive, hilariously bad ending (you had to laugh at it, otherwise you’d cry`). I don’t want to consider how disappointed I’ll be if ‘The Returned’ wastes a whole season’s worth of my time.
However, concerns aside, the show is enjoyable as is, featuring a very competent cast across a variety of age ranges. India Ennenga does very well as Camille, the first character we see ‘return’. Her believable, scrappy adolescent angst is well matched with her difficulty to accept reality, as well as the resentment of her former twin sister, now four years her senior. I’m a huge fan of Mary Elizabeth Winstead and she plays her role with great capability, effectively capturing the torment of a character that never stopped agonizing over the death of a loved one. The rest of the cast are well on par despite a few character clichés arguably typical for a television drama (the alcoholic father, the alcoholic father’s saint-like replacement, the rebellious daughter, the musician with the big hair who wears Converse with a suit, the leather-jacket-sporting jock, the list goes on).
Along with an impressive cast, the creators have certainly been sure to add a thought-provoking element by creating characters that respond to such a miraculous event completely differently, emotionally. How would you react if a loved one you knew you’d lost walked through your door? Tapped on your window? Laid down on the side of the bed that had been empty for years previously? It does have impact, which is probably the creepiest aspect of the show. The viewer is also provided with the ability to empathize with both parties, the disbelief of the families, and the confusion and difficulty adjusting for those returned. It’s clear that the show has been developed thoughtfully, which prevents it from degrading into the derivative.
With the rate Netflix are releasing new material, ‘The Returned’ will have to pull something very special out of the bag for it to measure up to its critically acclaimed relatives ‘House Of Cards’ and ‘Orange Is The New Black’. I’m cautiously optimistic about how the show will progress, but I also believe it has enough to offer at the minute to make it worth the investment of my time. As a drama with potential as well as limitless directional flexibility, we’ll soon find out whether it’ll be remembered for the right reasons, or the wrong ones. Rating 7/10