What would you do if the dead came back to life? Act like nothing happened? Freak out and run for the hills? Top yourself before the going gets too tough? But what if the walking dead were your loved ones, and looked exactly as they did when you saw them last?
That is pretty much the premise of French TV drama The Returned (Les Revenants) which came to Channel 4 after gaining critical acclaim when it was shown in France from the 26th November until the 17th December 2012. Adapted from the 2004 French film They Came Back, The Returned is about a small town that is thrown into turmoil when the dead start coming back to their families.
An unusual and unique take on the walking dead sub-genre, The Returned doesn’t present us with brain dead flesh eating zombies but with people who have come back from the dead and returned to their families completely as normal, throwing their families into disarray and fear. The series poses so many questions that you’ll be itching for answers from the very beginning. It holds off from giving anything away, so much so that it doesn’t even give a concise answer in the finale, and leaves you wanting more.
One issue with this technique of keeping you guessing and constantly throwing in red herrings just to keep you on your toes is that because each episode is an hour long, and because the series has eight episodes you have to trawl through eight hours of drawn out character studies to get what you want. The series suffers from its length, it really starts to drag halfway through and by the fifth or sixth episode I had almost lost interest; there’s only so many times you can watch various characters’ stories thinking ‘what if’ only for your prediction to be tossed out the window with more red herrings and partially revealed information before it becomes tiresome.
The premise is very interesting, and it’s enough to keep you keen until the last episode, however a sign for me of a good series is one that you don’t want to end, but after the fourth episode I was willing for the finale because I became frustrated with not knowing. It became boring at times and I got sick to death of some of the characters; the story of Adele and Simon in particular really began to get on my nerves because I found I didn’t care about them like I did some of the other characters. Credit where it’s due though, the benefit of having lots of little sub-stories within one narrative is that if you don’t like one of them, you still have some that you do like. It’s a technique used in a lot of long running mainstream US shows like True Blood and Sons of Anarchy; they flit between different characters’ sub stories and if there’s one character you don’t care for, it doesn’t ruin the show entirely because usually there’s several that you do.
The Returned does have a great feeling of mystery about it and is very intense and quite creepy. It will have you guessing, which isn’t a bad thing but sometimes it gets a bit too much and it’s very easy to get completely fed up and bored with not knowing. The final episode, without giving anything away for anyone who’s not seen it, was a complete let down, and I can only hope that it was done to keep the audience interested for the second series which is due out next year because otherwise it just suggests to me that the writers went so far with the story that they didn’t actually know how to resolve it. It’s one of those frustrating endings, like walking off into the sunset, it tells you nothing and I hate being left with unanswered questions. A cliffhanger is one thing, but a blatant avoidance of answering anything is another thing entirely.
The Returned was enjoyable and everything I wanted from a horror/drama. It’s slow in parts and drags its feet a bit, and the ending was a let down, but it was still very entertaining. I can’t say I’m in a rush for the second series but I will definitely be tuning in for it next year. Not bad, but no where near as wonderful as the press made it out to be.
Oh and by the way, if anyone that watched the show could tell me what the hell was with Lena’s scar on her back, then I’d be eternally grateful…because I swear they made a huge deal about that and then we never found out what it was all about!