Those clever boys and girls at Channel 4 have given us a real treat with The Returned. It’s a slow moving French drama, but don’t let that put you off. Instead of being about the dead people who somehow get brought back to life, this is all about the people they come back to. ‘But wait!’ you shout, ‘isn’t that just In The Flesh?’ And yes it is, only in so much as zombies are all the rage right now. But this isn’t a show about zombies, and that’s what sets The Returned apart from these other shows by a country mile.
Photo: London Evening Standard
So what’s it all about then? The dead start appearing around a pretty little French mountain town, and they all have one thing in common. They’re hungry. No, not for human flesh, they’re not monsters. They go to the fridge like the rest of us would. The main dead girl, Camille, gets the most screen time and it’s through her the show is going to shine. This first episode was clearly a way of setting up the season and didn’t have much progression in itself, but slow moving character drama is the best so it’s not really a drawback. We love it when it’s from America (Mad Men, Game of Thrones) and now we love it when it’s from France. Camille’s sister is also shaping up to be a most interesting character – she actually breaks down when she sees her dead sister. After going off the rails since she kicked the bucket, she had mastered drinking so much even the most steely-livered fresher would be impressed. That relationship will be a high point of the show.
And that’s what The Returned is going to be excellent at – developing the characters and the relationships against a completely surreal background. Think Twin Peaks with more berets. In all honesty it wasn’t amazing until the final ten minutes. Up until then it was being watched from an unattached observer’s point of view, curious about the show that was advertised in every single ad break. Then the mystery began and now it needs to be on TV again right now. Initially the people seem like stock characters – the innocent girl and her wild-child sister, the creepy kid, the handsome stranger – but then it all gets flipped on its head and shaken around like it’s being picked on by a particularly aggressive schoolyard bully. This is when it grabs you, and it’s when you’ll be counting down the minutes until the next episode.
It’s a slow burning, interesting and original start from our friends across the channel, but it’s one we should all be interested in seeing through. By not focussing on the supernatural element of the story, The Returned is making itself different from the millions of other ghost/zombie/vampire shows on right now. It’s a huge step in the right direction.