The French miniseries The Returned, created by Fabrice Gobert, might be just the right follow-up (or antidote, depending on your stance) to The Walking Dead. And lucky for you, season one is perfect for a weekend when you’re craving a combo of creepy and subtitled.
What’s the premise? In this French supernatural drama, a small alpine town is rocked to its core when a handful of residents materialize after being dead for a number of years. No one is really sure whether to celebrate or run for the hills.
What’s it like? People may be inclined to compare The Returned to The Walking Dead since you could argue that they’re both “zombie” shows, but in many ways, The Returned is a lot like Lost. Each episode focuses on a different character whose backstory is partially explained in flashback, and contains clues about what brought him or her to this place. The Returned has a spooky, sweeping atmosphere — even in broad daylight — similar to True Detective, Broadchurch and Top of the Lake. Also, be prepared to sleep with the light on. The Returned is not prone to cheap scares, but instead, slowly builds to memorable hair-raising moments. This is not your run-of-the-mill zombie story, but rather a provocative and suspenseful supernatural mystery like The Sixth Sense and The Others.
How long will it take? So far, The Returned is only one season of eight episodes. Each installment runs about 50 minutes, so you can absolutely marathon the whole thing in one day.
What do the critics think? Season one is Certified Fresh at 100 percent on the Tomatometer. Tim Goodman of the Hollywood Reporter said, “The Returned, like Broadchurch before it, is one of those series where you watch the first hour and then frantically try to find time to devour the next seven.” Willa Paskin of Slate wrote, “If a subtitled show is bad, you’ll turn it off, but if it’s good, it envelops you more swiftly and wholly than the very good show in English you check your email while watching. The Returned is very good. Let it have your brains.” In addition to critics’ raves, The Returned won the International Emmy for Best Drama in 2013.
Why should I watch this? Few shows attempt to tackle themes of mortality, grief and faith with the same intensity and sensitivity of The Returned. What starts out as a string of simple questions — Who are these people? Are they good or evil? — becomes a layered and knotty meditation on what it means to be human. Deliberately plotted, The Returned simmers with creepy suspense, and then bubbles with enough action to hook you from episode to episode. Also worth a mention is the superb French cast; they bring real emotion to the screen — even though you’re never entirely sure if their characters are real.
What’s my next step? Sundance Channel has announced that season two of The Returned will air in late 2014. Until then, you might want to try one of their other international mystery offerings, Top of the Lake, a slow-burn crime drama set in a small New Zealand town and starring Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss. If nothing scares you more than creepy kids, you’re probably due for a screening of The Shining or The Omen. And while he’s become one of those directors people love to hate, M. Night Shyamalan captures the eerie and unnerving vibe of The Returned in many of his films, including The Sixth Sense and Signs. If you haven’t watched Lost yet, you should give that a tumble. Also, The Returned TV series is based on a 2004 French film by Robin Campillo called They Came Back (both have the same title in French: Les Revenants). ABC has a new show called Resurrection that starts with a similar premise, although it is based on a different source.