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Deft handling of ‘The Returned’ pays off

It’s hip to be undead these days, so it’s difficult to find a fresh take on the zombie genre. Yet the Sundance Channel has done just that with the French series “The Returned,” which is among this year’s Peabody Award honorees.

From creator Fabrice Gobert and distributor Haut et Court, the show is set in an idyllic French town where strange things begin to happen when several deceased residents return from the dead.

“We thought the premise of ‘The Returned’ was so rich when we first heard of it in development,” says Sarah Barnett, president and general manager of Sundance TV. “Then the incredible response we got from the critical community and our audience earlier last year for ‘Top of the Lake’ and ‘Rectify’ also made us realize quite how much appetite there is in the U.S. for deeply original auteur-led shows that take risks.”

Sundance believed so strongly in the series, Barnett says, execs never once considered dubbing the show instead of using subtitles. “When a show is this impeccable and distinct, you have to go with what it is,” she notes. “To mess with it would have been very wrong.”

While the show offers plenty of mysteries and chills, it’s really the fascinating characters, performed by a stellar ensemble, that sets “The Returned” apart. As Barnett puts it, “The genre nature of the show gets attention, the extraordinary evocation of emotion and beautifully written and acted characters are what make people fall in love with it.”

It’s a good thing the show’s fans like suspense: Season two isn’t set to air until late 2014. While details are under wraps, Barnett will say this, “It’s very much a work in progress. I can with all certainty tell you that Haut et Court and Fabrice Gobert will do an exquisite job. Fans will not be disappointed.”

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