How would you react if a loved one who died suddenly reappeared? That’s the central mystery behind A&E’s “The Returned,” a supernatural thriller debuting March 9, exec produced by Carlton Cuse and Raelle Tucker. It’s a remake of the French version “Les Revenants,” which debuted in 2013 on SundanceTV.
“I felt like the French show was really great,” says Cuse. “There wasn’t any reason to change the stuff what was working. To me, the model was the British and the American ‘Office.’ They both started in the same place, but they quickly became their own thing.”
Plus, he adds, “We definitely smoke a lot less cigarettes in the American version.”
Here, star Mark Pellegrino and executive producer Tucker offer more insight into the remake:
What drew you to the show?
Pellegrino: Carlton asked me if I would read for the part, which piqued my interest immediately. I’ve wanted to work with him since “Lost.” And when I read the script, I thought it was great. Some TV can be heavy on exposition and bang you over the head with storylines and very predictable turns. This one was the opposite of all that. It was simple and sparse and not an ounce of exposition.
Tucker: I came off doing “True Blood” for six years, which was an incredible mad wild ride. Tonally, I was really looking to do something quieter and more internal and focus on grounded and human stories. This show fell into my lap. My first reaction was, I didn’t want to adapt anything. But I saw this and I felt it was so special. The premise was universal and touched into something really deep and provided plot twists that kept you on the edge of your seat. At the end of the day, it was such an emotional journey. It was talking about such deep important things in our culture: How do we deal with death? Why do we memorialize people? How does our culture face our fear of death? There were so many deeper things going on in that series that I couldn’t say no.
How does your version compare to the French version?
Pellegrino: I did watch the French series, which I’ve never done. It did affect me a little bit. But our show has different story arcs and our characters have different emotional premises. They start in a different place, they have different lives. So I was able to jettison my French doppelganger pretty soon after we started shooting and explore the problems that the series presents.
Tucker: Things start to shift gradually. We made some choices with characters. We start to go down some story paths that by episode eight we are completely out on our own. We don’t end up in the same way at all. Going into a second season, it would be a completely new original piece having little to do with the French series.
Did the show’s themes strike a chord in you personally?
Tucker: I’ve experienced a lot of loss in my life. I lost my father when I was a teenager. He was an unsuccessful playwright who worked very hard and never broke in and never got to see me succeed. For him to be able to see this would have been totally amazing. It would have been a completion to his life. So I think a lot about what it would like for him to walk in the door right now and get to see this. Everyone has those stories. There’s no one who doesn’t have that fantasy. But playing out that reality is both really creepy and terrifying and also weirdly hopeful.
Pellegrino: I don’t know that there’s a person out there that hasn’t lost somebody that they wouldn’t want to see again. My mom passed away in ’98, and I think about this quote a lot: “A death ends a life but it doesn’t end a relationship / Which goes in a survivor’s mind / Toward some end / Which it perhaps never finds.” I don’t know that (my character) Jack knew himself. He was living on fixes — alcohol, his girlfriend who’s a psychic. She gave him a fix of the delusion of being connected with his past that he was hopelessly alienated from. The return of (his daughter) Camille changes that. Camille’s death made it impossible for (his ex-wife) Claire and Jack to lie about their relationship. I think her return makes it impossible for Jack to lie to himself and to accept the lies of other people. Where that’s going to go and how it’s going to redefine relationships — that happens through the course of the show.
Are there any heroes in “The Returned”?
Pellegrino: I think Jack starts out as a rather passive man, which never makes for an exciting hero in my view. And we all have the heroic in us. What’s the heroic to me? One who rises to the occasion and acts. One who understands that achieving the good is possible. Maybe the miracle opens up a little ray of good in Jack. Where that’s going to go, because there are obvious obstacles in our own lives to achieving what we want — we’ll see as the show progresses.
Tucker: I actually don’t like heroes and I don’t like villains. They tend to be the most boring characters. Heroes fundamentally have to be good, and villains fundamentally have to be bad. I don’t believe people are that way. I hope we’re created a world full of morally ambiguous likable charming people that you will want to watch for many years.
How does this compare to other shows on TV?
Tucker: I’m hoping it doesn’t feel too tonally similar to any other shows, other than the French series, because what we’re doing is a little different. We’re taking genre and treating it more like magical realism. We talked about Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende and these kind of grounded worlds where they’re talking about real things and then there’s magic that filters into this world in a surprising way. Obviously there are similarities to “Lost” because there are flashbacks; (and) “Six Feet Under” because it’s a show about death and grief and character and family. I reference “Mad Men” often; I learned a lot from watching that show about taking your time, letting the character moments sit, and not having to punctuate every act out with a fake surprise.
Pellegrino: Our show has a stillness to it that’s very much like the French show. It’s resting on the confidence that there’s more to life than words. That is an element than I think they took from the French series that will resonate with people. The value of that is it makes the audience reach for the show instead of catering to the audience. When I watch “Sherlock,” it makes no apologies for me. It just runs over me. I have to run to catch up to it, or I’m lost. The French version does that by not telling you everything, by creating mysteries and saying I may or not solve it. Our show does that, too. That’s the great part of it. Carlton’s used to doing that. He did that with “Lost.” Maybe you’ll be satisfied, maybe you won’t. But either way, you’re going to be thinking about this for a long time.
What do you hope audiences take away from the show?
Tucker: I can’t really think about how the audience will take in what we do. It’s terrifying. Doing this kind of work means putting your heart out into the world. You’re trying to tell something that inspires you and you believe in. I want to believe that American audiences are ready for something that has a quieter pace than what they’re used to.
Pellegrino: I hope they’re entertained. I hope they cry in the right places, they’re amazed in the right places. And in the end I hope they take something away about the value of life. Being an atheist, I don’t believe in the miraculous universe of the supernatural type. But I’m open to and love the possibility of that happening. And if someone can take away the enchantment and glory of the possibility of the miraculous, that’s kinda cool, too.
“The Returned” premieres Monday, March 9, at 10 p.m. on A&E.