“The Returned” is, at least initially, an extremely faithful retelling of “Les Revenants” — much like “Gracepoint,” Fox’s adaptation of the British series “Broadchurch.” Only here, the name of the A&E series is the English translation of the French drama that aired (with subtitles) on SundanceTV. Creepy and mysterious, “The Returned” also has much in common with ABC’s “Resurrection,” both in the theme of the dearly departed returning to walk the earth, and the sort-of dead end (pun intended) into which the premise threatens to lead. Paired with “Bates Motel,” the show does have one practical advantage — bringing this provocative concept to a U.S. audience that doesn’t like to read.
Wrapped up in themes of loss and grief, all of these series are ultimately more about the living than those who inexplicably amble back into their lives. Here, the central incident was a bus accident that killed several young members of the town, including Camille (India Ennenga), who shows up completely unchanged four years later, as if nothing happened.
This comes as an understandable shock to her now-estranged parents (“Lost’s” Mark Pellegrino, reunited with showrunner Carlton Cuse; and Tandi Wright), as well as mom’s new beau (Jeremy Sisto) and Camille’s sister (Sophie Lowe), who has grown up considerably during those years.
Still, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, with various people returning and no explanation why. Moreover, in a flourish from the original that felt unnecessary then and still does now, a string of brutal murders begins anew, suggesting a serial killer might be among the reanimated.
Wisely, Cuse (who has become something of a specialist in adapting existing works, including “Bates Motel” and FX’s “The Strain”) and Raelle Tucker (“True Blood”) haven’t tinkered much with a show that was pretty enticing in its previous form. That said, it’s difficult to completely replicate the remote mountain location, which in the original helped suspend disbelief, if only for a while, about the outside world not intruding on the characters’ reverie.
Ennenga (last seen in “Treme”), Wright and Pellegrino are in a way the show’s emotional linchpins, and they’re very good at capturing the mix of relief and confusion the situation elicits. “I just want my normal life back,” young Camille explains poignantly.
That said, it’s worth noting that the French series began to lose steam toward the end, and “Resurrection” simply ran off the rails. In that regard, bringing people back to life is the easy part, in TV terms, compared with finding a way to convincingly sustain a plot — and keeping it from unraveling — as it dabbles in the big picture of life and death.
For all that, “The Returned” is meticulously produced and well matched with lead-in “Bates Motel,” whose third-season premiere only enhances the sense that that “Psycho” prequel shouldn’t be stretched much further.
In a way, both shows have plenty to recommend them, but the enjoyment is tempered by the nagging shadow of what lurks just around the bend — in the case of “Bates Motel,” because everyone knows, and in “The Returned,” because nobody does.