Dead Again

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Never Let Me Go: The Returned, now on Netflix 

In between Liza Minnelli’s blue jumper (or whatever that was) and Ellen’s Samsung inspired mirage our Oscar buzz was greatly diminished by those creepy ads for the new ABC drama Resurrection, where the formerly dead eerily come back home unscathed. In true network TV fashion the sentimentality and white lighting is over the top and melodramatic. I seem to recall an FBI agent (Omar Epps) and a John Mayeresque song in the mix, come on! With networks like ABC (who have little web presence) drowning in their own vomit, adapting the French series The Returned, seems like a skilled move. Not so fast.  There is no need to remake this. It’s only a click away.  All eight episodes of The Returned are currently streaming on Netflix.  Mediocrity Dead. On. Arrival.

The Returned (filmed in the Rhône-Alpes region of eastern France, which lies on the northern tip of Lake Annecy, bordering Switzerland and Italy) is an exquisitely haunting series created by Fabrice Gobert which premiered on Canal+ in 2012. Camille (Yara Pilartz), Simon (Pierre Perrier), Victor (Swann Nambotin), Serge (Guillaume Gouix) and Madame Costa (Laetitia de Fombelle) all return, but home is not as they left it.  Simon is confused, “has the code changed?” “No.” He is baffled as to why he can’t get into his fiancés apartment.  Victor, a young boy and the master of ceremonies, is less confused as he sees Julie (Céline Sallette) at a bus stop and follows her home. He is not interested in finding his real mother and claims Julie, a depressed nurse, as his keeper.  Camille, who died only four years prior, has no trouble finding her home; the kitchen, bathroom and her bedroom are all as she left them.  The only thing abnormal is her mother, who is so stunned she can barely speak.

Despite their unaltered appearance, the dead do not bring back the joy they once shared with loved ones, only the grief their deaths created.  It’s like the dream just before 4am; the deceased are so vivid and convincing. Yet once consciousness takes over uncontrollable sadness creeps in.  In all its melancholy The Returned is not depressing in a conventional sense.  Revelations about the dead align themselves like lines of coke through a dollar bill; the past is so intoxicating the entire first season can be scooped up in a day.

The subtlety of the French is an amazing thing, a refinement that American television’s supposed golden age is trying to match.  The French have nudity and violence but like a fine wine, its smooth to the palate and not as forced. Distinctive to The Returned is the emotional turmoil the characters are faced with, while torturous, is not sentimental. With the unnerving music written by Scottish melodic-synth band Mogwai, a heartbeat is composed: a flat line that has just awoken, becoming a slow lull, pacing, but never truly alive.

The nuances and austerity of the plot allow us to confront our own relationship with not only death, but forgiveness, denial and all that other crap that makes life so Goddam unbearable at times.   When loved ones come back an expectation exists that life is somehow fair in that moment.  Wait, God DID get it wrong! I WAS right all this time. When life’s cycle is interrupted, physical life may be granted, but spiritual life is in ruins.

A second season is slated for production in late 2014, with a debut set for early 2015 on the Sundance Channel. The beauty is that their are so many places a storyteller can go, not relegated to simply hitting zombies over the head (can we all agree The Walking Dead is the most overrated show in history!) The Returned can introduce international audiences to actors, directors and writers once only relegated to art cinemas.

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