The Returned is a haunting, eery, and intriguingly supernatural show that recalls the best of Twin Peaks and Lost, and I'm thoroughly engrossed and cannot wait for it to return next year. An imported French drama that was aired in the U.S. on the Sundance channel, don't let the subtitles scare you away. This show is a mystery with a sprawling ensemble cast that I defy anyone to resist, and it will only leave you wanting more when it ends off on a cliffhanger ending.
The first season is just 8 episodes, and set in a small town in the rural French mountainside, which lends itself to some gorgeous cinematography for a television show, similar to Sundance's other series Top of the Lake, which took place in New Zealand. The community of the town is threatened when they are beset with the mysterious reappearances of loved ones who have passed away, some recently, others decades earlier. The returning dead obviously bring with them an array of beguiling questions- are they real or some kind of zombies? Are they ghosts? Do they function again as normal human beings or are they in some kind of immortal state? They don't appear to be zombies but some of them do seem to have vaguely otherworldly powers. There's always an air of foreboding and dread surrounding the people who have returned, and the lives of their former friends and family members that they've disrupted.
As if those supernatural questions weren't enough, every character is fascinating in and of themselves- there's a teenager who died in a bus crash and whose twin sister is now four years older than her, a twentysomething man who committed suicide and left behind a pregnant fiance who's now a married woman, a former serial killer who doesn't remember how he died and must come back to face his terrified family members, and a creepy little kid who doesn't speak, yet may be the only one with answers to all the questions. And these are only the dead characters- the living ones are just as interesting, complex and frightened by the implications of these events, and they may be the ones who are most easy to identify with. What would you do if someone you once knew rose from the dead and suddenly re-entered your life? The series tackles the meanings and consequences of this from angles both spiritual and emotional- all while giving equal weight to the literal mystery of what's actually going on in this town.
The cast is filled with little known (at least to American audiences) French actors, who all do a fantastic job at creating memorable and interesting characters, my favorite being Celine Sallette as Julie, a traumatized near victim of the returned killer Serge, played by Guillaume Gouix. With a show this dependent on lingering mysteries and atmosphere, it does bring up the problem of whether you should actually answer the questions you've raised, and how to do it in a satisfying manner that doesn't essentially destroy the goodwill you ever had for the show (bitter fans of Lost know what I'm talking about). It's always a risk with shows like this, from Twin Peaks to The X-Files and others, but for now the series is so good that I'm choosing to trust creator Fabrice Gobert and hoping that the European television schedule (only 8 episodes and more than a year between seasons) fosters a better environment for shows like this, where it doesn't have to drag on for a hundred episodes and can end whenever it wants, hopefully providing some solid answers by the time it gets to the finish line. But for now, I say just kick back and enjoy the ride.