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For the Best Viewing Experience, Return to Original 'Returned'
March 9, 2015  | By David Bianculli

The excellent 2012 French series Les Revenants, imported by Sundance Channel and translated as The Returned, now returns as an American remake – with much of the subtlety tossed away from the very start…

And I do mean the very start, because the opening scene of A&E’s new The Returned, premiering Monday (3/9) at 10 ET, makes that very clear. In fact, it makes everything very clear, which, in turn, makes it a pale imitation of the original.

By the way: If you haven’t seen the original French series, I strongly suggest that you find it on Netflix – search for The Returned, not by its French title – and watch the subtitled drama with all its surprises and artistry intact. And if you’re going to do that, stop reading this now, because I’m about to reveal what the new A&E series reveals so quickly, and so clumsily.

The new version of The Returned is adapted for America by Carlton Cuse of Lost and Raelle Tucker of True Blood, who seem perfectly suited for this particular adapation. The structure of the French original, after all, focused on one character each week and included revelatory flashbacks, just like most episodes of Lost. And this drama, at its essence, involves the intermingling of regular people with the undead – just like most episodes of True Blood.

When I reviewed the French version of The Returned, I did so without even revealing that much, that the series was about a group of people who return, suddenly and unexpectedly, from the dead. The Returned was a zombie series of sorts, but also a resurrection prayer answered, with all the psychological ramifications that entails.

The original Les Revenants opened with a scene of a young teen girl on a school bus – a bus that veers suddenly off the road and down a steep embankment. Then comes the translated title “Present Day,” as the young girl walks the long and lonely road back to her home, where she opens the refrigerator, makes a sandwich, and startles her speechless mother.

That’s the way the original version unfurled. As the viewer, you didn’t know how much time, if any, had elapsed between the accident and the girl’s return. Only as the episode proceeded did it become clear that the bus accident had taken place four years earlier, and the girl had returned to her home with no memory of the crash, and not having aged a day. Her twin sister, however, is now four years older – and when they reunite, they both scream at what they’re confronting.

The new version of The Returned gets that twin-sister reunion scene right, but not as powerfully as the original, which has the mother cradling one daughter while reaching out to hold hands and comfort the other. And back to that opening scene: On the A&E version, we’re shown the bus scene and accident, then the superimposed title “Four years later.”

Just those three words, rather than the out-of-context “Present Day,” bleed this Americanized version of its initial suspense and mystery. By doing that, it shows one way in which this new version is different. It’s more obvious.

And that’s not an improvement. This new version has a solid cast – Jeremy Sisto, Michelle Forbes, India Ennenga, Sandrine Holt and others – but the way it begins makes me want to steer people towards the original. Otherwise, it feels more like making a wrong turn and steering off a cliff…

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