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Sundance's 'The Returned' Is Must-See TV - But I Won't Say Why
October 31, 2013  | By David Bianculli  | 9 comments
 

The Returned, which Sundance Channel launches in the U.S. on Halloween night, is a creepy, eerie, hauntingly memorable miniseries. But you’ll have to trust me on that…

You’ll have to trust me because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a TV drama more dependent on mood, and slowly exposed revelations. The less you know about The Returned, the more engrossing it is from the start. It’s a show that, because of the boldly different way it unfurls, rewards both the patient and the ignorant.

This puts me, as a TV critic, in a very tough spot. I’m of two minds about what people regard as “Spoilers,” and my two minds are these. One, when writing or broadcasting a preview in advance of a TV show’s premiere, I try to reveal as little as possible, at least about surprise or key plot information, so viewers will have the same enjoyment watching as I did. Two, once something has been broadcast or streamed or otherwise made available, then it’s my job to discuss it, in whatever detail I wish, whether other people have seen it or not.

But The Returned, that’s something else entirely.

I’ve read one or two reviews, by critics I respect greatly, to see how they handed this particular case. And, in my opinion, they handled it poorly. So as highly as I recommend you watch The Returned, which premieres Thursday night at 9 ET on Sundance, I just as emphatically recommend that you avoid reading other articles about this miniseries, except for this one, until you’ve seen it.

Then write me – in about two months, when the eight-part drama is over – and say whether I was right to be so cautious and protective.

Meanwhile, to prepare for tonight, here’s all you need to, and what you should, know.

In France, where it was produced and presented by Canal Plus, The Returned was known as Les Revenants. Shown here, it’s still in French, but is subtitled. That’s one secret Sundance has kept from you, at least in its on-air promos, but embrace that, don’t flee from it. Sundance has made a smart and brave move, scheduling a subtitled series in prime time, but it’s hoping for an intelligent audience – which is exactly what The Returned should attract, and delight.

So what can I say about this show, in advance, without diluting its impact? Very little, but this:

 It takes place in a small mountain village in the French Alps, a gorgeous but remote place serviced by a giant dam, winding road and a local pub, all of which figure, quickly or eventually, into the plot. And the mood, like the Pacific Northwest of Twin Peaks, is quietly but constantly foreboding. As the bartender tells a new arrival in Episode 6, “If you like tragedy, you’re in the right place.”

And if you like spellbinding, unpredictable stories of life and death, you’re in the right place, too. I’m particularly impressed by Yara Pilartz and Jenna Thiam (seen in photo at top), who play sisters Camille and Lena, and by little Swann Nambotin (right), who plays young Victor – but all of the actors here, and all their characters, are bound to surprise you, whatever your expectations or predictions.

My predictions: Every episode’s pre-credits sequence will hook you in, just like every closing shot will freak you out. The Returned, most of which was written and directed by Fabrice Gobert and Frederic Mermoud, will haunt you long after it’s come and gone.

And if I say that’s entirely apt, given the subject matter, I’m already flirting with revealing too much…

 
 
 
 
 
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9 Comments
 
 
celine
LOVED season 1 but where is season 2??? Don't tell me i missed it somehow!
Mar 9, 2015   |  Reply
 
 
Mary Ann
I cannot wait for season two. Do not be put off by the subtitles. The story is moved forward not only by dialogue, but by mood, facial expression, and action. THis is an amazingly produced series. So unlike the slick, in your face, network tv shows. It's a breath of fresh air.
Sep 12, 2014   |  Reply
 
 
patrick
I have seen the first 4 episodes and I can already say your "cautious and protective" review is dead on! This is one of the most amazing TV dramas I have ever seen. I can't wait until the next episode. Had you revealed more, the impact of the show would not have been nearly as profound. The music by Mogwai also adds so much to the tone and feel of the show. It's rare and refreshing to see that there really is "TV worth watching" out there and this is it!
Nov 26, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Music Box Films
If you missed the first episode of "The Returned" watch it FREE on iTunes! http://ow.ly/qhNcE

and check out "The Returned" Facebook page for official updates! https://www.facebook.com/thereturnedseries

as well as "The Returned" blog posts by Music Box Films!
http://www.musicboxfilms.com/blog/
Nov 8, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
I won't be watching it. They made it too hard to find. It is too bad and short sighted of them.
Nov 3, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Casey
Ike:
It's Sundance that should be hauled before a judge for grossly misunderstanding today's audience for quality programming. They are hopelessly behind in integrating themselves into the digital space and new ways of delivering content.

I've seen this combination of unfortunate traits before, in BBC America and the old Masterpiece Theatre on PBS. Snobbery and tight-fistedness translate to hoarded programming with no internet access and overpriced VHS and DVD packages as the only way to see their content. Their websites are also limited and uninviting.

These are theories, mind... glad to entertain any other opinions about what's wrong with these outfits.
Nov 3, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Andrea Madden
i missed the first episode. It is not ON DEMAND on Comcast. Where can I see it?
Nov 2, 2013   |  Reply
 
EG
Andrea - On Demand is notorious for contractual limitations and delays. We'll track down the Sundance schedule. –EG
Nov 2, 2013
 
 
 
Joel
Was the reference to "The Departed" a mistake?
Nov 1, 2013   |  Reply
 
EG
It was, Joel. Nice catch. We had one 'Departed' reference in there, but missed the other! 'The Departed' has now departed! –EG
Nov 1, 2013
 
 
 
Ike
Damn, I missed the premiere episode last night, and Sundance isn't rerunning it at all! Or at least not within the next week or two, however far my Verizon Fios listings go. Most cable channels are smart enough to rebroadcast a premiere several times throughout the week to try to build up an audience. I sure hope it's available On Demand. (Maybe even in HD, if I'm really lucky, since the regular live version of Sundance is NOT in HD on Verizon, but sometimes a few standard-def channels will offer things in HD On Demand.)

As much as I dislike the AMC people who now own Sundance, I have to say, kudos to them for trying a subtitled show in prime time. Now can we please get all of the others that nobody has picked up? Broen/Bron perhaps? Forbrydelsen? Tons of others?
Nov 1, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
 
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