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“THE RETURNED: Season 1, Episode 1” (TV Review)

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Considering the acclaimed French series from which it is based on, A&E’s THE RETURNED always has had a critical and commercial hurdle to jump. After all, the original series has taken on new life via instant streaming services and is beloved among both fans of horror and drama. And among many contemporary viewers, the chance that the show would stick too slavishly to its source material seemed unappealing in its own right. Yet even though the show has been sticking to it’s French inspiration , the performances on display are strong enough to uncover potential in the future of the series.

For the unfamiliar, THE RETURNED follows a town in which select dead residents have inexplicably risen from the grave, without evidence of harm and without memories of their demise. Yet there seems to be something eerie behind their resurrections, and a grander purpose that not only looks to divide the town, but the living from the revived. But as much as both versions of THE RETURNED are a horror shows- and believe me, they certainly are- there’s an emphasis on the interpersonal drama of the resurrected: lives have changed and families have been broken in the time between the deaths and the returns, and if the U.S. version is like the French take, some especially dark secrets will be uncovered.

Yet for the first episode, THE RETURNED essentially follows the standard operating procedure of it’s French counterpart, following several characters returning years after their deaths, even though some are more explicit than others. The show certainly establishes a firm sense of tension in its inaugural episode, even though one certain aspect of the show has certainly been dialed down for U.S. audiences (which fans of the French series can likely guess). THE RETURNED also offers an interesting non-linear narrative as well, jumping in between time frames at a moments notice to offer a bigger picture to an already engaging story.

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As mentioned before, THE RETURNED also offers some extremely great performances, which may be the show’s saving grace for the previously initiated. Mark Pellegrino, Tandi Wright, India Ennenga and Sophie Lowe are the centerpieces of the premiere, and all do an amazing job as the Winship family, divided by tragedy yet brought together in the light of the return of their dead daughter (Ennenga). Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Sandrine Holt and Jeremy Sisto also deliver effective, although much more on-the-nose, performances as people affected by other “returned” citizens. And Leah Gibson nearly stole the show as an empathetic and vulnerable barmaid, who stands at the center of the two most intense sequences of the pilot.

Overall, while THE RETURNED severely lacks in originality as opposed to its inspiration, the series does have enough impressive aspects to keep this writer going on to episode 2. If the makers of the U.S. version of THE RETURNED can incorporate in what made the original series work while building in to new territory, the series will truly establish itself as a “must watch” event, considering the level of acting and direction on the show. However, if the series is merely a retelling of the same story in a different language, well, that’s a horse of a different color.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel “THE I IN EVIL”, and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.

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