Entries in The Walking Dead (1)


'The Returned' is 'Walking Dead' With Soul, But See French Version First


There's nothing like a French mommy to comfort her French zombie daughter and her wildly sexy four-year-older twin. Welcome to the original The Returned(Credit: Sundance Channel)


A&E’s The Returned, the American remake of the French/Sundance Channel’s The Returned (Les Revenants) is (so far) an almost scene-for-scene replication of the Emmy-winning original. But as one commenter stated on A&E’s Facebook page, “No! Why on earth would I watch [the] American remake when [the] French original is goddamn good!?” And he is correct.

Fox recently did the same thing with BBC’s thoughtful thriller Broadchurch. Despite turning it into an exact copy of the British hit called Gracepoint (including the same leading man, David Tennant), it lacked all the subtlety of the original.

The Returned takes place in a small mountain town where departed loved ones come back from the dead. More like a ghost story than your ordinary zombie fare, these are not predatory Walking Dead zombies. They are the same people who died and returned as confused by it as any of their living counterparts. The concept is thoughtful and compelling. In Les Revenants’ case, it is downright riveting—one of the best TV series…ever.  In A&E’s version, it is more like misguided homage.

The returned come back unchanged, extremely hungry, not remembering anything about their death and in great need of sleep. Slowly we discover they might have some unusual powers like kinetic abilities and superhuman strength. Why have they come back? Are they dangerous? How are they all connected to each other?

Oh, yes, there’s a serial killer on the loose as well. And a lake that has its own secrets.

The original, created and directed by Fabrice Cobert, was beautifully haunting. That’s what made it so unique. The remake, executive produced by Bates’ Motel and Lost’s Carlton Cuse, is bright and shiny, lacking the lovely subtlety of the original. (Cuse did boldly succeed creating something original from other material with Bates, but has yet to show us what he has in mind with The Returned.) Much of the original takes place in the viewer’s head, but it is shoved down your throat on the heavy-handed remake.  

So why wouldn’t a copycat edition be as good as the original?

Here are 10 reasons:


The eerie music of Scottish band Mogwai adds so much to the spooky ambience of the original. The minute the new version began with its folk-rock soundtrack, they lost the foreboding spirit of the original. Mogwai’s soundtrack is like a character, skulking around, mysterious and other-worldly.  The new soundtrack by the talented Zoe Keating of the cello-driven rock band Rasputina and Jeff Russo of Tonic, attempts hints at the original, but they don’t even come close to the way Mogwai interweaves his music deep, deep into the action. Here's the haunting theme song.


 The original is in French and is subtitled. And even if you don’t know French, it’s beautiful to listen to. For Americans, hearing the dialogue in its original language adds to the stranger-in-a-strange-land atmosphere. Also, Les Revenants’ Alps-town seems ghost-like even before the dead return, and the French town is more conducive to goosebumps than the American one. Also, the doctor in the French version makes house calls. Boo, American health care system.


Original Victor? What kind of creepy secrets do you hold? (Credit: BBC Channel 4)

You couldn’t get creepier than little Victor (Swann Nambotin) in the original. The new Victor (Dylan Kingwell) is cute enough—well, too cute—but he doesn’t have French Victor’s alien eyes and devilish understatement. Nambotin’s Victor was the heartbeat of the original.


Jenna Thaim: Reason enough to watch the French version of The Returned on Sundance. (Credit: Sundance Channel)

We haven’t really gotten into new Lena’s character yet, but the original Lena (the Brave look-alike Jenna Thaim) was a wild-maned, untamed redhead whose electricity just bolted from the screen. I don’t know, but French redheads seem more intense than other redheads.


In the original, Céline Sallette plays Julie, the doctor and Victor’s guardian, with a desperate ease.  She’s broken; you know it from the first minute you see her. You fear for her fragility, but it also adds to the impending danger that always seems to surround her.  In the new version, Sandrine Holt plays her with much more confidence. Perhaps that will make her eventual break more significant, but at first blush it just seems like more of the flash that occurs when a foreign show is Americanized.


The A&E cast: No parlez vous Français (Credit: A&E)

Everyone seems like fine actors on the new version (Six Feet Under and Law & Order’s Jeremy Sisto, The Killing and Battlestar Gallactica’s Michelle Forbes, Once Upon A Time In Wonderland’s Alice, Sophie Lowe), but this one’s hard to gauge because so many of the actors are dopplegangers for the originals, and a few are complete opposites. Camille (the first of the returned), played by India Ennenga (Treme), and her now four-year-older twin sister Lena are examples of good look-alike casting. So adjusting to the new looks of familiar characters is disconcerting to return viewers, but there’s a sheen on the new actors that’s wholly American, that you don’t find on the more scruffy French ones. The French characters seem more lived in.  In the new version, everyone seems more than capable of taking on these iconic (to some) roles, but there’s a depth that the originals had, an investment in the role because they were creating the characters, that is not evident in the new roles.


Cuse, perhaps gun shy from criticism that Lost was too slow-paced and left us with more questions than answers, rushes through the story, losing that slow, savorable pace of the original. In the original, each character had his or her own episode to be drawn out in, but although the new version has named its episodes similarly, the characters come crashing in one right after another. The unhurried, mournful original had us trying to catch our breath from its depth, not from trying to keep up with it.  


Cuse promises that his show’s version will be different—that it will be original and make its own path. He says that it will be like The Office, where it starts out similarly but then diverges into an original. For that promise, I will watch—but it will be very difficult to match the enigmatic haunting beauty of Les Revenants. Also the French version has its share of nudity. How will A&E handle that?


That was the simple key of Les Revenants, and the most glaring omission of the returned The Returned.


It is not fair to viewers to see the new version of The Returned until they see the original. Catch it on Netflix, get it on Sundance On Demand, but see it. You owe it to yourselves.


For fans of the original, here's a fun behind-the-scenes look at the show.


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