The Returned (Les Revenants (France, 2012-)

Uncannily good

Uncannily good

I was afraid that The Returned would suffer from Lost-like credibility problems in trying to explain the unexplainable, however I think the last episode sealed the brilliance of this series. Internet traffic suggests that many were disappointed by the lack of a meta-narrative that would explain everything; however I think that’s slightly naive in the commercially-driven context of television as the producers were always going to spin it out for a second series if audiences were high enough. But, by nailing the programme to the zombie genre, as the last episode did, I think the makers cleverly side-stepped the need for an explanation; zombie texts don’t need to explain why the zombies exist. This irrationality of the genre is exactly why it can be so terrifying.

On the other hand, it is understandable that audiences would expect an explanation for the ‘returned’ as most of the episodes are couched in a realist-melodrama mode that focuses upon raw relationships. The soap-like structure of several threads and the sexual-marital-relationships narrative problems situate The Returned firmly within melodrama. At first the returned are ‘uncanny’ visitors that highlight past grief and call into question, particularly for Adele and Simon, current relationships. As the series progressed, the horror elements became stronger, particularly when Julie and Laure tried to escape only to find themselves in some kind of self-contained universe. The climax, with the zombies slowly and inexorably approaching, situated the programme firmly within the zombie sub genre.

Other strengths, apart from narrative, of The Returned include the direction which, in common with much contemporary ‘quality TV’, is often cinematic in its ambition. This is complemented by the marvellous settings and cinematography. In addition, I thought most of the performances, from a largely ‘unknown’ cast, to be superb. Clotilde Hesme (Adele) was a standout, her pale features emphasising her fragility and her expression always seeming to be on the verge of cracking.

It will be interesting to see whether season two can continue to tread the line between the emotional realism of the relationships, or whether the ‘unexplainable’ narratives get out of control. In a year of a lot of terrific television (The FallBorgen 2, Homeland 2, Spiral 4) The Returned adds to the argument that television is superseding film in being the most interesting medium of our times.

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