'The Returned': TV Review

A&E
Dead people are returning to the town they came from, but no matter what they do, they can't make their return as interesting as the French original.

This ill-advised remake of the original French series is an embarrassment. Go watch the original.

Remakes are almost always about money and almost never about artistic content. There's an audience to be found taking someone else’s vision and not thinking for yourself — provided you’re playing in an arena where the potential audience is larger. More people, more ratings, more money. More money, more ... what? Cars? Bigger houses?

Tonight A&E introduces the painful American version of The Returned, a series you should flee from faster than you fled from the Gracepoint version of Broadchurch that Fox unveiled, ill-advisedly, to the world.

You have to wonder what Carlton Cuse and A&E were thinking (they weren't) in choosing to remake The Returned if it wasn’t something so base as merely reaching a bigger audience. Well, congratulations to them for creating this vastly inferior product, which lacks spark and purpose.

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This is not a series you should watch. It's not a series that should be remade — certainly not this dully and without any apparent knowledge of the elements that made the French version great. And yet, Cuse and A&E even have the audacity to call this shoddy copy The Returned even though the French version (Les Revenants) is also called The Returned, and its second season will be coming up on SundanceTV in 2015. At least Gracepoint had the decency to rename itself. Perhaps this is not an issue because people who don’t like to read subtitles will never know there’s a French original.

A shame, that.

Because even people who can't be bothered to read subtitles actually should watch the French one and chance becoming so intoxicated by the strikingly original look of it that they'll want to give those subtitles a go. (Then they can come back to the A&E version and shout "merde" at the betrayal before them.)

A&E's version is not only woeful, it’s pointless. Which brings us back to that original idea about who would want to be unoriginal enough to remake someone else's far-superior work. Follow the money. It's the only answer.

If you want people to watch something that's mesmerizing and fantastic in so many ways you feel the need to convert them to it with your fanatic zeal, you direct them to the original. You don't say, "I saw something truly original and amazing — let me show you my version of it," unless you’re some kind of huckster.

See more Broadcast TV's Returning Shows 2015-16

(In honor of that, please redirect your interest in The Returned to Netflix and Amazon, which are streaming the original.)

If you were to go there and watch The Returned and then come back to Cuse’s version, the question you might ask second (the first is, very simply: "Why?") is, "How close was anyone paying attention?" The original, described as a French zombie series, but only in the most abstract way, is about dead people returning to a remote village where they once lived as if nothing happened. Created by Fabrice Gobert, whose vision for how to bring that story to life resulted in one of the most eerie and visually arresting works on television (in 2013, I ranked The Returned as the No. 3 best series of the year). As creator and principal writer and director, Gobert managed to reinvent the zombie genre, subvert notions of horror and beautifully connect the dialogue, the cinematography, the acting (superb) and the music (a haunting and memorable achievement from the band Mogwai) into one of the most singularly innovative TV series in ages.

So, that's the show you want to remake?

Either you have supreme confidence in your own skills to equal or better the artistic achievement, or you’re looking to make a hit in your own backyard without having to come up with anything on your own (or, sadly in this case, coming up with inane edits that do nothing but further water down the copy you’re creating). And it probably should be said at this point that this sad knockoff that A&E is putting on is in no way a "shot for shot" remake. Cuse and company have seen fit to make tiny alterations that seem almost as pointless as the remake idea itself. Besides, saying "shot for shot" would imply that the American version noted the artful composition of the original and mimicked it here.

Read more Carlton Cuse on the Appeals of Death in A&E's 'The Returned'

That's not the case.

In fact, an argument can be made that whatever story elements that developed late in the first-season run of the original — and there were consistency and confusion issues that took some luster off the ending — were offset by the magnificently evocative nature of the visual experience up to that point. Great acting, tone-perfect presentation of numerous and diverse dramatic twists plus impressive dialogue all helped keep The Returned a critical favorite, despite not sticking the landing.

The American version? Well, it has none of those things. I'm not even going to name the actors because, to a person, none matched the nuanced performances of their French counterparts. Visually, this remake isn't even in the same solar system as the original. Neither is the music.

So, basically what you have in the American remake of The Returned is a hologram of the original — a soulless, artless, passionless and pointless copy.

Here’s hoping it loses money. Maybe that will help kill off the remake market.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine

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