'The Returned' Star Previews French Drama: More Than Just Zombies

Pierre Perrier says he had no idea the show -- which Sundance Channel is bringing to the U.S. -- would become an international hit: "It was a great surprise."
Pierre Perrier in "The Returned"

French zombies are invading U.S. airwaves when The Returned premieres on Sundance Channel on Halloween night.

The eight-episode French drama is already a hit overseas, and it could be poised to win over U.S. audiences. The Hollywood Reporter chief TV critic Tim Goodman wrote in his review: "Defying expectations while rewiring what a 'zombie' series can be, The Returned is one of the most intriguing, utterly original offerings of the year."

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The series, from writer-director Fabrice Gobert, takes place in a gorgeous mountain town which suffered a tragedy several years ago when a bus accident killed dozens of its children. Inexplicably, one of those children -- and several other dead residents of the town -- wander back from the grave, with no knowledge of their deaths and no physical decay betraying their former dead status.

Among the returned is Simon (Pierre Perrier), a handsome, brooding young man who died 10 years prior on his wedding day. Simon comes back to life only to find his former fiancée having moved on and engaged to another man.

During the arduous five-month shoot, Perrier says he had no idea the show would become an international hit.

"We weren't sure of anything at the beginning. It was a great surprise," he tells The Hollywood Reporter.

For Sundance, The Returned comes in a year in which it's aired well-received scripted dramas such as Top of the Lake and Rectify. Sundance Channel president Sarah Barnett says The Returned is part of the channel's commitment to scripted dramas.

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"This is for sure a show that will appeal to a genre audience, but I actually think it has something for everybody," says Barnett. "It's about family, it's about loss, it's about letting go. It's about living."

Perrier says big-budget TV projects in France tend to have American or British sensibilities, but The Returned chose to embrace its French roots. He thinks that helped differentiate the show from the others. They also chose to play down the zombie aspect (the undead characters aren't zombies in the traditional sense), and instead focus on the human element.

"I think it's been overused a little bit," he says of zombies. "We tried not to be in the zombie side of that at all. The undead, but not the zombie side."

Ironically, while shooting a show about returning from the dead, among his favorite days on set came when he was presented with real-life death during a morgue scene.

"We were in a real morgue, and at some point the producer comes to me and says, 'Sorry, we couldn't move the bodies from the morgue.' So we had to do it with the bodies inside of it," he says. "'It was odd, but really fun."

The Returned premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. on Sundance Channel.

E-Mail: Aaron.Couch@THR.com
Twitter: @AaronCouch