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'The Returned' on Sundance Channel: Good, bad, indifferent?

In the next 24 hours, you will hear a lot about the Sundance Channel's new quasi-zombie series, "The Returned," from Canal +, which arrives with all of those sorts of plaudits that should make you wary, if not suspicious... Scary! Bone-chilling! Brilliant! Etc. 

But it's none of those things. My review, below, offers an overview, but I think the best advice I could give viewers is wait-and-see. "The Returned" is a good binging project --there are eight episodes -- though there are long stretches that will try the patience of even the most patient viewer, while those looking for anything remotely "frightening" best move along. Meanwhile, I am struck by the superficial similarities here with ABC's midseason series, "Resurrection"...

"The Returned," Sundance Channel, Thursday, 9.

What it's about: A bus carrying French high school students is navigating some perilous turns on a road through the Alps when it plunges into a ravine, with all on board lost. Until, one day... one of the students, Camille (Yara Pilartz) returns. She is hurrying along the mountain road, returning to her home village. She had been dead some years, but is just one of the "revenants" who come back that day, including Simon (Pierre Perrier), Victor, a young boy, (Swann Nambotin), and Serge (Guillaume Gouix), each with his own brutal backstory. Camille finds her way home -- and her mother Claire (Anne Consigny), father Jérôme (Frédéric Pierrot), and sister Lena (Jenna Thiam) are initially shocked. But why have the dead returned? Through Dec. 19. With subtitles.

My say: The zombies of this acclaimed Canal + hit have no rotting flesh, or bad teeth or eyes precariously attached to their sockets. They look like people, preserved perfectly in the last moments of their lives. As such, they try to integrate more or less seamlessly back into those prior lives except that they have unfinished business which this series -- adapted from a 2004 French film, "They Came Back" -- sets out to methodically explore. "The Returned" has no horror antecedents and in fact, no interest in horror at all. This isn't some French "Walking Dead" and if you're coming for a scare, move along. While there is a little gore, and one shocking scene involving a serial killer in a tunnel (avert your gaze), "The Returned" is what might be called an eschatological mystery, with vague ties to the Book of Revelations and the Apocalypse ("... and many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt; Daniel 12:2.) But even if you should make it to the eighth (and final) episode, don't expect answers because like "Lost," "The Returned" is good at dangling carrots, not so good at offering them. In any case, a second season will air in France next year.

Bottom line: Besides the scenery, what's best here are the characters, and their lives -- or unlives -- of quiet desperation.

Grade: B+

Tags: Sundance Channel , The Returned

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