The Returned: Will viewers return?

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In amongst a seemingly never-ending sea of American TV imports, a much-needed something different occasionally turns up. New series The Returned, a French drama about local residents mysteriously risen from the dead, is a good example of such a show. The series has enjoyed both critical and ratings success in France, Belgium and Sweden and is now seeking to replicate this in the UK.

The first episode, “Camille”, centres on a fatal coach accident killed a class of local school children. The episode begins four years earlier with the incident itself. Although tragic, there is nothing to particularly suggest that the accident is suspicious – the coach swerves on a corner and drives off of the road: no explosion, no magic, just loss of control. It is quickly revealed, however, that all is not as it seems. Camille, one of 38 who died on the coach, returns home to her parents with no memory of the accident or the four years which have passed since. In the same episode, other local residents also return, trying to carry on their lives where they left off without any memory of having passed away.

The pace of the episode was slightly slow in places but this is not unusual for a pilot and several interesting twists (such as the fact that Léna and Camille proved to be twins) kept me hooked throughout. The show’s opening posed as many questions as it answered, with writers seeming to have understood the importance of hooking their viewers from the start. In just one week, we’ve already seen murder, betrayal, arson and the living dead, and there’s no suggestion that things will be slowing down from here on in.

Like Spiral, the other French series which has recently enjoyed a degree of success on British television, The Returned is subtitled rather than dubbed. Big budgets and household names aside, language is one of the factors that makes American programmes so easy for British channels to bring over. For this reason, it’s perhaps strange that the makers of these French dramas have not chosen to have them dubbed for export. With some online comments already bemoaning the subtitling or labelling it “tedious”, it’s clear that Channel 4 have taken a risk in showing their first fully subtitled drama in over twenty years. Where Spiral was slightly sheltered on BBC 4, The Returned is right in the public eye as part of Channel 4’s Sunday night programming. Put simply, it has to work if other acclaimed foreign dramas are to follow.

For every dismissive comment so far, there seems to be at least one other person saying that they loved the first epsiode and that they’ll be rushing back for more. I just hope this continues as the weeks go by.

The Returned continues on Channel 4 at 9pm on Sunday.

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