You were maybe expecting monsters on Halloween? Less than a week after NBC so disastrously attempted to "re-imagine" Dracula, cable's Sundance Channel scores again — in a year that has already given us the exceptional Top of the Lake and Rectify — by subtly yet audaciously flipping the zombie thriller in the eight-part French import The Returned (with English subtitles). In this quietly creepy and profoundly unsettling supernatural mystery (Thursday, 9/8c), the undead are portrayed not as Walking Dead-style flesh-eaters but as deeply and unmistakably flesh-and-blood human.
When loved ones suddenly return, seemingly unchanged, after years and sometimes decades in the grave, a remote mountain community reacts with a range from euphoria to existential despair. No one, living or resurrected, knows why this is happening, what it means or how to cope. Are these "returned" souls, who are more like living ghosts than ghouls, a miracle or a menace? As the characters intertwine and their backstories emerge, the suspenseful ambiguities of this cosmic puzzle only intensify.
"What you are about to see goes beyond logic and will change how you see the world," says a local zealot who interprets this fantastic occurrence as a harbinger of end times. But there are no easy revelations in The Returned, which A&E is developing into an English-language series. (A similarly themed drama, Resurrection, will air on ABC this midseason, and its pilot is just as emotionally affecting.) Let's hope A&E doesn't try to "improve" this for U.S. sensibilities, or we could end up with another Dracula.
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HALLOWEEN TRADITIONS: No matter how often we see it, we'll still be happy to wait in the pumpkin patch with Linus, and wait-for-it when Lucy pulls the football away from Charlie Brown, and delight when Snoopy is on the other end of the apple when Lucy goes bobbing (and freaks out about dog germs). So many classic moments — Snoopy taking on the Red Baron atop his Sopwith Camel doghouse, Charlie Brown getting nothing but rocks — in the 1966 It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, once again shown by ABC (8/7c) in an hour format along with the timely (but far less memorable) You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown.
A show that has already established its own proud Halloween tradition is The Big Bang Theory, and TBS strings together four repeats with Halloween and costume themes (starting at 9/8c) including, from the first season, "The Middle Earth Paradigm," set at Penny's Halloween party; and from Season 5, "The Good Guy Fluctuation," in which Sheldon plots revenge after falling for a Halloween prank. CBS's regular Thursday broadcast (8/7c) repeats last season's "The Bakersfield Expedition," in which the geeks are stranded in superhero costumes after Leonard's car is stolen en route to a comic book convention. Good times.
MORE TRICKS AND TREATS: On CBS's The Millers (8:30/7:30c), Nathan and sister Debbie take little Mikayla trick-or-treating, despite a rumor that one of the neighborhood crones is a witch. You'd think with a mother (and grandma) like Carol, they'd be used to that. ... It's Halloween as well on ABC's Grey's Anatomy (9/8c), which means a more macabre roster of patients than usual. And Ben (Jason George) is back, trying out a new surgical technique with Derek. ... They're playing dress-up on The CW's The Vampire Diaries (8/7c), but not for Halloween. The latest event on Mystic Falls' busy calendar: the Whitmore Historical Ball, where Elena and Damon go in costume as Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. If no heads roll, we'll be shocked. ... ABC's Scandal (10/9c) goes to the White House Correspondents' Dinner, where Olivia runs into the Wicked Witch of the West Wing: first lady Mellie. Guest stars include Lisa Kudrow, Private Practice survivor Paul Adelstein and Heroes' Jack Coleman as the self-righteous vice president's husband. ... Investigation Discovery rings out the night with a look at four merry murderesses named Mary in Bloody Marys (midnight/11c), with re-enactments set in Victorian England, the Great Depression and the '60s. On ID, it's always a good night for murder.