If you're interested in tuning in to A&E's The Returned, the good news is you don't have to wait until it premieres on Monday. Just give the American version a pass and check out the original French series, which is available on Netflix.
Both The Returned and its predecessor, Les Revenants, take place in a small town whose residents' lives are thrown upside down when their deceased loved ones start, well, returning - having not aged a day in the years that have passed between their deaths and the present. Familiar faces popping up in the A&E series include Jeremy Sisto as Peter, the town's grief counselor who has a dark past; Mark Pellegrino as Jack, a father who's mourning the loss of his daughter; and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Rowan, a young woman still reeling from the death of her fiancé years prior.
"Part of the fun of this show is wondering how these people have changed and if they are going to become dangerous," Raelle Tucker, who is co-executive producing The Returned with Lost's Carlton Cuse, told critics at the Television Critics Association winter previews in January. "They are certainly not exactly the people they were when they departed, and that's part of the mystery and excitement of our show."
Cuse and Tucker (True Blood) have stressed that, while the basic premise of their version is the same as the original's, they aim to have The Returned stand on its own. "To adapt something, you have to really be a huge fan of it to begin with," Cuse told TCA critics. "Obviously, we wouldn't sign on to something that we weren't deeply in love with as well. We didn't feel that we needed to force changes. What we felt is, by adding our own voices and our own experiences to this really incredible world and these wonderful characters, that it would organically transform into something new. So, it's not a competition between that show and this one, but, really, a way to honor it and make something our own."
"I think, yes, there is a small, fervent audience that watched the original French show," he added. "But I do believe that there is also a large audience that did not see the French show that will really enjoy seeing this story told in English with a new set of actors and, again, with a spin on it that I think, over time, becomes increasingly our own."
It's a good thing that Cuse isn't positioning his series as a competitor to Les Revenants - even though fans of the French show will inevitably compare the two - because they're operating in different leagues. (Les Revenants, it should be noted, won an International Emmy in 2013 for Best Drama Series.)
Gone from A&E's adaptation is any trace of the subtlety that gave the original series its signature haunting, mysterious air. Plot twists and developments that are merely hinted at in Les Revenants are driven into the viewers' psyche with the delicacy of a two-by-four in The Returned, which could benefit greatly from adopting a "show, don't tell" approach to its narrative. (It's almost insulting to assume that viewers can't deduce issues of parentage for themselves, for instance, and instead need to be fed a scene in which a character realizes aloud, "I have a daughter.")
Also absent from the remake is the excellent score by Scottish post-rock band Mogwai, which wove a common thread through the original series and infused it with an added sense of poignancy, at times hopeful and at times foreboding. Here, it's replaced by a cheap imitation courtesy of Zoe Keating, an alum of the cello rock ensemble Rasputina, and former Tonic (!) member Jeff Russo, which sounds like a clunky knockoff that was made by a teenager tooling around on a Moog synthesizer.
Because it hails from Lost co-creator Cuse, the remake also finds it necessary to ponder the underlying existential questions posed by Les Revenants more overtly and laboriously. "How do you organize a life with no death to define it?" one of the Returned asks a priest, after using the Biblical story of Lazarus to argue that sometimes the dead might just want to stay dead.
And, according to Cuse, as they did on Lost, the characters' lives will intersect on The Returned more than they do in the original. "This show is sort of a mosaic in the same way that Lost is," he notes. "I think part of the interesting mystery and the weave of the story is how all of these characters are interconnected. And I think, in significant ways, we have enhanced the weave of how these characters are interrelated. That was one of the things that we tried to do as we were adapting the show, was to really understand how these characters are connected."
But, perhaps taking a cue from fan frustration about the mysteries of Lost, Cuse seems to be adopting a faster storytelling approach this time around. By Episode 4, answers have been provided to some questions that Les Revenants did not address by the end of its first season.
Though there are mostly minor inconsistencies from the original in the first handful of episodes, Cuse has said that the American version will take a vastly different turn from the French series beginning around Episode 6. And Cuse and Tucker - who have likened The Returned to the American adaptation of The Office - intend for the show to become something else entirely after that divergence. "Over time, our show becomes quite different," Cuse says. "While we start in a similar place, the show is fairly distinctively different by the end of its first season. ... This show going forward will be wholly original. There won't be any road map beyond this season."
It remains to be seen if, once The Returned begins to forge its own path, it becomes a series worth watching. But as of now, viewers are probably better off waiting for Season 2 of Les Revenants.
The Returned premieres Monday at 10/9c on A&E.