The Returned is the US’ answer to the French Les Revenants, the television series that has managed to cross borders despite those pesky words people have to read at the bottom of the screen. In case you’d rather not deal with all that subtitle shit, Carlton Cuse is bringing you a new version with American cast members and that guy from Clueless, Jeremy Sisto. I’ve never seen Les Revenants because I’ve been watching that other show about people coming back from the dead, the much much worse Resurrection, but the reports are in that The Returned is pretty similar to its predecessor.
I think it’s important comparisons remain minimal anyway, because most people are probably not going to find The Returned lives up to their expectations after Les Revenants. Still, it’s relevant to point out that Cuse is at least attempting to keep things similar to the source, which is why I bring up this hearsay in the first episode review. From here on, I’ll refrain from commenting about Les Revenants at all.
“Camille” begins with a bus crash – a poorly CGI’d bus crash to be exact, one that comes out of nowhere. It’s a moment that bugged me throughout much of this premiere; I sat there, thinking, “Why did that bus crash have to be so truncated, with little explanation about it?” It gets expanded upon later, but that initial encounter left a bad taste in my mouth. Whatever the case, the bus crash leaves our title character Camille (India Ennenga) dead in a ravine, and the show jumps ahead four years later to people dealing with death and loss in their family.
One of those people is Jeremy Sisto’s character Peter, running a group for people to discuss their emotions. In attendance is Jack (Mark Pellegrino), Camille’s father; he’s an outspoken dissenter about the meetings despite returning to them week after week, but he’s about to get a surprise. Camille walks home, enters her house, and starts making a sandwich like she normally would after school. She startles her mother Claire (Tandi Wright) into a state of detached shock, where she walks around silently attempting to explain things in her head.
Since Claire and Jack are separated, she calls him home to see for himself. They both deal with it differently, in their own ways, while attempting to keep Camille calm: she thinks it’s been a long day instead of four years, and they don’t want to let on that she actually died.
Camille’s not the only one coming back. Simon’s (Mat Vairo) a guy trying to get back with his girlfriend Rowan (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), except she’s already moved on. Victor (Dylan Kingwell) is a silent, creepy kid picked up by Julie (Sandrine Holt) on her way home from work. These are people that will clearly play a larger part in The Returned’s world at some point, but for now the show awkwardly jumps between them without really finding an interesting place to land.
It brings us to the biggest problem of The Returned’s premiere, its slow burn. With so many shows featuring very similar premises, “Camille” feels incredibly familiar. It’s about loss and the world-shattering surprise of someone coming back, and the episode plays it off well but unimpressively. In short, it’s an episode that doesn’t break expectation, pretty much exactly what the viewer thinks will happen.
However, there’s an impression that things will grow. A murder in a dark alley helps, and the return to the bus crash gives a fleeting glimpse of the little kid, Victor, in the middle of the road before sending the bus careening off the hill. Perhaps these returned aren’t just people coming back from the dead to live happier lives, and “Camille” gives us something more sinister to contemplate. But The Returned’s pilot lingers too long on the conventional themes of loss to make an impact, slowly plodding its way through in the same manner its characters do after finding out their long-lost daughter is alive. It’s functional, but it will take a couple more episodes to decide whether it’s worth returning to the show.