Can A&E's 'The Returned' Break Free From the French Original? Why It's Worth a Look

by Philiana Ng 8:13 AM PDT, March 09, 2015
Photo: A&E

Ever wonder what would happen if your loved ones returned from the dead? A&E’s The Returned, from Lost’s Carlton Cuse and True Blood’s Raelle Tucker, attempts to answer that question.

Adapted from the acclaimed French drama Les Revenants, The Returned is an English-language 10-episode retelling centered on the residents of a sleepy town whose lives are forever changed when people who had died years earlier suddenly reappear without warning. For those who may have seen the original series, The Returned isn’t necessarily rewriting the script – and they’re OK with that.

“I feel like Carlton brought some of what made [Les Revenants] so engaging into the American version and added some things to make it uniquely its own,” star Mark Pellegrino tells ETonline. “There was the sense of mystery that pervades not only the universe but the characters. The show is unapologetic about not answering questions that you have. Even in the very end, it leaves you hanging and reaching for more. That’s the element that the American version took from the French [show].”

WATCH: 'Les Revenants' Is Your New TV Infatuation!

It was the premise and Cuse’s involvement that ultimately drew the Lost alum in. His character, Jack Winship, isn’t entirely likable – at least in the beginning. A down-on-his-luck father of twin girls Lena (Sophie Lowe) and Camille (India Ennenga), the latter of whom died in a school bus crash four years ago at 16, Jack’s grieving process is best described as destructive.

Like in Les Revenants, the dreariness and eeriness of the rustic locale is a prominent character, itself symbolic of the town, its people and the supernatural uncertainty that looms.

“The isolation of the town and the separateness from the rest of the world makes it more frightening and gives it more undercurrent of breadth and evidence of danger that you don’t get if you change the setting,” Pellegrino explains. “You don’t have all the things at your beck and call like you do in a big city, so when this phenomenon happens to you you’re sort of left to your own devices.”

Pellegrino insists that his take on Jack is different from his Les Revenants counterpart, Jerome, played by Frederic Pierrot, and that the characters have unique “interpersonal relationships” and “unexpected” pasts. “There is a dramatic shift in the universe and the characters and the relationships between the characters that are pretty huge,” he hints.

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Photo: A&E

The actor did admit that binge-watching all eight episodes of the original served as somewhat of an impediment when it came to differentiating Jack from Jerome.

“I really liked that actor’s simplicity and [being] understated,” Pellegrino says. “We were exploring different avenues with this character, with someone who was stuck in the stages of grief to someone who was in denial. To me the characters are apples to oranges and I hope people can see that. We’re just two different characters living in two different shows.”

We couldn’t leave the conversation without discussing Fox’s failed attempt at bringing beloved British series Broadchurch to the U.S. with the low-rated Gracepoint, and if that ever crossed his mind. Pellegrino was candid about the likely comparisons between the two foreign-to-U.S. adaptations, and alluded to his hope that viewers tune in even if they’ve seen the French drama.

“There will definitely be comparisons because for the first four or five episodes, they are very similar. By the fifth episode it becomes its own being,” he says of The Returned. “For me, I enjoy the differences in productions. It’s like watching Hamlet with Jude Law or Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch or Hamlet with Richard Burton. I’m going to get a story that’s going to be told differently based on the interpretations of the people there, and I’m just as enthusiastic about that.”

“I can really love the original of something as I have been with shows like The Office and then I’ve become fans of the American version because they’re their own piece even though they might have similar format,” Pellegrino adds.

Ultimately, Pellegrino says The Returned is a story built on hope – even if it doesn’t seem the case at first.

“We’ve all thought about miracles in our lives and usually miracles are associated with someone earth-shatteringly positive but we’ve never explored the story of Lazarus beyond having risen from the tomb and reuniting with his family. How would that situation have been had he been gone for years and had people moved on and changed and become different? You’re not the same person you were six years ago,” Pellegrino says. “What is it like for that person returning to a land that looks familiar but is totally unfamiliar now?”

Will you be tuning in to The Returned? Tell us your thoughts by tweeting Philiana Ng at @insidethetube, and don’t forget the #ETnow hashtag!

The Returned premieres Monday, March 9 at 10 p.m. following Bates Motel on A&E.