In less-capable hands, A&E’s The Returned could have been called The Recycled.
There’s something quite familiar about its supernatural premise of dead people miraculously turning up alive again in a small town.
The spooky new drama series, which premieres at 9 p.m. Monday, is based on a popular French drama (Les Revenants) that aired in the States on Sundance TV. ABC’s Resurrected also has played with the same eerie back-from-the-grave formula.
But a good story well-told, even if you’ve heard it before, can still captivate — and that’s the case with The Returned.
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Who among us hasn’t wished for another chance, another day, another moment with a loved one who has died?
India Ennenga — who stars as a 16-year-old girl who mysteriously comes home again, unchanged, four years after a school bus tragedy took her life — can relate.
“My grandmother and grandfather were two of my favorite people in my life,” she says. “They passed away a couple of years ago, so I completely understand and empathize with the emotions that drive this show.”
The Returned has Carlton Cuse, one the creative forces behind Lost, and Raelle Tucker, formerly of True Blood, in charge of production.
The excellent cast, actors who are familiar, if not necessarily household names, includes Mark Pellegrino (Supernatural), Jeremy Sisto (Six Feet Under), Sophie Lowe (Once Upon a Time in Wonderland), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World), Sandrine Holt (House of Cards) and Michelle Forbes (Homicide).
Ennenga — who is best known for playing John Goodman and Melissa Leo’s daughter in Treme, the HBO drama about post-Katrina New Orleans — says her new role as Camille has brought an unusual acting challenge.
After all, it’s not like she could meet with someone who cheated death and came back years later. Or could she? Perhaps she can gain insight from a revived coma patient. Or from a released prison inmate.
“On set, our most common reference was to prisoners coming back after being in jail for a long time and not understanding, among other things, the way technology works now,” Ennenga says. “They find themselves back in a world that has changed in so many ways — even tiny, mundane details — and it can lead to intense disorientation and alienation.”
Camille, who is only the first of many citizens who will return during the course of the 10-episode season, certainly feels out of place back among the living. She feels as if the world has left her behind — and her twin sister, Lena, now 20, played by Lowe, is a constant reminder of how much time elapsed.
Camille’s return isn’t exactly a blessing for her family either.
“My return brings to the surface all of the tension that has been brewing in the family,” Ennenga says. “I force everybody to confront how unhappy and confused they are about their lives at the moment.”
Ennenga, who’s 20 and a student at Brown University in Providence, R.I., when not working as an actress, thinks viewers will be just as drawn to The Returned as she was to the French original.
“I watched the whole season in two days,” she remembers. “And I knew I wanted to be part of making a new version that takes a lot of the same themes and adapts them for an American audience.”
The main goal, of course, is to entertain. But it has occurred to Ennenga that this show also has the potential to mean something more to some viewers.
“I would hope that people who are going through loss or grief might see the show and find a way to reconcile those difficult emotions,” she says. “They aren’t alone in what they are feeling.
“We all, to some extent, have had to deal with this inevitable part of life.”
▪ 9 p.m. Monday