The Returned (Les Revenants) s2 ep 2

There’s a very thin line between scary and silly, and, with this week’s ep, The Returned not only crosses that particular border but defiantly plants a flag on the other side.

In fairness, this instalment does give us a lot more of the Returnees (both in terms of numbers and screen time) than last week’s, but it turns out that the Dead’s day-to-day activities are less interesting than the Living’s, so spending more time with them just makes things worse.

Especially when there are so many more of them popping up now. FFS. Does nobody stay dead, then? Do they all just come back to complain about the issues that plagued them while they were alive?

Toni frets about Serge. Serge has Daddy issues (of course he does) to go with his cannibal ones. Camille and the other teenagers are teenagers. And Victor/Louis is scared of his Mum. So much of this ep is dead folk wandering around playing out their own version of Zombie Eastenders that it actively annoyed me. I signed up for the spooky stuff, not the soapy stuff, dammit!

No wonder the army are out in force with dogs and flashlights looking for Andrey – sure, they can pretend it’s because they think an “identity thief” on the run requires an entire battalion to track them down, but it’s obviously because, after months of sitting around wondering why the town flooded (at this point, I can’t believe anyone in the audience actually cares), they’re desperate for something to do.

Things do start to pick up about halfway through the ep, and both the Dead surrounding Clare and the final scene could have been genuinely disturbing, but by then I really didn’t care any more. When you’ve spent most of the episode hearing the Dead whining about their problems, the mystique is gone; suddenly their parlour trick of silent staring becomes a lot less effective. And if everybody comes back anyway, what’s a few more bodies in the meantime?

The Returned (Les Revenants) s2 ep 1

“6 mois plus tard….”

In tv time maybe, but the reality is UK viewers last saw Les Revs in summer 2013, and this UK viewer really should have read the Wiki summaries for season 1 before attempting to watch the first ep of season 2 and finding herself completely baffled. Who are these people? Where did all these soldiers come from? Who actually went with the People Formerly Known as Dead? When did the town flood? Is that man the rapist’s brother? No, wait….. the serial killer’s brother? Who is that woman? What is that guy’s name again….?

And so it continued. In my head, at least. The combination of a lack of previouslies and a time jump didn’t help, nor did the early focus on anonymous new soldiers and somebody called Berg whom we’d never seen before, with last season’s characters being re-introduced very, very slowly…. We started with Adele and her supremely scary demon baby, true, but it took forever to see any of the other survivors (most of whom I didn’t recognise) and then even longer to see the returnees. Which is not to say that this ep wasn’t decent tv; it was eerie and engrossing from the start, but it only really started to come together for me a good 45 minutes in when we went with Audrey to REDACTED and everything suddenly became both more recognisable and completely terrifying.

Finally reading the summaries afterward has refreshed my memory (That guy’s name was Simon!) and probably made me better-disposed towards the next ep, but independent reading seems a bit much for a supernatural fantasy about people coming back from the dead which has been off our screens for over 2 years. I’ll stick with Les Revs for now, because, in fairness, it’s still excellent genre tv and I was actually glued to, if simultaneously baffled by, this episode. But I fear that this is one occasion where absence has not made the heart grow fonder and season 2 may have missed its moment. I was pretty excited about the show at the end of season 1, and if it had returned (sorry) a year or so ago maybe I still would have been, but now? Not too fussed either way.

Public Service Announcement 51 of 2015: The Returned (Les Revenants), Mr. Robot

Unpopcult was mostly positive about the International Emmy-winning first season of French undead drama The Returned (Les Revenants) – even me, and I’m generally very much not in favour of shows featuring Brer Zombie. Refreshingly, it built an atmosphere by relying on mystery and a sense of creeping dread rather than jump-out-of-your-skin shocks – although there were a few of them as well, often featuring Victor, hands-down the scariest kid on TV. The final episode of the first season was the subject of some criticism, which I thought misplaced in any event, but overall it was well-received in the UK. We’re only three weeks behind French transmission for the second season, which starts tonight – well done, More4, even if the risk of spoilers is perhaps reduced when they come in another language. CJ’s on reviewing duties for the first episode at least (More4, 9pm).

And in yet another example of how the TV market is fragmenting, the British debut of one of the most widely-acclaimed new shows of the year, USA Network’s Mr. Robot, takes place today on Amazon Prime. So at one end of the scale you get the BBC moving popular shows from BBC 2 to BBC 1 to maximise audiences; and, at the other, you get a show which is only being made available – deliberately, mark you – to a fraction of its potential viewers. As I keep saying, I don’t expect to understand all this; I’m just a viewer rather than someone who has the job of making the figures add up. The whole of season 1 is now available for streaming, but if you want to see it you’ll need to already have Amazon Prime, or you’ll have to get it for this show, or… but let’s not go there.

Anyway, Mr. Robot is set in the world of vigilante hacking and stars Rami Malek as a security engineer who is recruited into the world of hacktivism by Christian Slater. It was renewed for a second season even before the second episode had been shown, so positive was the critical and audience reaction. Unpopcult has been slow to address the streaming model, because we tend to review shows on the traditional TV week-by-week schedule. But it’s about time, so I’ll be writing about Mr. Robot as I watch it, episode-by-episode, and we’ll see how it goes.

Also starting today: the proper return of one-time Britpop behemoth TFI Friday (Channel 4, 8pm), and Stephen Fry’s last season in charge of QI (BBC 2, 9pm).

The Returned (Les Revenants) s1 ep 8

I’m slightly baffled by the number of people complaining about the lack of explanations and “a proper ending” for the season finale of The Returned.

Guys, it’s a supernatural mystery about people COMING BACK FROM THE DEAD. What kind of “explanations” do you think can account for that? If you’re not prepared to just roll with it, maybe this is not the show for you. And as for a “proper ending” – well, yes, it was a cliffhanger but you know there’s a second season, right? This is just part one? So the reason why there was no “ending”… it’s because the story hasn’t actually ENDED yet.

But then I’m one of the people who thought the way Lost finally ended was glorious – and, by the way, they WEREN’T IN PURGATORY ALL ALONG, how can so many people in so many different comment threads on so many other shows STILL be getting that wrong?!? – as opposed to the people angrily throwing around “it’s the French Lost” like it’s an insult, and demanding, I don’t know, diagrams and whatnot to explain their fantasy tv to their satisfaction.

Sigh. Sorry. I should probably stop worrying about what other people thought about this season’s finale of The Returned and just write about what I thought about it. For what it’s worth, I thought it was fantastic.

We began with a flashback to “the day the old dam burst” and an explanation (ooh, see?) for La Horde of folk formerly known as dead who’ve now stopped hiding out in the woods and converged on the town, much to the panic of the folk currently known as living.

After their unsuccessful attempt to get the hell outta Dodge, meanwhile, Dr Julie and Laure found a suicidal Toni on the bridge; a state of affairs that was all too easily and tragically manipulated by Demon Victor and his Stare of Evil, only for Dr Julie to turn a blind eye to his malevolence yet again. For the love of everything that is not murderous or insane, Dr Julie, what will it take?!?!

Anyway, after disaster struck both on the bridge and at Adele and Thomas’s house, the remaining townsfolk all ended up back at the Helping Hand where Pierre’s supreme self-confidence was almost comically brushed aside by super-smug Lucy, skanky spokesperson for the recently returned, in favour of a prisoner swap of sorts – which turned into a harrowing scene about mothers and sons and the monsters within ourselves – before the battle at the Helping Hand truly began.

It would be easy to say the battle itself was a cop-out, given it technically took place off-screen, but I thought the camera staying inside the building with the civilians while we could hear the clanging outside was a fantastic way to show without telling; things don’t have to be visual to hit hard, and this hit me hard.

As did much of the season. The two things that really didn’t work for me were Lucy’s “talent” and the Serge story – the tone for the latter in particular was all off, suggesting we sympathise with the cannibalistic serial killer which, unless I accidentally switched on to a Gallic spin-off of Dexter, is just wrong – and yes, there were one or two filler episodes. But, for the most part, the season and the finale were spooky, scary, steeped in atmosphere and unease, and served up in a way that felt right (to me, anyway) for the story and left me looking forward to the second season. There will come a point (whether it’s at the end of the second season or the third, who knows) when The Returned does need to finish, and the story needs to be wrapped up, but we’re not there yet and I don’t mind that at all.

The Returned (Les Revenants) s1 ep 7

Shiver-watch continues.

This week, the increasingly aggressive (and completely gross – eugh, dude, don’t EAT it!) Simon tried to find out the truth behind his original death (yawn). Mrs Costa relished Camille’s culpability in the storehouse tragedy. And psycho killer Serge dragged Toni round the forest in ever-decreasing circles. But, despite each being super-scary in their own way, none of them even came close in shiver-worthy terms to supreme scare-masters Demon Victor and Creepy Pierre.

The little weirdo jumping on the trampoline just like a real boy was unnerving enough but the scene where he used his special powers to scare the living daylights out of young Chloe (and old CJ) gave me a real jolt. Although the most shocking thing about it may have been Dr Julie continuing to insist he’s just a harmless wee dead kid with some skin issues, and she wants to be a harmless wee dead adult with skin issues too: what is UP with you, Dr Julie? Get. A. Clue.

The clues were, after all, coming a little faster this week – Julie and Toni’s sub-plots all seemed to confirm that death is the only way for the currently living to leave the village at the moment. Most of the townsfolk who chose to stay, meanwhile, have ended up at the Helping Hand where Creepy Pierre spent this ep creeping all over Claire and preparing for some sort of apocalypse. (Supplies, weapons and a secret medical facility? Remind you of anyone?) Which might not be too far off since the utterly terrifying scene in the seemingly deserted BUT NOT ANY MORE Lake Pub (Oh Dear God, just how scary was that moment?!?!) clearly set the stage for some sort of battle – between the living and the dead? The evil dead and the not-so-evil dead? I may find out in next week’s season finale. If I come out from under my bed in time.

The Returned (Les Revenants) s1 ep 6

It was Lucy’s turn in the spotlight this week, as the town’s very special psychic woke up, just in time for a power cut to plunge the whole area into permanent gloom.

The episode was miles better than last week’s Dead People Whinge-athon but I did have a couple of issues with it. For starters, I’m really not down with Lucy’s “gift.” For the most part, The Returned has done a sterling job all season making the utterly bonkers seem utterly believable but the conditions required for Lucy to see dead people frankly take things past the line of believability and into the territory of slightly skeezy silliness. There may be precedent, there may be a perfectly arguable analogy to be drawn with other types of ecstasy-induced second sight, but I don’t care – if I’m rolling my eyes when I’m supposed to be creeped out of my mind, it’s not working for me.

Given the particular nature of her “talent,” though, it’s probably not a coincidence that Lucy’s episode was the most explicit to date, with more sex and throw-away nudity shoehorned in elsewhere as well. After her initially understandable terror, Lena’s utterly baffling behaviour after finding out the truth about Serge was perhaps the oddest example – you find out he’s a lunatic cannibal serial killer, so you have sex with him? Really?!?

Meanwhile, Toni’s behaviour, while thankfully not amorous, seemed even more mad. You’ve shot a policeman, Toni. What’s the plan now? Because I really don’t think his colleagues are just going to leave that be.

Still, I suppose Toni’s behaviour stemmed from crippling guilt and remorse. And Lena’s stemmed from… nope, I got nothing.

But, quibbles aside, I still thought most of this episode was great, and, if Lucy didn’t quite work for me, at least the power was a wonderfully sinister catalyst for the rest of the plotlines. Dr Julie (correctly sensing Pierre is up to no good) and Victor moved in with Laure, and, importantly, next door to Thomas, Adele and Chloe – who is becoming more than a little bit creepy herself. Pierre began to build a cult around Camille, manipulating her and everyone around her with horrific consequences (My God – the Koretskys!). Frederic did something everyone else should have done ages ago. And may Lena have stumbled onto the reason why the animals are killing themselves in their desperation to leave the village – the village which, incidentally, none of the humans seem able to leave, ever, unless it’s by way of violent death. What does it all MEAN?

I don’t know. But when it’s this stylish, atmospheric and intriguing, it doesn’t matter. I may be bewildered and bemused by The Returned but I’m loving it.

The Returned (Les Revenants) ep 5

I’ve become so accustomed to raving about how fantastic The Returned is that I fully expected to be doing more of the same this week. But that feeling only lasted until about halfway through this episode when I suddenly realised I wasn’t scared any more, I was bored.

Was it because I don’t really have any investment in Serge the serial killer’s story – HE’S A NUTBAR, LOCK HIM UP – and whatever weird attraction he has to Lena’s scar (I say again: NUTBAR)? Or was it because everyone’s behaviour seemed too unlikely – Lena unperturbed at waking up in her hospital gown in a strange (NUTBAR) man’s bed and happily letting him rub nettle stuff on it; Adele remaining in the French alpine version of the Big Brother house despite knowing about Thomas’s CCTV; Social Services having no involvement whatsoever in the housing/finding/general care of little boy lost Victor? Or was the fact that I was noticing these things an indication that the episode itself was slower and a lot less interesting than usual?

The dead being quite open and relaxed about being dead probably had to happen, but they really were infinitely creepier when they were, er, creeping around. This week, I actually just found them annoying. Camille became just another whiny teenager (FFS shut UP about being “in love” with Frederic!), Simon a stalker-ish ex, Serge a NUTBAR killer… even the reliably terrifying Victor seemed to have toned it down a bit, only reaching full-on frightening when he turned out the lights and conjured up Pierre’s partner in crime or whatever he did.

Still, we did get the suicidal animals(!), Chloe setting Thomas on Simon and confirmation that there was a village under the lake, all of which was quite intriguing. And the whole business was as beautifully-shot and deftly-acted as ever. So, after four episodes of excellence, one middling one isn’t going to drive me away, but let’s bring back the scares next week, ok?