'The Returned,' 8 p.m. Thursdays on Sundance beginning this week (Oct. 31)
Four stars (out of four)
In the opening of the French miniseries "The Returned," beginning an 8-week run at 8 p.m. Thursday on the Sundance Channel, a mother walks into the kitchen and finds her 14-year-old daughter making a sandwich.
But the daughter, Camille (Yara Pilartz), died four years earlier in a bus crash while on a school trip -- a crash we witnessed, one that killed all aboard. How can she be back, not in "undead" (i.e. zombie) fashion but just as she was when she died, unaged and unchanged?
Others who died, some very recently and others many years before, also begin returning home, mildly puzzled to think they've suffered a blackout but otherwise unaware of what happened to them. The loved ones face more of a struggle, at once thrilled to have the person back, terrified to consider what it might mean and thrown to be discovered as having moved on.
"The Returned," in French with subtitles, is beautiful, riveting and above all thought-provoking. The various storylines unfold slowly, increasingly entangled and with mounting tension. If you had all eight episodes in hand, as I did, you might be very tempted to watch them all in a single gulp.
In the case of Camille, her twin sister, Lena (Jenna Thiam), is shocked and horrified to the point of hysteria by her return, while their parents, Claire and Jerome (Anne Cosigny and Frederic Pierrot), whose grief broke up their marriage, find themselves clinging together again in their confusion.
At least Camille has a home to return to. Not everyone has a place to go. A young musician, Simon (Pierre Perrier), who died 10 years earlier, finds that his girlfriend. Adele (Clotilde Hesme), has not only moved out of their apartment but is also about to marry someone else. And then there's Victor (Swann Nambotin), an 8-year-old boy who doesn't speak and whose name probably isn't Victor.
It's not just the good who return; there's also a serial killer who begins repeating his crimes. And why is the town's water supply dropping, revealing something strange beneath the reservoir?
Expect resolutions, but not tidy closure, at the end of the eight episodes. A second season of "The Returned," which is based on the 2004 French movie "They Came Back" ("Les Revenants"), is being made in France, to debut next year.
A&E is planning an American version of "The Returned," while Jason Mott's similar-themed but unrelated novel "The Returned" is the basis of the ABC midseason show "Resurrection." Here, again, the dead return, unchanged, to a small town.
But "The Returned" that arrives Thursday is so good, it sets the bar high for those that follow. If you liked Sundance's "Top of the Lake" or BBC America's "Broadchurch," don't miss "The Returned."