In one of the most powerful scenes on A&E’s new drama “The Returned,” a woman named Helen Goddard (played by the incomparable Michelle Forbes, “The Killing”) comes back from the dead and seeks out a man of the cloth for answers.
When Pastor Leon (Carl Lumbly, “Alias”) says he believes in everlasting life and references the Biblical story of Lazarus to support his argument, Helen’s disillusionment grows.
“The finality is for a reason, Pastor, don’t you think?” Helen asks. “To just go on and on, that would be excruciating. How do you organize life with no death to define it?”
Interestingly enough, the same question could be asked about “The Returned,” a serviceable but mostly by-the-numbers remake of a brilliantly nuanced French series that didn’t need to be brought back to life in America a second time. After all, ABC already made “Resurrection,” which also tells the tale of dead people inexplicably popping up out of nowhere full of hunger and vigor.
Of course, “Les Revenants” (or “The Returned” in French) is the best of the three due to its eerie and emotionally unsettling vibe. In contrast, Carlton Cuse (“Lost,” “Bates Motel”) and Raelle Tucker’s (“True Blood”) series is cold and banal because it tries too hard to duplicate the original — right down to casting actors who look too much like the first set of people who played the roles three years ago — without capturing the essence of what made the story so compelling.
Making matters worse, the stateside take on “The Returned” also opens the series with Camille’s story. She’s a teenager who dies tragically in a bus accident and six years later, reappears unscathed and unaware that she was dead. The first one took place in a small French mountainside town while the remake is set in the Pacific Northwest.
As for the actress who plays Camille, New York native India Ennenga is just as impish and engaging as Yara Pilartz, the young French and Lebanese actress who costarred as the character initially.
But if you have someone with Forbes’ gravitas, the best thing to do is to figure out a way to get her out in front faster. She’s the Michael Jordan of this ensemble cast. Instead, viewers won’t see her moving exchange with Pastor Leon about the delicate balance between life and death until the fourth episode.
Not that the three preceding installments are all that bad. Sandrine Holt (“House of Cards”) is enjoyable as Julie, a tough but compassionate woman who cares for a mysterious and nameless boy despite having demons and secrets of her own.
Mark Pellegrino (“Lost”) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”) also turn in moving performances as two deeply wounded survivors whose lives fell apart soon after losing loved ones.
Dylan Kingwell is not as creepy as Swann Nambotin, the original Victor, but the child actor convincingly uses his disarming cuteness to his advantage.
The same can’t be said for Jeremy Sisto who is woefully miscast as an obnoxiously upbeat crisis counselor. Here’s hoping his character Peter becomes more like Billy from “Six Feet Under” than George from “Suburgatory” as the series goes on.
At the end of the day, if “The Returned” can’t move viewers emotionally it darn well better scare the snot out them. And right now — at least as far as the first few episodes go — it fails to do either.
“The Returned” premieres Monday at 10 p.m. on A&E.