Book vs. TV: THE RETURNED Conundrum

17182421What if your dead loved ones returned to your life? Such is the premise of Jason Mott’s The Returned, inspired by a dream he had of his mother. Throughout the world, people—or whatever they are—reappear, causing global strife. Where they return and which dead ones return appears random, and leaves even more questions for the newly created International Bureau of the Returned.

The story opens itself up to all aspects of supernatural/sci-fi storytelling. Undead people, mysterious circumstances—Stephen King could knock out a 1,000-page book about it, easily. But Mott’s novel does not concern itself so much with uncovering the facts of these bizarre aspects and, instead, focuses on how it affects the small town of Arcadia and the quiet lives of the people therein.

The novel’s main perspective jumps between the aging Hargraves. Harold and Lucille lost their son Jacob about 50 years ago, and when he appears on their doorstep—thanks to Bureau Agent Bellamy—neither of them knows what to make of it. As the Returned’s presence sparks strife throughout the world, the Hargraves try to reconcile what Jacob’s return means to them. But circumstances grow increasingly dangerous as Arcadia reacts to being invaded by both the Returned and the government.

If this story sounds familiar, then you may have been one of the few viewers of ABC’s recent drama Resurrection. That show was adapted from Mott’s novel, expanding his world of characters to better suit a TV series. And, in fact, the series improves upon Mott’s novel (perhaps thanks to his consultation on the show?), with characters actively seeking answers to the riddles of the Returned.

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While the show (at least for now) lacks some of the global expansiveness of the novel, it is far easier to get drawn into its world. Mott’s writing has a slow, contemplative pace that is punctuated far too frequently with Southern colloquialisms. You practically hear a Southern drawl as you read his words. The series matches the contemplative, slow boil storytelling but foregoes most of that treacly Southern charm which grates the reader in the novel.

The Returned and Resurrection address thoughtful issues of religion and human rights and do so in a tactful, grounded way. But Mott’s novel never seems to quite get to where it needs to be, distractingly lacking a certain verve (my mind strayed far too often when reading it). But Resurrection excels at improving upon its source material and creating an urgency in its storytelling. Blessedly, it’s been renewed for a second season, which gives you about a year to breeze through the series’ first eight episodes.

 

Sidebar: How Enraptured Are We with the Rapture?

TheReturned_CompleteIf the title The Returned sounds familiar, perhaps you’ve been too busy watching the French series The Returned (aka Les Revenants), which also deals with dead people returning to their homes. The series’ existence necessitated the title change for the TV series adapted from Mott’s novel, even though the title The Returned was perfect for it. And, in case that isn’t enough, A&E is adapting the French Returned (which has aired in the US on the Sundance channel) into an American series, also titled The Returned—in a frightening trend of adapting perfectly delightful international series into American ones (even if all that’s changed is the name of the city and everyone’s accents—I’m looking at you Broadchurch/Gracepoint).

left-behind-bookBut all this Returned business is punctuated by the increase in the opposite premise occurring as well. The Leftovers, one of HBO’s summer shows (based on Tom Perrotta’s novel), focuses on the lives of those left behind after a significant (and random) chunk of the population up and disappears. While that lacks the religiosity of the Rapture, Nicolas Cage is starring in a mainstream reboot of the highly Christian (and highly addictive) Left Behind novels.

Someone seems to think audiences are currently captivated by the Afterlife—in one way or another—but how much of this can we really handle before it becomes passé? (And whom do you despise more: Nicolas Cage or Kirk Cameron, who originated the role that Cage is taking on?)

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THE WHITE QUEEN 1.1 Twit-cap: “In Love with the King”

(The following Twit-cap contains minimal spoilers)

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  • This wintry opening scene is very much like the opening #GameofThrones scene
  • Elizabeth Grey? Does she undergo a journey similar to Gandalf to become the WHITE Queen?
  • (She’s about to perform some magic, so maybe?)
  • This is possibly the most feminine that Janet McTeer has ever looked
  • Elizabeth can’t be bother to change her clothes before her next meeting with the King? How poor IS she?
  • At least she took those 15th Century self defense classes
  • Must stop self from picking everyone’s corresponding #GameofThrone’s character
  • (Instead of a Kingslayer there’s a Kingmaker)
  • “So this is love?” –King Edward bursts into the classic CINDERELLA song
  • How do you forget the ring to your own secret wedding?
  • Max Irons can be my King
  • This Seer business is intriguing but also v silly
  • And the dialogue could really use some work
  • “Your daughter will never be royal.” –Duchess Cecily bursts into the popular Lorde single
  • #TheWhiteQueen is equal parts #GameofThrones and #TheTudors and I’m totally OK with that
  • I should also really brush up on my War of the Roses knowledge…or just keep watching the rest of the season…

Millennials Will Be Drawn to WHATEVER THIS IS

fdd74fd5b92ebbca19a3955b37f6aa6c_largeAdam Goldman’s follow-up to his (hit?—it’s certainly got a following in NYC) webseries The Outs is the equally bleak series Whatever this is. Instead of following the intense break-up of a couple, this series tackles a more expansive look at what living in NYC is like, especially for those penniless millennials. Based on the first episode (which you can watch here), Whatever this is seems to be an entertaining series guaranteed to capture the struggle of making it in NYC—without all that privilege that the cast of Girls flaunts.

Speaking of Girls, the female lead Lisa (played by Madeline Wise) comes off as a hard-up Marnie, struggling in a state of poverty she’s uncomfortable with but desperate to appear as a kind person. Her equally hard-up boyfriend Sam (Hunter Canning) works as a PA with fellow friend and roommate Ari (Dylan Marron) to help pay the rent—they have a jar of cash to calculate how close they are to the monthly payment. Whatever this is follows this trio as they navigate the ofttimes cutthroat world of NYC.

With a heterosexual couple at the center, Ari comes off as the cliché GBF. His role seems to exist solely as an enticement to fans of The Outs. That is, until his confessional monologue to a wasted “Real Housewife” emphasizes that he’ll be an equally well-developed character. He also reveals an interesting fact about one of his roommates, adding some emotional mystery to the other characters.

Goldman’s tone here is more comedic than The Outs, but it doesn’t lose any of its bleak outlook on life. However, his “playwright style of writing” proves much more awkward in this series. A scene between the three roommates and friends feels like a terse recital of Neil LaBute dialogue instead of a natural interaction between friends. Goldman’s intensity, which worked for The Outs, doesn’t translate to this “lighter” drama.

Fans of The Outs will certainly revel in the differences between The Outs and Whatever this is. Sasha Winters plays a fellow PA who delivers one or two snarky comments (one can only hope that she’ll play a larger a role in the upcoming episodes). Beloved Scruffy (Tommy Heleringer) also plays a fellow PA—this time he’s clean-shaven—in a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it cameo (Spoiler Alert: previews of the rest of the series—and his inclusion in the publicity photos—imply that he’ll reappear in a greater capacity). And, in amusing contrast, Canning sports some of the scruff that Heleringer now lacks, adding to his heterosexual look that’s perfected by his white ankle socks and cargo shorts. Playing against their previous types seems almost too obvious an acting choice, but the actors are very capable in these roles.

Having only seen the first episode, this series feels unsure of what it wants to be; but paired with the preview of the rest of the series, you can rest assured that intriguing drama will follow (and another cameo by Alan Cumming). Yet that unsurety of tone drives home Goldman’s message of how disappointment and desperation fuels this generation’s struggle in unfulfilling jobs as they strive for success.

[As of this posting, the kickstarter for this series is still accepting pledges. And if you pledge $30 or more you can get a download of The Outs!]