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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Where Are They Now: BROTHERS & SISTERS

bsIt’s been almost 3 years since we last saw the beloved Walker family. Sarah was walking down the aisle with her new, biological father Nick Brody (who had rekindled an old romantic relationship with Nora). Her marriage to Luc would be a beautiful moment to end the dramatic tale of these Brothers & Sisters (even though the show’s fate was still up in the air). Once we knew that the series was over, we could easily accept the happy endings hinted at for these characters—and easily ignore the health scare that Kitty faced in the finale.
Having just rewatched the entire series (available on Netflix), I am once again at a loss. How to cope without the Walkers in my life yet again? Obviously copious amounts of red wine (in exceedingly large wine glasses) are called for. But during the Oscars telecast I noticed two stars of the series (Sally Field and Calista Flockhart) and began to wonder what all the Walkers were up to now.

SALLY FIELDSally Field earned her third Oscar nomination last year (for Lincoln), and popped up at the Oscars this year as a presentee—and even in one of the hero montages (for her Oscar-winning role in Norma Rae). She doesn’t have much on her roster right now, though. In 2014 you will only find the Walker matriarch in the new Spider-Man sequel (reprising her role as Aunt May).

600full-rachel-griffithsRachel Griffiths has continued to enjoy life on the small screen, albeit far more briefly than her past, more successful series (Six Feet Under, Brothers & Sisters), with NBC’s 2013 summer show Camp (which was not renewed for a second season). She’s now returning to her Aussie roots starring in the TV movie Stalking Julia (an Australian political drama) and joining the cast of House Husbands (an Australian TV series I know absolutely nothing about—but I’ll just wait until the US remakes it). The oldest Walker daughter (and also, technically, the oldest of the Brody brood) can also be seen on the big screen in (briefly) Saving Mr. Banks and, next Friday, in Patrick: Evil Awakens (a film about a murderous boy now in a coma).

CF-calista-flockhart-20576156-2560-1919Calista Flockhart has been nonexistent since getting knocked up by young Seth. (Unless you count a guest voice role on the animated series The Penguins of Madagascar, which I do not.) Instead, she has been spending her time keeping her body in shape (to stave off the ravishments of age) and hanging out with her hubby Harrison Ford (hence why she was at the Oscars).

600full-balthazar-gettyBalthazar Getty may have been (blessedly) written off the show halfway through, but he’s still a Walker (no matter how insufferable he is). Getty has spent his freedom from the show trying to build up a movie career. He starred in one of last year’s film about Jack Kerouac, Big Sur (Kerouac was pretty big last year, huh?). This year he’ll be in the crime drama The Judge (also starring Vera Farmiga, Robert Downey Jr., and Leighton Meester) and is rumored to be in the crime drama A Fall From Grace; and in 2015 he is signed on to be in the film #Horror (with Chloe Sevigny, Natasha Lyonne, and Timothy Hutton). If you can’t wait for his films to be available, you can brave the Showtime series House of Lies this Sunday when Getty makes a guest appearance.

Matthew-Rhys-007Matthew Rhys has made the biggest TV comeback, starring next to the impeccable Keri Russell in the FX series The Americans (which just came back for its second season). Before returning to American TV, however, Rhys spent some time back in his homeland of Britain, working on some films and miniseries adapted from classic literature—The Mysteries of Edwin Drood and The Scapegoat (in which he plays a snobby British aristocrat and his poor doppelganger—it’s streaming on Netflix if you really feel the need to check it out). You can also see the middle Walker brother portray Mr. Darcy in the BBC adaptation of Death Comes to Pemberley (which has already aired across the pond and will air in the US sometime this year).

600full-dave-annableDave Annable has had a harder time establishing himself after saying goodbye to Justin Walker. His bad luck with TV (which started with Reunion in 2005) repeated itself with 666 Park Avenue, getting canceled amidst its first season. His film career seems to be a non-starter as well. I don’t know anyone who saw him star in the Katharine McPhee rom-com You May Not Kiss the Bride (2011) or make a smaller appearance in the Anna Faris rom-com What’s Your Number? (2011).

As far as the other Walkers and those who love them go, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many of them. Deceased Robert McCallister (Rob Lowe), of course, has maintained a high profile, starring in Behind the Candelabra and Parks & Recreation (he’s even tackling Ulyssses S. Grant in the upcoming miniseries To Appomattox). Former Walker Rebecca Harper (Emily VanCamp) has shot to even further pop culture stardom by headlining in her ABC series Revenge (taking over the subway ads that blistering 2011 summer after B&S ended), and she’s even breaking into the Marvel-verse in this year’s Captain America sequel. Sarah’s new spouse Luc (Gilles Marini) is holding his own with a recurring guest stint on 2 Broke Girls (among other random TV appearances). Little, obnoxious Paige (Kerris Dorsey) can be found starring on the Live Schreiber Showtime series Ray Donovan. However, her brother Cooper’s (Maxwell Perry Cotton) biggest role has been playing a young Matt Damon in last year’s Elysium. Everyone else has barely made a blip on the pop culture radar, but you never know when the Walkers will rise again like an unknown illegitimate child.

LUKE MacFARLANE, SALLY FIELD, ROB LOWE, EMILY VanCAMP, CALISTA FLOCKHART, RACHEL GRIFFITHS, DAVE ANNABLE, MATTHEW RHYS, SARAH JANE MORRIS, PATRICIA WETTIG, BALTHAZAR GETTY, RON RIFKIN

Winter TV Roundup: The Good, the Bad, and the Unbearable

Each season brings us a fresh new crop of TV series. For those of us who obsessively watch television, this means a nicely plump workload of shows to sift through. For those who don’t, this means absolutely nothing at all. But if you fall into the latter category, then you may be missing out on some of this season’s best shows. So here’s my breakdown of new winter series and which ones you should be watching (and which ones you should avoid at all costs).

MV5BMjgzMjA2MDk0Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzc3ODM4OA@@._V1_SX214_The Carrie Diaries is The CW’s attempt to replace the now deceased Gossip Girl (RIP!). It’s a high school drama that showcases fashion and New York City (and also witty in-jokes that New Yorkers would get—and love). The twist is that this is a Sex and the City prequel series set in the 1980s. Based on Candace Bushnell’s YA novels (which are more enjoyable than some of her adult fodder), Carrie Bradshaw (AnnaSophia Robb) uses her familiar narration style to tell the story of her adolescence as she discovers her ambitions to live in NYC and write.

This is a fun, teen drama and should be experienced as such. The cast is well-equipped to bring exuberance to their compelling characters, and the story seems to be moving at a swift enough pace to keep things moving right along (Carrie already has two different boyfriends within 7 episodes).

Bottom Line: Best new teen show on TV and one of The CW’s strongest shows. Definitely worth watching, unless you despise the ‘80s.

(Airs Mondays at 8pm on The CW.)

The-following-posterKevin Williamson (Scream, The Vampire Diaries) has taken what he knows about vampires and transferred that knowledge into the serial killer series The Following. (It also incorporates the conspiratorial urgency of 24 with completely addicting nuance.) Years after capturing the Poe-obsessed serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) is drawn back into the fray as a cult following that takes orders from Carroll begins a killing spree. More than just straight thriller, The Following humanizes these killers, giving the show an extra dimension that is usually lacking in other cop shows.

While the explicit use of violence has everyone’s panties in a bunch, those torturous murder scenes are too disturbing to be considered glorifying. What’s more disturbing is how invested you become with these cult followers (especially as concerns the delicious bisexual love triangle between Emma, Jacob, and Paul). Just as we have learned to care about bloodthirsty vampires, Williamson strives to make us care about bloodthirsty killers (and that’s the scariest part of all).

Bottom Line: Mixing character-building flashbacks with accelerated storytelling, The Following keeps up a thrilling pace that quickly sucks you into the show. This is definitely the best new show of the season (and it’s already been renewed for a second season!)

(Airs Mondays at 9pm on Fox.)

tnt-monday-morningsIf you’re not up for getting invested in a cult of serial killers, perhaps you’d like to invest some feelings in the heartfelt show Monday Mornings. Based on Sanjay Gupta’s book, David E. Kelley focuses this medical drama on the M&M (morbidity & mortality) meetings that holds doctors accountable for the deaths of their patients. Put in the hot seat, doctors must defend their actions and learn from their devastating failures.

Unlike soapy medical shows (read: Grey’s Anatomy), Monday Mornings is a compelling emotional drama that makes both the doctors and their patients feel real. Due to the dire nature of many of the cases, patients tend to transcend the patient-of-the-week story and become recurring characters (especially the more litigious patients). While too many moments descend into overwrought emotionality, they are handled with enough skill by the stellar cast (Alfred Molina, Jamie Bamber, Jennifer Finnigan, and Ving Rhames) to come off as genuine and touching.

Bottom Line: If you’ve been looking for a medical drama or are just in need of some emotional release, then Monday Mornings should be on your radar.

(Airs Mondays at 10pm on TNT.)

The-Americans-FX-Poster-300x450If you love the ‘80s but can’t stand the exuberance of The Carrie Diaries, then the Cold War drama The Americans may be up your alley. Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) are Russian spies living in America. Balancing their idyllic American family lifestyle with their ingrained Russian patriotism, the couple must navigate the treacherous worlds of love and espionage.

Rhys and Russell do admirable jobs of drawing us into their drama, but to get fully hooked you must wade through the first two episodes before reaching true emotional engagement. The bland production design leaves the show bereft of visual stimuli (other than Rhys’ various Alias-esque disguises). While no true overarching stories have come to fruition, the foundation has been laid and the characters’ emotional dilemmas are entertaining enough (for now).

Bottom Line: Espionage intrigue should draw you into the show, but the anti-hero leads provide engaging performances to make you stay—it, too, has been renewed for a second season.

(Airs Wednesdays at 10pm on FX.)

ZERO-HOURHad Dan Brown written Taken, it probably would’ve resembled Zero Hour. When Hank’s (Anthony Edwards) wife Laila (Jacinda Barrett) is kidnapped by notorious criminal White Vincent (Michael Nyqvist), he must uncover the truth about a series of ancient clocks that predict not only the end of time—or “zero hour”—but also the most likely whereabouts of Vincent and his wife.

With twelve clocks in the mix (to represent the twelve disciples), you would think they would have plenty of Da Vinci Code sleuthing to last them a few seasons. But each episode reveals the location of the next clock while also enlightening us about famous historical figure’s conspiratorial pasts. Fortunately, this pacing is what makes the show so entertaining (as long as you get past the uninspired pilot episode). By the end of the third episode, enough twists have been inserted into the series that you’ll be begging for more.

Bottom Line: This adventuresome thriller will entertain you if you let it. It also serves as the perfect aphrodisiac for Brown’s upcoming new release Inferno.

(Airs Thursdays on ABC at 8pm.)

Cult-Poster-cult-31484975-620-912Cult is like the meta younger brother of The Following. Skeptical Jeff (Matthew Davis) gets sucked into cult intrigue when his brother goes missing. With the help of Skye (Jessica Lucas), the two navigate the murderous cult following that bases their actions on the hit TV series Cult (scenes from the show within the show are featured in each episode).

Unlike big brother The Following, Cult is a lifeless series. Even though I enjoy Davis and Lucas as actors, their acting is flat. And all the various layers of the show are just smoke-and-mirrors designed to hide how little substance the show really has.

Bottom Line: Avoid at all costs, and go watch The Following instead.

(The CW has already buried the show in the graveyard that is Fridays at 9pm.)

house-of-cards-final-posterLastly, for those of you who prefer to marathon shows in one weekend instead of enjoying the dissemination of plot development over 13 weeks, then House of Cards is perfect for you. This Netflix original series helmed by David Fincher will fill that Boss-sized hole in your heart (RIP!). Cards follows the revenge-y political machinations of spurned Majority Whip Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) along with his cold, calculating wife Claire (Robin Wright) and ambitious—yet naïve—journalist Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara).

The show is instantly addicting, and Netflix does its best to encourage bingeing behavior. Its only misstep is use of asides to the camera by Underwood to explain his thoughts in certain moments (which only serve to undermine the complexity of the series—if you can’t tell when Underwood is being manipulative then maybe you shouldn’t be watching this show). Thankfully, the asides become negligible (or at least less distracting) the farther you get into the series. Just be careful what you tweet about the show because, due to its watch-at-your-own-pace option, everything  (and conversely nothing) is a spoiler.

Bottom Line: If namedropping Fincher, Spacey, Wright, Mara, or Boss hasn’t convinced you already, then watch it because it is merely the first of Netflix’s groundbreaking new foray into scripted series.

(Airs on Netflix Streaming whenever you want it to.)