Stylishly Gallic, The Returned is an utter mystery

Ana Girardot in The Returned.People who are dead but who turn out to be not dead are quite the fashion nowadays. I blame Lost, but then I blame Lost for a lot of things.

It is all part of what the French might call La Television de la Spooque. I could just call it spooky TV, but it sounds better in French, like most things, including The Returned (SBS2, 9.20pm), a stylishly Gallic exercise in eeriness in which the deceased of a small town have started showing up and wondering what the hell is going on – in company with much of the viewing audience I suspect.

One assumes that by the end of the series we will have a clue, but it’s only episode three and The Returned has no intention of rushing to give up its secrets, not when there’s so much eeriness to get through.

Being French, The Returned is quite different from the American and British fare we are used to and not just because of the subtitles. The rhythms and pace are different – it unfolds at a languid pace and plays its cards close to the chest; action playing second fiddle to mood.

This, combined with the little mountain town setting is somewhat reminiscent of the unsettling New Zealand series Top of the Lake, though here the villagers are definitely dealing with something supernatural.

But amid the reanimated corpses, the mysterious cockroaches and a creepy little kid, their problems are deeply human. Camille and her family struggle to find a way to live normal lives. Julie is besieged by the terrors of memory. Simon has been arrested, but as a living ghost nobody – including himself – knows what to do with him. And we continue to wonder about Pierre’s story. Through the oppressive atmosphere of chilling mystery cut themes of grief, trauma, identity and loss.

What’s happening is hard to say, but it’s happening to actual people.

Far from the world of realistic eeriness is the garishly surreal American Dad (7MATE, 9pm), the second-best and most satirical in Seth MacFarlane’s triumvirate of absurdist adult cartoons.

Steve tries to prove his manhood by joining Stan on the annual CIA hunting trip – or as it turns out, ”glunting” trip: a glam version of hunting where animals are brought down from a mobile command centre using missiles and the hunters dine on eclairs and Thai food. Meanwhile, alien Roger and talking fish Klaus set out on a quest to achieve five zeroes on Roger’s odometer. Inevitably it ends in a human-animal war and severe hyper-obesity.

Typically demented, taking enormous pleasure in its own ridiculousness in pursuit of laughs, it’s a reliable comedy to kick back to.

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