Grace Dent on TV: The Returned, Channel 4

It's the undead with subtitles. Only they don't explain why zombies like pasta so much

Being, roughly speaking, an idiot, I've ignored The Returned on Channel 4 for almost a month, blanking the effusive chunterings of my friends and fellow Twitterers, turning my snub nose aloft at what was clearly to my mind a load of zombie faff with subtitles. I'm not a zombie fan at the best of times. They're my least favourite undead entity; badly dressed, forever banging on windows and not even that scary, usually with a rotted kneecap or a backwards foot meaning I could outrun one in slingbacks, stopping behind a tree for a Regal Kingsize.

But as I say, I'm a fool. The Returned, now I've caught up with all four episodes in one delicious glut, is actually one of the greatest, creepiest most compelling shows brought to British TV screens in 2013. These returned souls aren't hobbling, gut-guzzling menaces. They're merely passed-away souls who've inexplicably arrived home. They're perfectly preserved, handsome, pretty and in nice neat outfits. It's this incredible normality, their everyday swagger that's so fantastic. They're a little bit confused, have vague recollections of their deaths and they're ravenously hungry but for little more than a cheese sandwich. “J'ai faim!” mumbles a recently returned girl, scoffing pasta straight from the pan. Her father – who buried her some years ago – is horrified.

Four episodes into The Returned and we still have little idea why the undead are back, merrily carb-loading and opening their unattended mail. We have clues. Something about the local dam levels? The power supplies? Unfinished emotional business, personal scores to settle? For me, the mystery of why these folk have returned is less interesting than how their family members react to their second coming. When someone we love dies and the grief journey begins, lasting years, or for that matter forever, we often daydream of having that person back. Here in The Returned we get to live out the complexities of that: life has moved on since the death, marriages may have split up and siblings grown used to being top dog. Families have moved house since the death, meaning the undead can't find their way home.

And if a dead relative appeared in your kitchen calmly eating a ham sandwich and mumbling, “gosh, I'm hungry, something very weird happened on my way home tonight”, what is your first course of action? Hit them with a frying pan? Destroy the head, burn the torso? Little bit Shaun of the Dead, little bit Game of Thrones, but you're in a panic. And hang on, you love them.

How about “kill yourself”, as you believe you've had a complete, unequivocal breakdown from which there's no return? Or simply “run to the local vicar demanding calming words on the hereafter”? Surely he knows what to do? He's been spouting on about resurrection for long enough. Would you spy it as a money-making opportunity? Come and meet the local zombie! Or would you vow to keep your own personal ghost hidden, even if that means losing all your own stability?

The Returned is so perfectly addictive as these options are prodded, poked at and played out. And what if the dead return and we remember they weren't always that perfect in the first place? In death we paint loved ones as saints, but Camille Seguret, back from a tragic bus-crash, wasn't a saint. She was a normal, stroppy teenage girl when she was killed three years ago, smitten with the boy who loved her sister Lena. Now Lena has blossomed into a gorgeous, albeit volatile and boozy, young woman and Camille is back with a score to settle. In fact the skin on Lena's back is now beginning to rupture with a deep festering scar which Camille claims to know nothing about. I've waited patiently for one of the dead to explode into a ball of neck-ripping, entrail-eating rage, but it's their very measured decency that makes The Returned all the creepier.

Halfway through the series, we have very little idea what the dead's long-term plans are, aside from hang about sulkily and eat a lot of spaghetti. Nor do I have any great hopes of finding out as there is such a heady Twin Peaks vibe here that logic and neatness seem secondary. The one thing I do know is that when this mess is sorted out, the men who run the local dam really should be hauled in front of HR for a chat about work procedure.

“Zut alors, the water level's dropped by another 10 metres,” mumbles Jean-Luc. “Ah, quel dommage! Ah, ce n'est pas important, ça” says Claude with a Gallic shrug. They're bloody useless, or whatever that is in French. I skipped through seven years of language lessons without enough nous to buy a good Camembert baguette. But then I refused to watch The Returned for a whole month and instead re-watched series one of Tenko instead. I'm clearly one oignon short of a potage.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor