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
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
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.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?