American television viewers have been hot and cold when it comes to series based on programs from other countries.
The American version of the British series “The Office” became a big hit. But viewers weren’t as enamored of the American take on the British series “Broadchurch” when “Gracepoint” aired.
Next up is A&E’s “The Returned,” which is based on the Emmy Award-winning French series of the same name (which was based on the 2004 French film “They Came Back”).
Imagine a small town full of people who have had to deal with the grief of a death in the family. There’s a knock at the door and the person who is supposed to be dead suddenly reappears.
Initially, the reaction is joy. That changes when it becomes clear those who have returned aren’t the same as when they left. If that wasn’t bad enough, their arrival coincides with a series of murders, which bear a remarkable resemblance to the work of a serial killer.
The series is the work of Carlton Cuse — the man behind “Bates Motel” — and Raelle Tucker of “True Blood.” Cuse has faith Americans will take to their version.
“The French show became very genre incident-heavy at the end of the eight episodes, and we kind of take a different turn at that point. So I think, while we start in a similar place, the show is fairly distinctively different by the end of its first season,” Cuse says.
Adapting any TV show means there are going to be comparisons. The producers are ready for the reaction. Because they are so passionate about the original series, the changes they make won’t be monumental. They’re just adding their voice to the original story.
“Changes may not be hugely dramatic in the first four or five, but there are characters’ reactions and the experiences that they bring to it are different,” Tuckers says. “And so I think the character work is really is significantly different,”
Cuse says while there was a fervent audience that watched the original French show, there are more people who never saw it.
Even for those who have seen the original, the producers made a conscious choice not to try to fix something that wasn’t broken.
A big difference is that there were only eight episodes of the French series. That means any future seasons of the American version will be all new material.
“So while the premise is really derived from the French show, we feel like it’s just the seed that’s going to plant, and it’s going to become its own thing,” Cuse says. “We talk a lot about ‘The Office,’ and the Steve Carell version became its own distinct creation in part because it was Steve Carell instead of Rickey Gervais, and the characters around him were different
“It took on a life of its own, and it became its own creation. And I think that’s how we feel about our show.”
They are convinced that the idea of having a loved one come back from the dead is universal enough that their series will find its own following.
There’s already a similar series in ABC’s “Resurrection” on network TV. Cuse made a conscious effort not to watch “Resurrection.”
“We felt like that wouldn’t be good for our creative process. So I can’t really comment about that, but we felt like there was a way to take the show and, over time, make it something that was very distinctly our own,” Cuse says. “In the French show, there are some choices that are made in terms of what happens towards the end of the first season of the show. We don’t make those same choices.”
It’s up to the cast of “The Returned” — Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Mark Pellegrino, India Ennenga, Sandrine Holt, and Jeremy Sisto — to bring enough of their own spin to the series to make it different.