by Jamie Parrish
So what are you to do if you don’t like the current slate of mid-season and spring premiers that the major and cable networks unveiled as the fall and winter watching season wound down? You are all caught up on Game of Thrones and Mad Men and you need to wait each week for a new episode. You are looking to fill you other 28 viewing hours a week but you’ve blown through your Netflix queue, and need something to binge watch. Let me suggested turning your eyes to international TV. No, "international" is not a code word for British. I’m going to suggest you set you sights on France and New Zealand.
Les Revenants (The Returned)
ABC recently started airing Resurrection, a show about people that have been dead for years coming back to life with no knowledge of their deaths or how much time has passed. Although the Wikipedia page for this show says it not based upon it’s French counterpart Les Revenants (or The Returned), many of the characters and storylines are similar. If you have been unfortunate enough to see the ABC show do not let the network’s lackluster attempt at telling this story turn you away from Les Revenants.
Although the shows have a similar premise they are based on different source material. Resurrection is based upon Jason Mott’s book The Returned, whereas Les Revenants is the TV adaptation of the French film by the same name. Everything ABC gets wrong Fabrice Gobert, the creator of Les Revenants, gets right.
Les Revenants focuses on a small town in the French Alps where the dead are coming back to life. Unlike most zombie stories these undead are not decaying mindless monsters looking to devour the living. The undead in this story are lost souls looking to pick up where they left off and can’t understand why their loved ones are scared of them.
While watching the short eight episode first season I was reminded of LOST and Twin Peaks. Like LOST, it’s a show that has you theorizing and asking questions, and as each question is answered a new one arises. Also like LOST, each episode tells the story of one character interspersing backstory with a present day timeline. Like Twin Peaks, the tone is strange and eerie and the backdrop is a mountain town where everyone has their secrets. LOST and Twin Peaks are two shows that fall on the opposite sides of a seriousness spectrum, LOST having taken itself too serious and Twin Peaks relying heavily on camp, Les Revenants falls somewhere in between the two.
This show explores the themes of moral ambiguity and the meaning of life without ever being heavy-handed. It’s part horror, science fiction, psychological drama, and mystery. The acting is spot on, the cinematography is gorgeous, and Scottish post-rock band Mogwai wrote the soundtrack. Those three things should be enough reason for you to head over to Netflix now and start a marathon viewing session.
Top of the Lake
Last year, New Zealand brought us another drama about a small mountain town whose inhabitants are also full of secrets. Top of the Lake, billed as a miniseries, aired last spring on The Sundance Channel. It tells the story of Detective Robin Griffin’s, played by Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss, investigation into the sexual assault and disappearance of twelve-year-old Tui, played by newcomer Jacqueline Joe. Unlike Les Revenants, this show falls nowhere near science fiction or horror. This is straight up crime procedural that, unlike many American shows of the same genre, sets a dark and moody tone. It’s this tone that allows an all-too-familiar tale about violence and what its victims are willing to do to avoid that violence feel fresh.
Originally I avoided this show because of my skepticism at Moss’ ability to use a New Zealand accent effectively, which now seems silly because it sounds no different from her native New Zealander castmates. Adding to the star power of the show is Holly Hunter who delivers performance so well-done that I didn’t realize it was her until the second episode. I have only seen a few episodes to Top Of The Lake, but I’m anxious to see where the story will end up and what secrets will be reveled.
*Les Revenants will return to The Sundance Channel in late 2014 for its second season and Carlton Cuse, LOST producer, is currently developing an English language adaptation for A&E.
*Top of the Lake is available to stream on Netflix.