Ever since creepy French drama Les Revenants became a surprise global hit in 2012, producers have been drawn to its basic premise – people return from the dead, but not as zombies. There was the ill-fated US remake, The Returned (cancelled after one season), and Omar Epps vehicle Resurrection (based on Jason Mott‘s 2014 novel The Returned), which also bit the dust after flagging ratings.
The latest spin on the idea is Glitch, from Australia’s ABC, and the happy news is that it works far better than the po-faced American attempts. The core reason for its success is an elegant simplicity. We have a taut plot, told over six episodes, focusing on a small band of characters, thus avoiding the flailing narrative strands that brought down the other shows (and, for some, even makes Les Revenants a sometimes irritating watch).
Our hero is James Hayes (Patrick Brammall), cop of the small, dust-blown town of Yoorana in Victoria. We first meet him in a neat spin on the Hollywood Save The Cat scene – here, he’s executing a rogue Rottweiler, albeit with tough Aussie bloke tenderness. “You’re born,” he tells the chained-up pooch, “then you nibble on a leg of lamb and then you die. And they chuck you in a hole in the ground and the worms eat you. It’s fucked, basically. But, mate, you were loved.” And then he pulls his sidearm and it’s goodnight, doggie.
This speech is key for the whole series – short and brutal though life is, the degree to which we’re loved is the only measure that really counts. Which is exactly what six people discover, when, finding themselves reanimated, they crawl out of their own graves. “Is this Hell?” one of them is prompted to ask – for him and the others with more to regret, returning to life seems more curse than blessing.
Naked and muddy but healthier than they were before death, each must face up to all that they did and didn’t do while they were alive. For Kate (Emma Booth), there’s the small matter of her marriage to James, and the fact that they can’t just pick up where they left off because – well, watch to find out. The other five returnees represent a potted history of Australia’s recent – and white – past. There’s an Anzac veteran of WW1 (Sean Keenan), an Italian Catholic housewife killed in a car-crash in 1967 (Daniela Farinacci), a young woman murdered while partying in the 80s (Hannah Monson), a mysterious and nameless convict (Rodger Corser), an Italian interned during WW2 (James Monarski) and the first mayor of Yoorana – sweary Bushman and brigand Patrick Fitzgerald (Ned Dennehy), who died 150 years ago and has streets named after him.
The show’s writers specialise in giving each character a twist, so they aren’t quite as straightforward as they first seem. This is particularly true of Fitzgerald, played with foul-mouthed glee by the excellent Dennehy (an Irish actor, whose diverse CV takes in Peaky Blinders, Banished, Harry Potter and Star Wars spin-off Rogue One). Fitzgerald appears, on the surface, to be an unreconstructed bigot (“Natives at school?” he scoffs), but his friendship with indigenous Australian teen Beau (Aaron L. McGrath) moves the story to some unexpected and moving places.
After they discover they can’t leave the town without turning to dust, the group are corralled at the medical centre under the watchful eye of Dr. Elishia McKellar. Played by Genevieve O’Reilly – also in Rogue One, reprising her role as Mon Mothma – we’re kept guessing as to whether she knows more than she’s letting on.
The superb cast shine, as does the unique location – it’s great to see a drama set outside the USA, and the art department and cinematographer really make the most of the sun-scorched town and its dilapidated 19th century buildings.
The six episodes cover a lot of ground, but Glitch doesn’t feel rushed or crowded. As many questions are raised as answered – why are they back, for starters? – and the season ends with a fantastic, tantalising twist. Thank the Lord, then, that Netflix has stepped in to co-produce Season 2. Once you’ve watched Season 1, you’ll crawl out of your own grave to find out what happens next.
Glitch is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.