Watching Sundance's excellent French import The Returned offers a conundrum: the current culture of TV watching is not conducive to subtitles.
Now, this is not a problem for you if you understand French. But for those of us that don't—cough, cough, this writer—settling in to watch The Returned last night revealed how distracted an enterprise TV watching has become. An urge to tweet how much we were loving the premiere episode was curtailed by the fact that we needed to stay glued to the screen to understand what the characters were saying. Plans for light multitasking while watching—making dinner, getting ready to go out—were gone.
The Returned, of course, is not, say, Scandal, a drama-thriller that encourages looking away from the screen with the profuse tweeting that surrounds it. Rather, The Returned is a series on a minor cable network that looks at what happens when the dead come back to life in a small community. Sure there are spooks and twists and violence, but surprise doesn't seem like the end game here. It's slow and thoughtful, and, well, French. One would think it wouldn't be counting on audience interaction to buoy it. And yet, well, Sundance Channel did promote #TheReturned hashtag.
The thing is, though, networks are increasingly encouraging us to be distracted even during good TV now. During the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad—a show many agree belongs in the "best ever" category—AMC pushed their "second-screen" experience. You can, of course, argue that the "second-screen" was dumb, but you can't deny that Twitter played a big role in the buzz and furor surrounding those final outings. The practice of averting your eyes away from the television to bang out a tweet on your phone or computer has become so vital to the television watching experience that Nielsen recently began rating shows based on their Twitter-impact.
Television may be better than ever, but our television watching habits mean we're probably not paying as much attention as we should be. The Returned, a great show on its own merits, was something of a wake-up call. To appreciate the show at all, our full attention was required. Which feels oddly refreshing.