Gianna Sobol on “The Returned” and the explosion of queer characters coming to TV

Did you love this week’s episode of A&E’s The Returned as much as we did? The episode’s scribe, out writer Gianna Sobol, graciously took some time out of her busy schedule to chat about Nikki and Julie, what it’s like in the writers’ room, and the exciting future for queer characters on television.

Image 2 Can you tell me a little bit about the overall process of writing for a show like The Returned, seeing as it’s a remake [of the French series Les Revenants]?

Gianna Sobol: The writer’s room on The Returned—and every room is different—but the way we work is that we would break story together. So, we come up with all of the beats in each episode together, and then we were each assigned episodes. We would go off and write our own outlines and scripts, and then produce part of our own episode and part of somebody else’s. You know, we all were big fans of the French show. We showed up on the first day pretty well versed in it. We were all ready to talk about how we wanted to stick to it, and how we wanted to change things and make it our own.


AE: When it came to deviating from the French version, was there a lot of input from producers or were you all left to make those decisions?

GS: We have our two showrunners, Carlton Cuse and Raelle Tucker, and they were really steering the ship. So, ultimately, they made the decisions, but most things were a conversation in the writer’s room and everyone would chime in with what they thought. For the most part, we all saw things the same way. Nobody really felt strongly against the direction we were going.


AE: Your episode [aired] this week—I really liked it!

GS: Thank you!


AE: I think AfterEllen fans are going to be very happy to see Nikki and Julie finally getting back together. Did you specifically request to write this episode for that reason? Or did they ask you to write it, knowing that you are out and queer and might have a different perspective on things?

GS: No, actually. I was secretly hoping I would get that episode, but I was assigned an episode number and as we broke story the cards just sort of fell that way. There were earlier iterations [of the story] where that was going to happen in a previous episode or a later episode. Once we got down to bolting down the story, I just got lucky.


AE: Awesome—what a happy coincidence.

GS: Yes.


AE: So one thing that specifically stuck out to me: At the end of the episode, Nikki is basically about to go down on Julie. And that’s not something, even today, that you really get to see on TV very often. Was there any pushback on that scene in terms of how explicit it could be from your perspective?

GS: There was no pushback at all. I think it’s a scene that starts out as a really sexually charged moment, and then when Julie realizes that Nikki’s going to see her scars—and Julie’s never really shown them to anybody—the moment sort of turns into something that’s much more emotional than that. So that’s why the energy shifts, and that’s why it doesn’t really have a chance to go further than that. And I think had Victor not shown up in the doorway they would have sort of moved through that moment into, um, into what the AfterEllen readers are probably hoping it would be. [laughs]



AE: [laughs] I mean just shut the door guys, really.

GS: I know. [laughs] Well, Victor doesn’t sleep, so he’s got eyes on everybody in there.