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MAR
8
9 MOS

'Resurrection' Showrunners Put Focus on Humanity Over Sci-Fi

"It's not aliens and makeup like on 'Star Trek' but it's using it with very grounded real people and having them react to what's happening in their town," exec producer Tara Butters tells THR of ABC's new Sunday drama.

Resurrection ABC TV Still - H 2014
ABC
"Resurrection"

ABC ventures into the world of the undead with Resurrection, a drama in which loved ones mysteriously return to their families in a small town in Missouri.

Omar Epps stars as Martin, an immigration agent who digs into the mystery when a boy is found in rural China and Martin takes him back to Arcadia and his now 60-something parents. His return prompts fear in the small community and questions about loyalty: Who is the boy? Is he really their son, who hasn't aged a day in the 32 years since he drowned? Things grow more complicated when a second, adult member of the community returns with a less than ideal agenda.

The series arrives as broadcast and cable networks are revisiting the genre following the success of AMC's zombie drama The Walking Dead and CBS' The 4400 (the latter of which ran for four seasons, from 2004-07). Sundance Channel recently broadcast the first season of French drama The Returned, while NBC is poised to explore the dead rising again with Meagan Good drama pilot Babylon Fields.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with showrunners Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters (ReaperABC's Agent Carter) to discuss the genre's appeal, the balance between sci-fi and emotion as well as what a potential second season would look like.

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What is it about this genre that makes it so appealing right now?

FazekasIt's a genre that's been around for a long time. The Walking Dead and zombies were so huge for a while and this is a variation on that. Anything on the dead coming back to life, going back to the Bible is so compelling. The new twist is what if they're not zombies? What if they're just who they were? That's what makes it different. It's something that everyone who has lost someone fantasizes about.

Butters: It's the wish fulfillment of being able to have that person you love back, but it's not as simple as all of that. We all have these people we've lost in our lives that we would give anything for a day with them again but what if it wasn't just that simple? That there are more emotions that each person goes through and secrets they hold. Everyone has to revisit them.

We've seen versions of the show, with Sundance's The Returned and The 4400, among others. What was it that you liked about those and what did you feel needed an update?

FazekasI didn't watch The 4400 and we deliberately did not watch the French version of The Returned. We came on after the pilot and we liked the genre elements but that was almost secondary to the emotion. It takes the time to explore grief and longing in complex ways. Kurtwood Smith's Henry has such a complex reaction to his son coming back because he feels, "If I embrace this boy am I betraying the son that I lost?" That differentiates this from a zombie story because it really takes the time to get into those messy feelings.

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The series is based on Jason Mott's book. What kind of liberties are you taking?

Fazekas: Aaron Zelman wrote the pilot and used the book as a launch point. There are some elements and characters that are similar, but we go our own way after the pilot and built our own mythology so we don't hew very closely to the novel. We're starting at the beginning and the book has this as a worldwide phenomenon.

Butters: As much as Aaron takes these characters from the book and has placed them in his world, it's much more personal because this is about this small town and this thing is that happens but it's about the people's lives it affects. It's like dropping a rock in the pond and the ripple effect if Jacob is the rock. It explores how his life touched his parents and how his life and his death changes others around him. The miracle of him returning has such huge effects on these people's lives -- some good and some bad. The great thing about doing eight episodes is that we explore small stories with great impact.

Are you thinking of focusing on one member of "the returned" per episode? Is that going to be something that continues through all eight episodes? Will everyone be interconnected?

Fazekas: It's not "the returned" of the week. That's very formulaic to us. There will be more than two in the course of the eight episodes and -- are they interconnected is a question we'll be addressing. Sometimes they know each other, sometimes they don't. There is a deeper connection between all of them that we learn about throughout the eight episodes. With each person that comes back, just when you think you know the answer, it's something else. We do answer questions but the answers tend to pose more questions. Each returned that comes back is a slightly different story and it brings more elements to try and figure out what's going on.

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What about the town? Will everything focus on these people in Arcadia? That part feels very much like CBS' Under the Dome -- why is this happening in this specific Anytown, USA?

Butters: That is a question that comes up. The eight episodes span just under two weeks so it's a very compressed timeline, much in the way that Lost was. But that is one of the central questions of the season. Eight episodes is a very short period of time so not all the questions can be answered but there are definitely questions that we answer.

Fazekas: At this point, we think it's all [only happening] in the town.

Does the season finale set up a potential second season where everyone finds out it's a worldwide phenomenon?

Fazekas: In Mott's book, it is a worldwide phenomenon. There's a humongous reveal in the last episode for the main characters and that really launches us into where the game is totally changed for the next season. There are some people who may be able to guess what that reveal is but for some, it will be a big shock. It was something we knew we wanted to do from the beginning.

Sounds like you're setting up a second season. Would you want it to follow a similar structure with a limited run? Would it focus on a different town or the same characters?

Fazekas: We'll always be staying in Arcadia regardless of what happens and if anything happens outside of Arcadia. I've fallen in love with these characters and how they change over the course of eight episodes so we're not going to see Martin (Epps) going to other towns to explore. That's not really in our plan.

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How are you balancing the sci-fi elements with the emotional story?

Fazekas: The focus really is on the emotion. We use the science fiction elements and the genre stuff as the framework that we can hang all this emotion on. It's more of a character drama than science fiction. I'm a big sci-fi fan but I don't think you have to be a big sci-fi fan to enjoy this show. It's simply the framework and the mythology we're building and trying to figure out what's been going on.

Butters: If you look at some of the best science fiction stories, they're really talking about our own humanity. They use those guises to talk about racism and various other subjects that are framed in a safe way. There are elements of that that we've been able to do where as people get to know about the returned, it creates fear: fear for the unknown and for the different. Exploring that fear is part of one of the storylines that will come out as you watch the episodes. We are doing some of the classic things you can do with sci-fi but in an incredibly and hopefully grounded way. It's not aliens and makeup like on Star Trek but it's using it with very grounded real people and having them react to what's happening in their town.

There are people coming back from the dead and what we established in the pilot and deal with throughout the season is they are almost exactly like they were when they died but there are little differences. The question of if this is really them isn't really simply answered because they're not exactly the same. That becomes a central fear for Frances Fisher's character where she so desperately wants to believe her son came back and that he's not different because if he is different he's not her son. Then the question becomes: Does that matter? It's exploring identity, and asking, "Who are we?" If you have died and come back, are you same person you were when you died? I liked being able to be open-ended about that or leave those things to be debated because it's interesting and it provides some great complex drama.

What kind of mysteries will we find out about Arcadia?

Fazekas: There is a theory that looks at the years they've been gone. Everyone can relate to the small town in some way, even those living in the big city -- we've all been to that kind of Main Street, USA-type of town and longed for a simpler time.

Butters: This town has a complex history that we get into: history with the Civil War, Indians and the element with the river where Jacob dies. They start to suspect if that connection is between people.

Might some of Martin's past resurface as he explores the returned?

Fazekas: It's not a coincidence that he's here investigating.

Resurrection airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on ABC. 

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit