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There are a number of things that ABC’s newest drama Resurrection, has going against it. For starters, the concept — dead people return from the dead but they aren’t zombies, is on the face of it exactly like The Returned, a French series that aired to great acclaim on the Sundance Channel.
Secondly, the first two hours of Resurrection made available to critics is enough proof that it won’t be playing anywhere near the same league as The Returned, which was one of the most original and mesmerizing series of 2013 – I ranked it no. 3 on my best dramas of the year list. (The Returned is now available on Netflix, so go check it out.)
However, what Resurrection has going for it is the fact that very few people, relatively speaking, have seen The Returned and thus won’t make the unfavorable comparison. And without another reference point, there’s reason to believe that Resurrection could find itself an audience lured into the concept that has so many good storytelling options to it.
For the sake of being clear – which will no doubt confuse things even more – Resurrection is based on a best-selling book called The Returned by Jason Mott. (Whereas the French series The Returned was based on a 2004 movie, They Came Back.) For those of you who may have read Mott’s book, the producers of Resurrection are only using that source material as a jumping off point and the the series will differ greatly from the book.
OK, now what we’re clear on the confusing lineage, what’s going on in Resurrection to get excited about? Well, dead people are returning as normal living people – not zombies – and complicating the hell out of the lives of those they left behind, often many, many years earlier. You don’t see that every day (except in The Returned, but that’s the last time I’ll make that comparison, probably).
Viewers will have to opt in to the concept for Resurrection to stand a chance, however. Because once you open the door to paranormal activity, the audience often walks through it looking for at least a set of guidelines they can understand. For example, Resurrection starts with an 8-year-old American boy named Jacob (Landon Gimenez) waking up in a rice field in rural China. Once a likable ICE immigration agent named Martin “Marty” Bellamy (Omar Epps) gets the dazed and uncommunicative boy to say that he’s from Arcadia, Miss., Marty brings the boy home. The only problem is that the house he remembers as home is populated by Henry (Kurtwood Smith) and Lucille Langston (Frances Fisher), two 60-year-olds. Their son, Jacob, died 32 years ago.
If you’re guessing that Jacob really is who he says he is, you’re right. That’s what makes the series. How he got back — and whether there are others coming — will be the hook that Resurrection needs to set.
There’s a twist at the end of the pilot which, depending on how you like your shows, may be a good thing or a bad thing. But as it plays out in the second episode, it moves Resurrection away from being what it should be — a catalyst for people to freak out and test their faith in God and wonder whether they are in the presence of a miracle or curse. That’s the kind of show that sounds most interesting and Resurrection may get there soon, but the second episode takes the twist and amplifies the ominous nature of it in a way that has me doubting. Arcadia clearly has secrets — how the writers tell them will define whether you watch the entire run or bail early.
However, for anyone who saw the mastery in the French series, The Returned, will be disappointed about how the reaction of finding someone like Jacob plays out in Resurrection. For starters, any couple who lost their 8-year-old would have a searing memory of what that kid looked like. So not recognizing your own kid, even if you’re understandably flabbergasted, is an oversight from the writers.
(Especially because there’s a picture of the kid in the house.)
Sheriff Fred Langston (Matt Craven), whose wife died trying to save Jacob as he got swept away in a river 32 years ago, also doesn’t seem to be playing by any kind of natural reaction (maybe he’s hiding something — maybe they all are, actually). But certain things don’t ring true. For example, Jacob says it was Langston’s wife who fell in and he was the one trying to save her, not the other way around. And that he saw a bald man with Langston’s wife (cue shocking music of what mysteries rest ahead). I liked that part until Jacob was asked if he knew the man and he said, no, but there’s a picture of him right over there on the piano — and Epps’ character doesn’t immediately race over to look at it. In fact, nobody looks at it.
That’s a writing worry. And Resurrection seems to be speeding through some of the what-ifs of having a boy return 32 years after he died. The Returned was absolutely precise in keeping the astonished/freaked out part real.
Looking long term, Resurrection may be one typical TV dark secret that takes a while to unravel, and maybe that’s good enough for most. But it’s cutting enough corners here in the beginning to be worrisome.
And if you were lucky enough to see The Returned (or will be streaming it asap), then Resurrection won’t be for you.
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