Saturday, March 15, 2014

ABC’s Resurrection: Believing the Impossible

Last Sunday night ABC aired the premiere of a new series about dead people coming back to life – and for once, not as zombies. Co-produced by Brad Pitt (of the zombie movie World War Z), Resurrection poses a serious question and an intriguing premise: how does each of us deal with the loss of a loved one, and how would we respond if they returned to us?

Resurrection begins with the inexplicable appearance in a Chinese rice paddy of eight-year-old Jacob, who drowned 32 years earlier in his hometown of Arcadia, Missouri but who has not aged a day and has no memory of anything since. His return home to his parents, now 60, throws all his family members into emotional turmoil as they wrestle in personal ways with this… miracle? Fraud? Delusion?

The show is based on the book The Returned by Jason Mott, inspired by the French TV series Les Revenants (a version which Slate deems vastly better), and bears a loose resemblance to The 4400, a series in which missing persons reappear years and even decades later – un-aged, confused, and remembering nothing of the time of their disappearance.

But unlike that show, and unlike the lighthearted sci-fi thrill ride of J.J. Abrams’ and Alfonso Cuaron’s Believe which airs this Sunday night, Resurrection uses its supernatural premise as a starting point for a somber examination of the human drama of love, loss, and family relationships. Based on the first episode, what novelist Mott says of his book seems to hold true for the series as well: “The novel is about loss, and the many different ways we respond to it.”

By the end of the first episode, Jacob is not the only one “returned.” The series will go on to follow the residents of Arcadia, whose lives are upended when more and more loved ones return from the dead, mysteriously un-aged and amnesiac since their deaths. Whether or not the show will answer the most obvious questions – How did these people come back to life? Why did they come back? Where were they all this time? Why do they reappear in random spots around the world? – remains to be seen. The book itself apparently doesn’t resolve these mysteries, taking a more character-driven focus, and if that proves to be true of the series as well, it could frustrate and drive away viewers expecting answers. It doesn’t help the show’s chances that it is scheduled against the heavily promoted reboot of Cosmos and AMC’s The Walking Dead, the No. 1 show in prime time.

The Boston Herald gives the premiere a thumbs-up and states that “Resurrection does something few dramas do today — it gives its characters breathing room to absorb and react to the fantastic in their lives, rather than forcing them to run from one plot point to another.” I don’t entirely agree, since there is a conventional mystery subplot that detracts from the more compelling supernatural one. And the premiere suffered from some odd plot choices, including moments that seemed significant and may or may not be explained in subsequent episodes (why, for example, did the nurse not initially detect a heartbeat in the boy?). It also desperately needs a leavening dose of humor.

The upsides: the premise raises interesting spiritual and philosophical questions; it has an emotionally powerful hook to which everyone can relate, because we have all lost someone; characters of faith, like a young pastor who had been Jacob’s boyhood friend, are taken seriously and depicted respectfully; and it’s a well-acted family show, with emotional intensity but no sex, violence, or foul language. If the series has time to find an audience, it could prove to be uniquely thought-provoking entertainment.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 3/13/14)