A little white boy wakes up in a field in China and, through the power of rapid plot advancement, winds up on the front porch of a home in Arcadia, Missouri. “I have your son,” says the optimistic immigration officer (Omar Epps). “My son died 32 years ago,” says the skeptical father (Kurtwood Smith). “Back from the dead!” says the audience (us). The rest of the pilot goes the same way. “You can’t be Jacob, Jacob is dead,” say the townsfolk. But here is Jacob, alive and with the full memories of the inside jokes and secret hiding places. His parents are old now. His friends are all grown-ups. Some locals are immediately taken with the miracle of it all. Others have secrets!
Resurrection, which debuts Sunday night at 9 p.m. on ABC, shares an elevator pitch with the French series Les Revenants (The Returned): What happens to a town when some of its dead residents reappear? You should watch Les Revenants; it aired on Sundance and is now on Netflix, and it’s really good. Resurrection is not as good. It’s a little too sunny, a little too perky about people coming back from the dead. On Revenants, survivors stay pretty freaked out, even as they try to accept the truth that’s in front of them; characters exist in a state of conflicted understanding. On Resurrection, there’s just the believers and the non-believers, the faithful and apostate.
That doesn’t make it a bad show, it’s just not a very artful one. For a series with an out-there premise, Resurrection feels awfully ordinary. One of the other resurrected people is a father who comes back to discover his children are grown; his daughter is thrilled, but his son is less so. “I bet the beardo guy is going to chase after the investigators and say, ‘That man is not my father,’” I thought, watching the second episode. And that’s exactly what happened. I went two for two when I guessed that Jacob’s mother (Francis Fisher) would slowly clutch a stuffed animal to herself and try not to weep. A small-town sheriff with a secret? A preacher whose sermons are really about his own faith? A doctor who might want to heal herself? Treat yourself to a more interesting universe, Resurrection.
Again, it’s not that Resurrection is so terrible. I cried at the first and second episodes, more as an autonomic response to displays of grief than any real new territory the it covers. Shows like Les Revenants and the late, great The 4400 used similar setups to much grander effect, and if Resurrection wants to play around with grief-induced madness and explore the dramatic potential in crises of faith, it needs to do so with more ambition and more finesse. There’s no draw to Resurrection, and even though the second episode I watched ended on a cliffhanger, I can’t imagine which synapses in my brain would have to fire for me to decide you know, I think it’s time to watch episode three. Somehow, surprisingly, back from the dead is not a strong enough hook.