When a show has a central mystery — in the case of ABC’s Resurrection, which premiered Sunday night, why deceased loved ones have returned alive and un-aged from the day they died — the question isn’t whether the concept is interesting. It is. It’s whether an audience will be hooked enough (and patient enough) to watch every week or, in today’s world, just wait and Google for the answer when the series ends. The difference, I believe, comes down to how quickly producers can both get you invested in the characters — which is difficult when cards must be played close to the chest for a slow reveal — and prove to you the journey will be somehow visually unique (i.e. the way BBC America’s Broadchurch could make a slo-mo shot of the mundane, just two people walking, practically pulsate).
For me, Resurrection falls into the wait-and-Google category. What’s your verdict?
The set-up may sound like that of the French series The Returned that’s earned raves on the Sundance Channel, but the two shows are unrelated. Resurrection begins with a young boy waking up in a rice paddy in rural China. His first words are, “Is she dead?” Once he gets to the U.S., an immigration agent named J. Martin Bellamy, aka Marty (Omar Epps), takes him to what he says is his home in Arcadia, Missouri. There, we learn he’s allegedly Jacob, an 8-year-old boy who drowned 32 years ago along with his aunt. He looks exactly the same, but his parents, Henry (Kurtwood Smith) and Lucille Langston (Frances Fisher), have aged. Lucille is shocked but elated, while her husband and widower brother-in-law, Sheriff Fred Langston (Matt Craven), are still skeptical even after DNA confirms this Jacob is biologically a match for Henry and Lucille. Fred’s daughter, Maggie (Devin Kelley), who was found in her stroller by the river the day her mother and Jacob died, is now a doctor who wants to help Marty find answers for two reasons: 1.) Jacob has made it sound like he fell into the river trying to rescue Maggie’s mother, who may have been pushed in by a man and 2.) Maggie’s best friend Elaine (Samaire Armstrong) has now been reunited with her dead father.
At the end of the hour, you have a long list of questions you want answered: How many more people will come back? Is it just people whose deaths involved foul play? Are they here for good? Will they begin to age? How will they be treated by the town? How can Marty keep this quiet so Jacob doesn’t end up in a lab in Washington? Was Jacob just creepily standing on a chair by the moonlit window in his hospital room for kicks, or is he an alien? Why did he eat a ton of grilled cheeses? Was he afraid of the man who turned out to be Elaine’s father? If so, why didn’t he run toward the cop and his father instead of into the woods to find his GI Joe? And what happened in Marty’s past that made his boss wonder whether he wanted to transport a kid in the first place?
The problem: I had to look up every characters’ name I just mentioned, save Jacob, Marty, and Maggie, even though I got a chance to watch the second episode as well. You feel like the cast — particularly Epps, Fisher, Smith, and Craven — could handle something extraordinary, but what they’ve been given so far is just average.