Bob Mahoney/ABC
April 03, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

Conversely, Resurrection has a sturdy concept: The dead come back to life, not as zombies but as their regular selves, unaware that they’ve died. It’s based on Jason Mott’s book The Returned — and fans of deep cable TV will note the similarity to a French series that aired on SundanceTV, also titled The Returned and much better than Resurrection.

It starts off well. Resident creepy-cute kid Jacob (Landon Gimenez) wakes up in a rice paddy in China. Back in the U.S., he’s paired up with immigration agent Bellamy (Omar Epps), who takes him home. His parents are surprised to see him, though, since Jacob died more than three decades ago. The early scenes are handled with grace and humor — and it helps that the cast is stacked with pros like Frances Fisher, Kurtwood Smith, and Matt Craven.

But the second episode trends downward. It opens with a not-very-scary Scary Dream Sequence. The show’s central mysteries become unnecessarily pulpy. (There’s already been a murder or two.) Like Believe and Touch, Resurrection stumbles mainly because it takes a creepy idea and then defaults to heartwarming goop: soft-focus shots of churches, downcast dads, and smiling moms. At one point, Bellamy tries to explain why he isn’t calling in every level of the American government to this town filled with dead people walking: ”If we let this turn into a freak show, we may never know the truth!” But wouldn’t a freak show be more fun? C

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