Resurrection Series Premiere Review: Somewhat Alive

By Tim Surette

Mar 10, 2014

Resurrection S01E01: "Pilot"

Yes, SundanceTV's French import The Returned is much better than ABC's new-but-similar series Resurrection, and I bet pretty much every Resurrection review you read will say as much. Why? Because The Returned is superior in every way. End of story. But for the sake of those who haven't seen The Returned, which is almost everybody, let's review the new ABC drama about dead people coming back to life as though its foreign predecessor—which, may I remind you, is superior in every single way except for maybe the fact that it has subtitles—never existed. Follow me, as we enter a world with no The Returned!!!

[***Swooshing traveling-to-an-alternate-universe sounds***]

ABC's new series Resurrection is a unique take on the dead-come-back-to-life genre that's 99-percent rooted in standard zombie fare. You know the type—rotting corpses rudely try to eat the flesh of the living. But Resurrection's undead aren't exactly undead, it's more that they're re-alive. What a novel take on the dead coming back to life! (Remember, we're having this discussion in a Returned-free universe.) The re-alive person at the center of Resurrection's pilot was an eight-year-old boy named Jacob, who woke up in a rice paddy in China all, "WTF?" And then we followed his journey home to Arcadia, Missouri, where his parents were awfully surprised to see a child who looked just like their son who died 32 years prior.

This concept—the dead are like, "Whoa, I'm not dead!"—is full of potential and questions, questions, questions! But what surprised me about Resurrection's debut was how it spent so much time asking a question that wasn't much of a priority to me. Most of the show's characters, including Jacob's mom and dad (Frances Fisher and Kurtwood Smith), his grown-up cousin Maggie (Devin Kelley), and the local sheriff Fred (Matt Craven), were more obsessed with the events that transpired on the day that Jacob passed away than they were with the fact that he just showed up again. See, when Jacob died from falling in a river three decades ago, his aunt—Maggie's mom and Sheriff Fred's wife—also took a plunge in the life-taking waters in an effort to save him. Or so the story goes! (By the way, that water didn't look too life-taking, to me and I am capable of almost drowning in the bathtub.) But re-alive Jacob had a different take on what went down: According to the kiddo, it was he who drowned trying to save his aunt, and there was a mysterious man at the scene who was unable to save either of them. That man was later revealed to be having an affair with Jacob's aunt, which crushed poor Fred's heart and forced him to drink liquor in front of her ornate grave in the rain and then smash the bottle on its angel statue because melodrama!

Coming out of the pilot, it feels like this possible murder mystery is the big question Resurrection wants us to glom onto, but hello? HELLO? A boy came back from the dead! Shouldn't the focus be on that and not a cold case from the year that Huey Lewis and the News released Picture This? We're talking stuff that happened pre-Sports here. I'm not saying these folks shouldn't be interested in the suspicious nature of how a family member died, but the fact that Jacob showed up at his ma and pa's front door rewrites the rules of life as we know it. That seems a little bit more important to me. And that's the question I wanted the pilot to really explore.

Did ABC send notes to the Resurrection creative team that said, "You know, the fallacy of death and our mortal existence as we know it is somewhat compelling, but how about throwing in a good murder mystery to spruce things up!?!?" Shock, wonder, and people totally freaking out are what I wanted to see, and those emotions were somewhat aptly conveyed by Jacob's mom and dad, but The Returned did it bette—oh shoot, I forgot that show doesn't exist here. But anyway, what I would really like to see in a show like this is the existential and emotional crises that results from seeing everything you thought you knew conflict with everything you hoped for. 

Resurrection's first episode ended by revealing the identity of the man who was skulking around the city as the re-alive father of Elaine (Samaire Armstrong). I guess if you hadn't read a single thing about Resurrection before watching the series, that might've been a cool surprise. But it's right there in the logline: "loved ones" return. Plural. So he was just another dead person who returned and an opportunity for someone else in Arcadia to make a surprised face. And many more will return as the season moves on. I'd even bet Jacob's aunt has a good shot at showing up.

I like the idea of Resurrection a whole lot, enough to continue watching the show, but the pilot spent so much of its effort on the moment Jacob returned and the secrets he can now reveal instead of the fun stuff in the middle—why his he here, how did he get here, and does this mean I can eat whatever I want without repercussions? And really, the pilot coasted on the basic idea of Resurrection's premise without adding anything surprising. The good news is that it was still good enough to earn my interest for a few more episodes. The bad news is that it already has some problems to fix, especially in the face of inevitable comparisons to the smarter, spookier, and sexier [***swooshing return-to-our-reality sounds***] The Returned


– Some good music in the pilot with Belle & Sebastian and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! 

– Tom the preacher character, who was Jacob's BFF when they were kids, is going to need some development work to make him interesting. So far he seems like little more than a shaken priest who will provide the religious point of view on the dead returning, and a boring one at that. 

– Jacob's case was handled awfully quietly, wasn't it? Wouldn't a missing child who showed up in China draw a little more attention? And why did he not speak out loud until he got to America?

– What's with Jacob's seizures? Do all re-alive people have them?

– One thing that worries me is that reviews of the book this show is based on say the author didn't really tackle the question of why the dead came back, and that readers just had to accept that it was some sort of miracle. That ain't gonna fly with TV viewers.

– Ain't nothing wrong with the way Resurrection looks: There's some beautiful imagery in here. Let's hope the series' budget allows it to maintain that quality for the rest of the season. 

– Sunday at 9pm is NOT a good spot for this show, what with all the competition from cable. Especially since it's one of the more cable-y dramas on broadcast television right now. 

The Returned is now on Netflix streaming if you're a Netflix subscriber and haven't seen it yet. I really, really liked it. A lot. I even put it at number eight on my Top 10 Shows of 2013 list, and later unofficially bumped it up to four after I watched the dazzling finale. Have you seen The Returned? If so, how do YOU think Resurrection will compare? 

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  • dannypozzobon May 05, 2014

  • dannypozzobon May 05, 2014

    Awesome series. Really enjoyed it, like the series ending. Hoping for its return for season 2.

  • CarmenGarcade May 02, 2014

    The pilot had many flaws that killed it for me. Like the final scene when it was raining but nobody was wet... or how easily jacob played a game in a mobil phone when he probably never knew such a device .... those details killed the mood for me

  • pointabove Apr 15, 2014

    I can't help but be completely aware that the actors are acting and some of them really suck.

  • Badforthefish Mar 27, 2014

    The returned was very atmospheric and spooky but as many French things ( I can say this, I *am* French ) it was a lot of style over substance, I kept watching because it was really, really gorgeous to look at, but the end of S1 was a big WTF? with a pretty atmospheric organic cherry marinated in 40 years old Cognac on top.

    Resurrection: I loved the initial scene in the rice field, but everything after that was quite boring. I think the issue for this one is gonna be: no substance but no style either.

    I'd skip this one, put up with subtitles and watch the Returned instead. Of course if you want a much better creepy SF foreign series and speak either French, German or Swedish you gotta watch "Akta Manniskor" i.e "Real Humans", a Swedish series about life-like robots available for sale as commonly as Ipods. I hope it soon becomes available in English because this one's a winner.

  • B-a-n-e Mar 17, 2014

    Ok, so has TV dot Com given up on reviewing the show or is it just taking a while to review the second episode?

  • vcivi Mar 13, 2014

    I have seen the Returned, which was very boring by the way...
    Then i downloaded this one...watched it 15 minutes then stopped. Normally i am a fair guy and always do the 4 episode thing with every series that is new....but this one is just in one word...horrible..

  • CherokeeRose4 Mar 12, 2014

    I have not seen The Returned. But I have read the book this show is based on and I have to say that the quality of writing of the pilot was so much better than the book.

    The pilot really didn't answer any questions but its a shouldn't answer questions too quickly. I'm going to give this show a chance and I hope that ABC does as well as there is a lot of potential. Yea, this "living dead" is nothing really original these days but there are still some good stories to dig up (couldn't resist).

  • B-a-n-e Mar 12, 2014

    I thought the pilot was one of the better ones I've seen recently. It established the central mystery, I liked the pace, and I found the various actors and their interactions interesting and engaging. The whole look of the show was also really well done. I came away wanting to see more. All of that should be a given for any good pilot, but it is actually rare.

    I didn't find it too surprising that they focussed on the death of the aunt. As another poster says, that is actually part of their working through this being Jacob. For most of the episode almost no one really believes he is Jacob, so the focus is more on "who is this kid" and "how does he know what he knows" rather than WTF and "how is he back from the dead".

    That being said, how they deal with the central mystery will be key, for me at least, to the success of the show going forward. I'm not going to follow the Season if it is just about how people deal with the consequences without grappling with the whys and the hows. Based on the Pilot I'm prepared to give them 3-4 episodes to engage me in the bigger story.

    By way of comparison, I also watched the Pilot for "Believe" which I found to be frequently cringe inducing. I mean literally. The only part I found remotely credible was near the end where the lead actor tells the kid she is a brat and needs to keep out of other people's business. I thought that was a surprisingly self-aware comment from the show. That show though is on episode to episode life support - one more bad one and I'm done.

  • FrankPierson Mar 11, 2014

    I luckily got to watch this pilot episode before it had a name, network, or anything besides this episode. I thought it was crazy weird and interesting and Im glad that they are keeping up with the boy and the family according to the season preview. My biggest worry was that they were going to turn it into a house or law and order where there is no plot or purpose because every episode is a different case and involves something different each week.

    The characters were cool and interesting to an extent, but of course its a pilot and things were not perfect like every other show on the air right now. They will work everytghing out to where there is a reson for why these people have returned and why they are here again. If they don't touch on the reason of why they have returned this show will crash and burn to the ground faster then The Playboy Club or whatever it was called.

  • tleppo Mar 12, 2014

    you think it was crash and burn because of the type of show, if they do not touch on the reason they returned? Walking Dead is set up for a season 5 already and they still are yet to touch on why the whole zombie thing has happened. Just recently they have a character trying to get to DC because he feels he has an answer for all of the zombie stuff going on.

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