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?
AIRED ON 1/25/2015
Season 2 : Episode 13