“Resurrection,” a solid yet initially disturbing new drama premiering Sunday on ABC, is about a small Midwestern town where people who died and were buried years ago (and, most important, were grieved) begin showing up again. Not as rotted-out zombies but just as they were on the day they died.
Waitaminnit. You feel as if you’ve heard about this before, don’t you? You have. Last year, SundanceTV aired the dour, beautifully absorbing French miniseries “The Returned” (“Les Revenants”), which was also about a small town visited by fully resurrected neighbors and loved ones. And that was based on a 2004 movie.
“Resurrection” is not an adaptation of those but is instead based on an American novel by Jason Mott that came out last year, called, of all things, “The Returned.” (Meanwhile, AMC expressed interest last summer in making its own version of the French “Returned” series.) I don’t know if this is all coincidence or rip-off or what. Perhaps there is some lost news release in my inbox that explains why it’s so important to producers and writers that American TV audiences be subjected to competing versions of a dark disruption in the mourning process.
All of these projects start from a premise that’s rooted in a symptom of the magical thinking that sometimes accompanies sudden loss and subsequent grief: You open the door and your loved one is back.
As a critic, I find myself increasingly protective of the channel surfers who might accidentally land on shows that unnecessarily strike this sort of nerve. There’s already so much death and sadness on TV to be assiduously avoided, and, as such, I cannot fathom the feelings that might be triggered by the opening episode of “Resurrection,” in which an 8-year-old boy returns from the dead.
Jacob (Landon Gimenez) wakes up in a rice paddy in rural China and, after some confusion, is flown back to the United States, where a federal immigration officer, Marty Bellamy (Omar Epps), decides to escort the boy back home to Arcadia, Mo.
Jacob directs Marty to his house; when they knock on the door, Jacob’s 60-year-old parents (Frances Fisher and Kurtwood Smith) answer and are faced with the son who drowned in a river 30 years ago. They’ve aged, but he hasn’t.
I can imagine a whole host of reactions this might cause, which only vaguely resemble the writing and acting that “Resurrection” offers up as it fumbles around in search of some believable hybrid of wonder, terror, joy, relief, doubt — you name it.
Luckily for “Resurrection,” its aims are far more pedestrian and network-driven than the arthouse vibe of the French “Returned.” Soon enough, Jacob is at the center of a mystery that draws in Maggie Langston (Devin Kelley), a local doctor. Maggie’s mother was Jacob’s aunt and is believed to have drowned while trying to pull Jacob from the river. But, apparently, it didn’t happen that way at all, and long-hidden secrets begins to unravel.
With the arrival of yet another dearly departed Arcadian (with perhaps more to come, I’m guessing), “Resurrection” shifts gears and more comfortably settles into the steady and harmless nonsense of an episodic mystery, combining a whodunnit with the allure of a paranormal investigation.
Since he’s on a tight deadline to deliver a new “Star Wars” movie to theaters by the end of next year, one can presume that J.J. Abrams does little more than wave a wizardly hand over the copious amount of material coming out of his TV production wing.
The latest, called “Believe” (premiering Monday night on NBC), bears some of the telltale, factory-stamped Abrams characteristics. Co-created by Oscar-winning “Gravity” director Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Friedman, it’s a medium-concept, briskly stylish, slightly sci-fi drama about a little girl named Bo (Johnny Sequoyah), who is blessed with superhuman powers, among them telepathy and telekinesis of sorts.
A sinister gazillionaire, Mr. Skouras (Kyle MacLachlan), would love nothing more than to have Bo for his own, so he can exploit her gifts; it’s up to a clandestine band of protectors to keep the girl hidden from Skouras’s agents.
For reasons not clear in the pilot (but sure to be unraveled in however much symbolism and hooey “Believe” can gin up during its time on the air), the protectors spring a wrongfully convicted death-row inmate, Tate (Jake McLaughlin), to act as the girl’s anointed guardian and fight off her would-be kidnappers.
From there, “Believe” works best as a relentless chase scene. The first episode (directed by Cuarón) has some limberness to its movement, but, like so much else in this particular genre, produces a lukewarm result.
Although “Believe” isn’t much like “Resurrection” in theme, both shows partake in this overdone notion that one special-snowflake child holds the key to everything. It makes me wonder if today’s grown-up television viewers (and creators) are so obsessed with raising their own gifted-and-talenteds that it results in so many shows about superhuman kids. I see your “My child is an honor student” sticker and raise you one better: My child rose from the dead. (Yeah, well my child can summon a thousand angry pigeons with her sonic scream! She can also read minds and predict the future!)
These strange children are talkative when they want to be and creepily silent whenever the adults around them would most like to know what the heck is going on. Even though “Believe” and “Resurrection” are above-average entries in the mid-season rush of new shows, the puzzles these kids present aren’t quite worth the time it would take to solve.
(one hour) premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on ABC.
(one hour) premieres Monday at 10 p.m. on NBC.