Dead on Arrival

‘Resurrection’ Is TV’s Silliest Show and Probably Dead on Arrival

ABC’s new supernatural-religious drama is like Touched by an Angel meets The X-Files. Just in case that sounds like your bag. 

Bob Mahoney/ABC

“My kitty just died. I know that God brought Jesus back from the dead a long time ago, so I figured that since he did that he could bring back my kitty, too.”

We’re obsessed with bringing things back from the dead. That obsession is true of pop culture, for sure, but also permeates our everyday lives. And it starts preoccupying us at a young age, too, as the little girl with the dead kitty demonstrated this past Christmas Eve at the mass I attended with my parents. The question she was asked by the priest during his homily: “What would you like for Christmas?”

It’s our fascination with, our desperation for, and perhaps even our fear of resurrection that makes ABC’s new supernatural drama such a genius idea. The network wisely named the show Resurrection, too—instantly, we’re hooked. If only the network had breathed more life into it.

It’s likely that you’ve already heard of Resurrection, ABC’s provocative and ambitious (and, ultimately, incredibly silly) new drama. You may have been initially intrigued by it, but now are already completely irritated by it, without having seen a second of footage. In fact, you might know Resurrection better as That Creepy Show With the Creepy Kid Who Comes Back From the Dead That They Showed an Ad for During Every Single Damn-Blasted Commercial Break During the Oscars.

Well, that damn-blasted show finally premieres this Sunday night. Set in the insular town of Arcadia, Mississippi, it centers around an elderly couple whose life is upended when their 8-year-old son, Jacob, shows up on their doorstep. The catch: Jacob drowned 32 years earlier. Talk about your walking dead.

What follows in an emotionally engrossing, but also macabre, morbid, and mercilessly mockable meditation on faith, religion, and miracles mixed with procedural mystery. Some people are totally on board with the idea of Jacob as your average formerly dead grade schooler. (Are they people of faith? Or just fools?) Others are skeptics. (Are they logical? Or just godless spoilsports?)

Basically, Resurrection is like Touched by an Angel meets The X-Files. Just in case that sounds like your bag.

First, a little bit more on this zombie-angel-dead boy. The pilot episode opens with Jacob (Landon Gimenez) waking up, heaving, in a field in a China. The whole scene is so awash with heavy-handed religious imagery you can probably just skip church on Sunday. Halos of light emanate off Jacob. In fact, Jacob kind of always glows. The crops in the field where he’s laying are arranged around him to look like an angel. Like, guys, we get it.

He’s sent back to America, where everyone learns his name is Jacob because it’s written on the inside collar of his shirt. Also because that’s what he answers to, which is probably a better giveaway. There, he’s placed in the charge of an immigration agent (Omar Epps), who—through some idle chatter and serious plot fast-forwarding—extracts from Jacob that he’s from this Arcadia place. Of course, Arcadia’s authorities say there are no missing boys named Jacob at the time (you know, since this Jacob died three decades ago), but the agent still drives Jacob directly to the home of his former parents Henry and Lucille Langston, played by Kurtwood Smith (the dad from That ‘70s Show) and Frances Fisher (the mom from Titanic).

When the agent tells Henry that he’s found his son, he responds, “That would be fairly unlikely. My son died 32 years ago.” That ‘70s Show fans will wait fruitfully for Henry to yell, “Now get off my porch before I put my foot in your ass!”

Soon, though, Henry believes. Here’s how, and here’s how it’s ridiculous.

Jacob repeats an inside joke that he had with his father 30 years before, and instantly Henry is sold that it’s Jacob. All Lucille needs is to see Jacob to get over her doubts that a son she had literally put in the ground three decades before is now frolicking on her front lawn, not having aged a minute. We meet lots of other characters from Jacob’s old life, like his former best friend, Tom, who is now a pastor (religion!!!). Pastor Tom, who should know better, gets on board with this whole “Jacob’s back!” thing as soon as Jacob says something about how they played with G.I. Joes when they were little

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Everyone Jacob meets is converted with some similar anecdote. It’s kind of like when you’re at a high school reunion and a guy you probably knew existed in school and definitely don’t remember now tries to jog your memory of how you know each other: “Remember Mrs. Wilson’s algebra class? We were always singing Pearl Jam!” Only Jacob’s like, “Remember when I died? I didn’t!”

The rest of the episode is spent with the immigration agent acting as the voice of reason, insisting that proper measures like DNA testing and stuff be put in place to make sure that Jacob is Henry and Lucille’s son and that these people aren’t all crazed fools. Truth be told, the questions raised by Jacob’s arrival are all legitimately provocative, in an eerie, wondrous, self-searching kind of way: Why do we die? Why is death so random? Couldn’t a return to life be just as random? Do we believe in miracles? If so, why couldn’t such miracles touch us personally?

You see, gone are the days when a supernatural dramas like Lost or its rip-offs Alcatraz, Invasion, or The River dominated TV. Those shows, which all eventually fizzled in the ratings, seemed to ask, “Do you believe?” Resurrection is more concerned with asking, “Are you a believer?”

That could be and should be a clever twist on the genre, if only it weren’t hammered down our throats so obtusely.

The dialogue doubles as patronizing directives of what we’re supposed to be thinking, carefully dictating Resurrection’s themes. “Sometimes things happen in the world that are meant to test our faith,” and, “Everyone has doubts,” and, “It’s a miracle,” are all declared with the dramatic weight of Moses channeling the words of God. The latter is delivered so convincingly and piously by Frances Fisher, with her wide eyes and flowing auburn locks, that it was as if Touched by the Angel’s own Roma Downey, too, had come back from the dead.

Later in the pilot, Pastor Tom drives the whole thing home with a sermon talking about doubts, miracles and having faith while Jacob and his mother walk into church, late and conspicuously, they’re arrival meant to make the congregation—and us at home—contemplate the issues even more deeply. By the way, do you know how late you’d have to be to church to walk in during the sermon? That’s, like, really late. But it makes for a perfect (you might even say “divine”) dramatic moment!

There’s clearly a fascination with the undead on television (even a talk show about The Walking Dead scores higher ratings than most broadcast TV shows), and it’s incredibly shrewd of ABC to spin elements of religion into it with Resurrection. The concept, after all, has been fascinating us for centuries.

But is there enough nuance and longevity in the premise to sustain a season beyond the pandering first two episodes that were released to critics? We have some faith. But we have more faith that the little girl at Christmas mass got back her dead kitty.