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TV Review: 'Resurrection'

Brian Lowry

Variety

1:30 PM EST, March 6, 2014

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"Resurrection" has such a provocative concept and a well-cast pilot that the temptation is to hang on hopefully for the ride, albeit with a measure of skepticism regarding how much life, renewed or otherwise, the producers can mine from the premise. Dealing with thorny issues of religion and faith while wrapped in a central existential mystery, the show's real challenge will be how long it can explore the notion of a child returning from the dead, unchanged, 32 years later, and keep it dramatically contained, given what that would truly mean in today's wired, digitally connected world.

Having been given an Oscar-telecast push, this is one of those ABC projects that deserves ample praise for its conceptual daring, but often winds up disappointing in the execution. Fortunately, a second hour somewhat broadens the show's riddle, while indicating that any answers will be disgorged slowly. Ah well, humanity has waited this long for the mystery of an afterlife to be resolved; what's a few more seasons?

The series opens with an innocent-looking boy (Landon Gimenez) awakening, inexplicably, in the middle of China. After the U.S. feds get involved, the silent kid gradually leads them toward the heartland, where the immigration agent (Omar Epps) assigned to the case brings him to the home of Henry and Lucille Langston (Kurtwood Smith and Frances Fisher, both splendid as usual), who inform the agent that their son, Jacob, died 32 years ago.

Questions arise. How can this child be theirs? Will the family be able to accept him back into their lives? And if they've ever read or seen Stephen King's "Pet Sematary," will they feel compelled to sleep with one eye open?

These, along with the more obvious how and why, are the most personal and probing aspects of the series, based on a book by Jason Mott and adapted by Aaron Zelman ("Damages"). Yet there are countless other threads to consider, beginning with how the wider world would respond to reports of a genuine resurrection, and a clamoring for the boy in media that would practically force him and his family into seclusion.

Moreover, the series begins to plant the seeds of a cold-case subplot regarding how Jacob died that risks dragging the focus off the faith-shaking issue of someone returning from the dead into a more prosaic mystery.

In other words, "Resurrection" could go in a lot of different directions. Yet the expansiveness of that palette is also littered not only with abundant internal creative traps, but also external ones: The show's road could be complicated by running afoul of faith-based groups who are easily riled by mainstream entertainment -- or, conversely, be so mindful about not offending as to lobotomize those areas that make the pilot so intriguing.

As is, Smith and Fisher deliver heartfelt moments as the confused parents, grappling with reopened wounds and other grown children to consider. The show also feels inherently commercial, in the way "Lost" initially was, as opposed to something like the considerably creepier French series "The Returned," which recently found a subtitled U.S. home on Sundance Channel.

If "Resurrection" fulfills even half its potential, it could easily become the most compelling drama on an ABC lineup that has become almost comically soapy -- with series like "Scandal" and "Revenge" lustily embracing their camp qualities.

Unlike Jacob, however, one fatal step and the chances of a second shot at things are slim. And while it's never wise to become too attached to a fledgling series, here's a small prayer that doesn't happen.

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