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posted: 3/9/2014 5:30 AM

Haven't we seen 'Resurrection' before? Sort of

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  • The people of Arcadia, Mo., are forever changed when their deceased loved ones suddenly start to reappear on ABC's "Resurrection," which premieres at 8 p.m. Sunday, March 9.

    The people of Arcadia, Mo., are forever changed when their deceased loved ones suddenly start to reappear on ABC's "Resurrection," which premieres at 8 p.m. Sunday, March 9.

By Hank Stuever, The Washington Post

"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 art house 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 whodunit with the allure of a paranormal investigation.

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