Last night the new drama Resurrection gave ABC its best Sunday ratings for the season, and there's more where that came from. Dead-but-not-zombie shows are the new hot thing.
Resurrection's first episode last night introduced 13.3 million viewers to the town of Arcadia, Missouri, where the dead have started mysteriously coming back to life. First, Jacob, a little boy who drowned years before, arrives. Then comes Caleb, who had a heart attack while driving. The first two episodes of the show are competently acted, but really nothing to write home about. There's a lot of wide-eyed marveling about the fact that, yes, the dead have truly come back to life, and—surprise—their arrivals lead to revelations about the past. It's mostly mundane stuff, at least for now.
Resurrection, at least in its first two episodes, operates mostly as a small town drama. Though there's clearly something supernatural going on in Arcadia, that's has been downplayed as we explore the town's relationship dramas.
The show suffers in comparison to The Returned, the French series that aired on Sundance late last year. "I really liked the pilot for #Resurrection when I saw it in May," Jace Lacob of BuzzFeed wrote on Twitter, for instance. "And then #TheReturned aired on Sundance and did it much, much better." The premises of The Returned and Resurrection are essentially the same: dead people returning to a community. But the approaches, for now, are much different. From the outset The Returned relished in weirdness, something really creepy was going on in that French town. Meanwhile, Resurrection seems intent on using the dead come back to life as a jumping off point for familiar network drama topics like infidelity.
As Lance Richardson explained at Slate, Resurrection is based on something called The Returned, which isn't actually the show The Returned (or, in French, Les Revenants). Resurrection is based on a book called The Returned by Jason Mott. A&E is working on the American remake of the French show, which in turn was based on a 2004 movie They Came Back. Meanwhile, NBC has something similar called Babylon Fields, which funnily enough was a 2007 CBS pilot that's now being revived.
So step aside vamps and unintelligent zombies of the "braaaainnnns" variety, the pop culture trend du jour involves the dead living among us. Why? Well, for one, it's easy to shoehorn other tropes into genre. Resurrection, for instance, has a police procedural vibe, thanks to Omar Epps, who place an ICE agent that can't pull himself away from Arcadia. The Returned features a serial killer aspect. You can have romance and family drama all colored by the fact that the dead are there, unearthing all their old problems.
ABC, which desperately needed a hit, is likely cheering the ratings success of Resurrection. But it's still early. This version of the dead could get dull quickly.