ABC's Resurrection sees dead people come alive again, but it's not related to The Returned. Except it is.
The drama, which premieres Sunday at 9/8c, is based on Jason Mott's best-selling book The Returned about people who come back from the dead. That's not to be confused with the critically acclaimed, similarly themed French series on Sundance Channel, The Returned, which is based on the French film Les Revenants and is being adapted by Lost's Carlton Cuse for A&E, or the fact that Resurrection refers to its walking dead as The Returned.
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"It is kind of confusing, we'll admit that," Resurrection executive producer Michele Fazekas tells TVGuide.com with a laugh. "But even though the premise is the same, I think we all have different takes on it and different stories."
Set in Arcadia, Mo., Resurrection follows Jacob (Landon Gimenez), a dead 8-year-old boy who wakes up in a rice paddy field in rural China. With the help of immigration agent Martin Bellamy (Omar Epps), he returns home to his parents, Harold (Kurtwood Smith) and Lucille Langston (Frances Fisher), who had lost their son Jacob 32 years ago. Although the show is based on Mott's book, it won't hew too closely to it. Creator and executive producer Aaron Zelman used the novel solely as a jumping-off point to pen the pilot before Fazekas and co-executive producer Tara Butters joined as showrunners. The two opted not to read Mott's book or watch The Returned.
"I started reading it and then stopped," Butters says. "It's its own thing, just like The Returned. We didn't watch that. We didn't want to be influenced by it or the book. ... One of the great things is the way Aaron adapted the pilot — he took the idea from the book and basically sets it up as the first of The Returned. I think the rest of the show is a lot more personal, a lot more pained. The book is individual stories of these returned, but they weren't connected."
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Unlike the strange phenomena outbreak on The Returned or The Walking Dead's zombie-fied post-apocalyptic world, there's no supernatural element or any explanation — yet — for the dead's returns (yes, there'll be more besides Jacob) on Resurrection. Fazekas and Butters say they wanted to take a more emotional, spiritual route to explore grief and loss rather than focus on paranormal activity.
"What I like about the show, and this is what Aaron said about the novel, is at a certain point, it's not about why did they come back. It is about grief and that 'what if?' question," Fazekas says. "What the science fiction element does is it allows you to explore all these questions that you normally wouldn't be able to do in a show that takes place in the real world."
One of those questions is: Who were these people? As Fazekas notes, death causes people to romanticize the departed. "When people pass away, there are always secrets they hold with them. When they return, you're finding out who these people really are," she says. "I think part of it is we tend to forget the negative aspects of a person. When they're confronted with them again, they're forced to look at them honestly. In Jacob's case, he's a child, but there's still something to think about."
For Harold and Lucille, their reactions vastly differ when Jacob comes back — the former reluctant to accept him, the latter fully embracing him.
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"One would think, 'Oh, your son is back. That's amazing.' But he's so conflicted about it because in his mind, if I'm embracing this child who has come back, am I betraying the memory of the child that I lost?" Butters says. "Because that still happened. He can't erase that. Episode 2 has one of my favorite scenes we pitched really early on — we call it the 'Box of Sadness' scene. ... Frances Fisher says, 'Hold on,' and gets clothes for Jacob because she saved some of this stuff. She's probably done that over the years, remembering him, and when she opens it, that wave of grief comes back to her. Even though her character is so embracing of him, she still feels that when she opens that box. 'This is a box of my dead child's stuff.' I love the complexity of it. It's not simple. You're getting how their return affects them on an individual level and a look at human emotion."
But this doesn't mean the show is not serialized. Fazekas and Butters have arc-ed out a large-picture mythology and have already pitched the final scene of the series to ABC, whenever that may be. "We know where we want to end up, but with a show like this, because it's always evolving. I don't like to be constrained by, 'This is gonna happen,'" Fazekas says. "It's much freer creatively to let it evolve. We have the larger mythology tentpoled, but I don't have, 'We're going to go 10 seasons.' ... There's a huge reveal at the very last moment of the [first season] finale. We had laid the groundwork for that throughout the season. So there's a big reveal for one of the main characters. Plus, the game totally changes. It gets much bigger than these individual stories."
The first season consists of only eight episodes, and should the show continue, Fazekas and Butters would want to do no more than 13 a season.
"I think it's hard for serialized shows to do a network 22 [episodes] without running-in-place stories," Butters says. "[Doing eight] let us focus and live in the moment and not miss a beat of what it's doing to the people. If you jumped over it, you would lose so much of the emotionality of the show. ... My hope is where we start the season, you don't expect where we end. We try to give answers along the way that makes you have new questions. Obviously if we give you all the answers to why this is happening, there is no show. The idea is to give out some as we go and hopefully new mysteries will come up that people will find interesting."
Resurrection premieres Sunday at 9/8c on ABC.