Is ABC’s ‘Resurrection’ the Best Pilot of the Year?

Resurrection (ABC) Episode 1 The Returned (5)

“Do you want to believe?”

This simple question sums up the gracefulness of Resurrection, a series about the sudden return of long dead loved ones to the small town of Arcadia, Missouri. The pilot is understated, beautifully directed and achingly quiet. It lets the human emotion carry the story, choosing to focus the story’s first chapter on the return of Jacob (Landon Gimenez), a little boy who drowned 32 years before. He wakes up in a rice paddy in China, with no memory of the three decades he has been gone. When he is placed in the hands of Federal agent J. Martin Bellamy (Omar Epps), Jacob directs Bellamy to take him back to Arcadia where his reunion with his unsuspecting parents is met with doubt from his father and blind faith from his mother.

Resurrection will draw comparisons to the French drama The Returned (in fact, the pilot is entitled “The Returned”) and they are not unfounded. There is an element of mystery running through the series and questions of faith. The philosophical side is never hit too hard; Resurrection looks as the phenomenon from the eyes of the town and from Jacob. They call his return a miracle because it is the only word they have to express the wonder and fear they are feeling.

Resurrection (ABC) Episode 1 The Returned (7)

The 2013-2014 season hasn’t been one of hits for the networks. Precious few of the pilots stood out and the one that did, Sleepy Hollow, stood out for its audacity, not its subtlety. Now we have Resurrection, a series that comes out of the gate with a confidence I haven’t seen in years (perhaps not since ABC’s Lost). It is almost self-contained. If you simply watched the pilot as a short story it would leave you ruminating over the answers to why Jacob returns, what the significance of his return was and to be honest, that would be okay. Having a narrative with an unanswerable question can produce beautiful storytelling as it does here.

Of course, I want to push further into this world, and I’m sure you will too after seeing the superb work from Epps to Kurtwood Smith (That ’70s Show and Frances Fisher (Touch). However, I can’t help but dwell on the solemn, sweeping way in which Jacob’s journey home is told. There is no flash here, no overwrought emotions; instead, Resurrection finds the beauty in simplicity. For Jacob’s mother, there is only joy, for his father only questions and for his grown childhood best friend, who is now a priest, only bafflement.

At its heart, Resurrection asks, do we really want miracles? Practically speaking, what would it mean for the life cycle to be disrupted, for grief to give way for a return? Is it something anyone could be prepared for and how do you move forward from death? To ask these questions without verbalizing them, to convey them with nothing more than a look of awe, puzzlement or pain on an actor’s face is stunning.

I’m calling it now: you will not see a better pilot this season, one that is more evocative or wrought with emotion. Resurrection may have resurrected my faith in network television and ABC. That in and of itself is a feat worthy of praise.

Watch the premiere tonight at 9/8c on ABC, then head back to TV Equals for an in-depth review of the pilot.

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