Children with seemingly supernatural abilities are at the center of two new series debuting this week, ABC's "Resurrection" and NBC's "Believe." But neither show is all that super.
Sometimes with TV shows, timing is everything. That can work for a show or against it. For ABC's "Resurrection" (9 tonight), timing is not the show's friend.
In a vacuum, the show's concept -- dead people start showing up in their hometown of Arcadia, Mo., years after their deaths -- is fairly intriguing. It's based on the novel "The Returned" by Jason Mott but it doesn't have zombies, rendering it less a horror show and more, potentially, a spiritual exploration.
But last year Sundance TV aired the French import "The Returned," based on the 2004 movie "Les Revenants," which had the same concept as "Resurrection" but executed it with far more panache. (To make matters potentially more confusing, A&E is developing an American remake of "The Returned.")
That's not to suggest "Resurrection" is a terrible show. It has a lot of heart and strong emotional moments that viewers will connect to, but it's also another mystery show that offers a big tease -- why are these dead people now alive? -- and the prospect of a long, drawn-out wait for an answer. Sometimes this approach works -- viewers stuck with "Under the Dome" in its first season and they're glued to "The Walking Dead," which focused on survival rather than what caused the zombie apocalypse -- but often it does not (see "FlashForward," "The Event" and other similar series).
"Resurrection" begins when 8-year-old Jacob (Landon Gimenez) wakes up alone in a rice paddy in rural China. Immigration agent J. Martin Bellamy (Omar Epps) is assigned to escort him home to Arcadia ,where Jacob's parents, 60-something Henry (Kurtwood Smith) and Lucille (Frances Fisher), are shocked to see their son who died 30 years ago on their doorstep.
The first 20 minutes of "Resurrection" are terrifically emotional and engrossing. When the focus is on Jacob and his parents, the show is a real heart-tugger. But then it gets into family soap opera territory (what big secrets have family members kept from one another!) and the mystery returns when another dead person is found to be alive. (ABC has been promoting "Resurrection" as the second coming of "Lost," but if that's true, its greatest similarity is the frustrating, never-getting-any-answers aspect of that one-time hit.)
While ratings for "The Returned" were small on niche Sundance TV compared to what "Resurrection" will likely generate on a broadcast network, the existence of a similar-concept show does hurt "Resurrection" in the pop culture zeitgeist, especially because its execution pales compared with "The Returned," a better bet that's available for viewing on Netflix.
Director Alfonso Cuaron picked up a best directing Oscar for the big-screen "Gravity" a week ago but you wouldn't know it from his work on NBC's "Believe" (10 p.m. Monday), an OK (but visually unexceptional) pilot that does little to set viewers up for what the show will be on a week-to-week basis.
"Believe" is another production from J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot that tries to meld humanistic touches with a larger, mythological arc.
Bo (Johnny Sequoyah) is a 10-year-old girl who appears to have super powers and people seek to do her harm or kidnap her or something (Kyle McLachlan is the rich-guy leader of Bo's adversaries). She's protected by Milton Winter (Delroy Lindo), but not all that well: Her foster parents of two weeks are murdered within the first 10 minutes of the premiere.
Winter enlists wrongfully imprisoned death row inmate Tate (Jake McLaughlin) to take over the job of safeguarding Bo, who gets obsessed with protecting a doctor she has met only once.
With Bo's powers and her need for protection, "Believe" brings to mind Fox's short-lived "Touch," which is probably strike one against it. For strike two, consider this: "Believe" is on its third showrunner since its pilot, which suggests behind-the-scenes turmoil over the creative direction of the series.
And no wonder: The pilot gives viewers little indication what "Believe" will be on a weekly basis.
Best guess: A road show with Bo and Tate on the run from the baddies as Bo uses her powers along the way.
But who knows; NBC made only the pilot available for review.