When ABC aired the Academy Awards on March 2, the network chose to spend all of its ad time promoting only one of its midseason replacement shows—Resurrection. Their focus paid off. The drama about small-town families who find their long-dead loved ones suddenly arriving, unchanged after decades, on their doorsteps debuted to fantastic ratings. Nearly 14 million people tuned in to check out the premiere episode, making Resurrection the highest Sunday drama debut for ABC since 2006 and the No. 1 show for the night of the week that typically draws television’s highest viewership.
Of course, things can change in the blink of an eye in primetime land, and an impressive opening audience is no guarantee of continued ratings. Yet Resurrection’s first two episodes suggest ABC may be on to something. Rather than a horror story to compete with that other Sunday night return-of-the-deceased show on AMC, executive producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner (who, incidentally, took home Best Picture Oscars for 12 Years a Slave) explore the concept of resurrection first as a straightforward mystery and secondly as a meditation on skepticism versus faith.
The various family members in Arcadia, Mo., have radically different responses to their loved ones’ return from the dead. Happily married retirees Henry (Kurtwood Smith) and Lucille (Frances Fisher) are both shocked to learn that their 8-year-old son, Jacob, who died in a drowning accident 32 years earlier, has been found alive in China. But while Lucille embraces the boy as a miraculous gift, Henry is less accepting. Smith does a brilliant job portraying a man who wishes he could believe this boy is his son, but whose natural suspicion—perhaps even revulsion—at the idea of life after death prevents him from doing so.
Given the fact that Resurrection’s central storyline doesn’t begin with biblically supported concepts, neither do the answers to the questions it poses. Instead, characters like local pastor Tom (Mark Hildreth) fall back on convenient (and erroneous) no-one-can-know platitudes that often substitute for real philosophical inquiry in mainstream entertainment.
For example, while citing the story of John the Baptist asking while in prison whether Jesus was truly the Messiah, Tom tells his congregation that John’s doubts were understandable given that John was only human, and no human can know where Christ came from. Wrong. Every Christian should be able to answer exactly where their Savior was before He arrived on earth as a baby. He was in heaven where He existed throughout eternity, creating all things and giving them their form.
“[John] was given the tools to ask the questions, not to know the answers,” Tom says in perfect worldly ignorance of biblical truth. “That might seem unfair,” he continues, “but isn’t that the price of human understanding? Isn’t that what it means to have faith?” Well, no. Without believing the answers God offers, the questioner doesn’t possess anything like faith. But it’s easy to understand why, in our relativistic culture, Resurrection’s writers might think their dialogue reflects something a thoughtful pastor would say.
And give ABC credit for at least realizing that there is a spiritual element inherent to the notion of the dead returning to life and taking up that idea in the face of zombie mania. Give them credit, in fact, for recognizing that it is only if there is a whole regeneration of the person that includes the spirit as well as the body that the idea becomes something other than horrific.
Other carefully placed elements, like a Bible on a nightstand at the end of the second episode, suggest that Resurrection will continue to frame its story with spiritual questions in mind. It won’t provide viewers with the right answers, but it might give those who know Christ a chance to explain that, in contrast to Pastor Tom’s speech, the answers are perfectly discoverable to those who truly seek them.