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Review: 'Resurrection' brings back the dead but can lose track of them

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If you missed the French series "The Returned" on Sundance Channel last year, or if it was just too opaque/mood-soaked/subtitled (i.e. French) for you, ABC now offers "Resurrection," a brighter if not bolder and certainly faster-paced (i.e. American) version of a world in which the dead begin returning to the ones they left behind.

Based on the Jason Mott novel "The Returned," the series opens gorgeously enough with a young boy (Landon Gimenez) waking up in a rice paddy in China. Strangely taciturn, he knows his name is Jacob and that his hometown is Arcadia, Mo., but has no idea how he got to China.

When immigration officer Martin Bellamy ("House's" Omar Epps) takes him to the house Jacob identifies as his own, the people who live there, Henry (Kurtwood Smith) and Lucille Langston (Frances Fisher), react first with anger — they did have a son Jacob, but he drowned 30 years ago — then shock; this Jacob appears in every way to be their son. At the age he died.

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Wha? Martin (whom Epps has adorably given House's habit of tennis-ball-bouncing) is equally confused. He enlists the aid of local, and lovely, doc Maggie Langston (Devin Kelley), who happens to be Jacob's younger/older cousin.

Indeed, Maggie was present, as an infant, when Jacob drowned in the same accident that claimed her mother. Who was married to the local sheriff, Fred (Matt Craven), cementing "Resurrection" firmly in the time-honored dynamics — secrets and lies — of small town America. With every appearance of a normal healthy boy, Jacob nonetheless seems to know things, including what actually happened the day he died.

"Resurrection" is not, however, Jacob's tale alone. In subsequent episodes, the dead arrive one by one. Though very hungry, they show no immediate preference for human flesh, but their agenda is far from clear.

Although the two shows tell essentially the same story and share many specific plot points, tonally they are black and white. Where "The Returned" was dim, eerie and subdued, "Resurrection" dwells in a more sunlit land peopled by characters you know well — Marty's a troubled ex-cop, Maggie a beautiful but single doctor, Henry and Lucille are a couple kindly and comfortable.

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By creating such a "normal" world and disrupting it in a well-regulated manner — in the first few episodes, much of the tension is provided by the silly rules of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — adapter Aaron Zelman ("The Killing") has chosen "intriguing" over "haunting." What would you do, this series asks, if a lost loved one showed up, just wanting to pick up where he or she left off?

It's a good question, and one too often lost in the various crime-related story lines the returned bring with them.

Where "The Returned" was content to tell its story in elliptical scenes and character sketches, "Resurrection" keeps them tightly tied together and bound to an investigative uber-narrative — Marty and Maggie are partners in detection with the requisite possibility of romance.

The result is a lot of narrative that often strays too far from the original and much more provocative conceit: Hey, we see dead people.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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'Resurrection'

Where: ABC

When: 9 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

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