Tag Archives: Believe

Should You Watch? ‘Resurrection’

RESURRECTION
The Returned”
“Unearth”

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I’m going to answer this one up front. Should you watch? Yes. Absolutely, unequivocally yes. Job done? Great. Let me count the reasons.

#1: The Purpose

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Resurrection is a fantasy drama based off a simple concept. What if the dead started coming back to life? We’re not in zombie territory here. The show opens with a little boy, Jacob, waking up in a field in China, not knowing where he was or how he got there. In Resurrection, the dead simply walk back into our lives just as they were the day they left us. They may resurrect on the other side of the world and we may be older by years, but they haven’t sensed the time pass that we have, and they’re just as disoriented by what’s happened as we are.

How do you react? How do they cope? Can you pick up where you left off? Do you trust that they are who they say they are, or do you still question even when DNA tests and interviews all confirm the impossible? Is it a miracle or something more sinister?

From the first moment, the show has a sense of purpose, of where it’s going. Its mysteries make it feel momentarily like a Lost-alike, while its setup – that of an ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) agent investigating an increasingly odd situation in a closeted small town – is reminiscent of the brilliant Twin Peaks. The way its proceduralism bounces off the town’s denizens and the stabilizing presence of Omar Epps can’t help but remind you of House, M.D., too.

#2: Epps, Kelley, & Utopian Sci-Fi

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Epps plays J. Martin Bellamy. He serves as an analogue for audiences, a trustworthy way to access the plot. Epps’s calm presence may have bounced him out as a movie star – Hollywood still doesn’t trust African-Americans to act as narrative guides – but he’s made for TV. The more reliable the anchor, the more bizarreness can storm the plot he’s holding down, and Epps oozes the kind of reliability that we look for in many supernatural and sci-fi shows.

Dr. Maggie Langston (Devin Kelley) is the little boy Jacob’s cousin. She acts as Martin’s eyes and ears in town. Kelley has the same strong, striking feel that Olivia Wilde did on House, though with a better behaved character. This is no mistake. It makes the House comparison feel all the more natural. Since Epps played the only sane character on that medical drama, it’s easier for viewers to give Epps even more benefit of the doubt. It’s a shortcut into solidifying the audience’s reliance on Epps and to trusting a pretty quick friendship between Martin and Maggie – this is Smart-as-Hell Casting 101.

It also means that whichever way they go with Martin – keeping him as our anchor or pulling the rug out from under us – they’ve very quickly earned the kind of equity in the character that other shows take a season to develop.

Leaving my mixing of metaphors behind, such reliable protagonists are not always the stuff from which TV legends are made. We love our bad boys and feisty girls because we want to tune in every week to see if they get fixed – look no further than the approach Believe, the rest of House, or Lost itself took. In fact, when it comes to sci-fi, you can pretty accurately judge whether something is forward-looking utopian or near-future dystopian by the protagonist – is he or she already redeemed or seemingly irredeemable? Resurrection uses Epps and Kelley as much as the writing itself to communicate a central hope and comfort in the face of the unknown.

#3: The Casting

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Frances Fisher and Kurtwood Smith play Henry and Lucille Langston, Jacob’s parents. As the first family experiencing someone who has returned – Jacob died 32 years ago – they become pariahs in their community. Lucille picks up right where she left off three decades back, thankful for the second chance. It’s clear she never fully dealt with Jacob’s death. Henry made peace with it however, and fell in love with the memory of his dead son. To him, loving this new Jacob represents a betrayal of the old one.

Most shows of this type rush ahead with the plot, but Resurrection doesn’t feel the need to go quite as fast. It’s genuinely interested in its characters, and takes the time to show them thinking and reflecting in quiet, non-dramatic ways. It’s a unique approach – as good as it was, Lost changed the game for mystery box TV shows. They were suddenly packed with action, plot, and discovery. If characters got emotional, it was about love interests and betrayals of trust, and not about how hard life is already without being stuck on an island to die or facing your dead son of 32 years. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but it’s nice to see a show with a central supernatural mystery that finds time for its characters to process emotions like adults, rather than constantly acting out.

Fisher’s had guest roles on just about everything, and Smith played the dad on That 70’s Show. You’ll be surprised by Smith. Bryan Cranston’s shift from just being the goofy dad on Malcolm in the Middle to becoming a ruthless drug kingpin on Breaking Bad ought to show you that many of those thankless, pigeonholed comedy roles are the most difficult and overlooked on TV. If you can communicate emotion when playing a one-lining stereotype, you can certainly communicate it once you get your shot at a drama. Fisher and Smith both get their turns to be heartbreaking – she somehow does in a look what some actors can’t do in their entire lives – and the show is certainly willing to trust its actors more than most do. Landon Giminez also deserves credit as Jacob. He’s more interesting and far less cloying than most child actors on TV.

Resurrection cleverly gives us characters of all types – Martin is a federal official, albeit a humane one. It’s mentioned in passing that Henry was an architect. Maggie’s a doctor. Jacob’s uncle (Maggie’s father) is Sheriff Fred Langston (Matt Craven). Of course, he doesn’t like Martin. Jacob’s best friend growing up, Tom (Mark Hildreth), is now the town’s pastor. While a bit obvious, it’s a smart way of letting the show explore how people who follow different paths and beliefs react to an event that seems miraculous. The time the show takes with its characters and the leeway it gives its actors does a lot to quickly evolve them from archetype to fleshed-out, unique individuals.

This is, simply put, the best job of casting on television right now. Casting director Deborah Aquila, who typically casts moderately-budgeted (but superstar-laden) action movies like the Underworld series, Red, and The Expendables, has recently moved into TV with this and the upcoming Black Box. She deserves a lot of credit for her work here.

#4: The Style, The Style, The Style

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Resurrection drips in elegance, and I don’t mean ballgowns and tuxedos. Arcadia, Missouri evokes the feelings of sunrise and sunset, of those brief hours when we let our guard down and get home from work or school and daydream the fantasy of how well we’ll spend the little free time we have. It’s hopeful and reflective. It understands the calm and quiet obsessions of American suburbia, even how nature plays into the repeated architecture as relief. It hints at the magic hour that turns those afternoon fantasies from hopeful to threatening.

This is smartly done sci-fi soap drama. It knows what it wants us to feel, but at the same time it feels like a curious creation that’s genuinely invested in mining for something deeper. It occasionally borders on schmaltzy, but dramas dream of doing schmaltz this effective.

A lot of shows feel episodic because the tone changes from one director to the next, from one writer to the next. There’s a clear purpose and a guiding hand to this show’s priorities. It carries within it the possibility to overwhelm at a moment’s notice, to make you catch a lump in your throat that lasts an entire commercial break, to make you recatch that lump on some completely other day when you briefly remember some passing detail, some moment of quiet shared with a character struggling to process life. Resurrection is exciting in its ideas, genuine in its emotion, and it puts its actors first and foremost – even before the show’s central mystery – in a way TV typically doesn’t. It’s a rare combination.

Should You Watch?

Without a doubt, yes.

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Resurrection airs on ABC Sundays 9 p.m. Eastern, 8 p.m. Central. You can watch it on Hulu here, or on ABC’s site here, as well as other streaming platforms.

Should You Watch? ‘Believe’

When I was growing up, you had two seasons when new TV shows premiered: Fall and Spring. And we hiked uphill in the snow to get to both. (The summer was for re-runs.)

Now we have so many channels and so much turnover, there’s a new TV season every two months. Well, it’s March, and we’ve had three major premiers in as many days: Believe, Cosmos, and Resurrection. I’ll handle the first today:

BELIEVE
Pilot”

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Imagine, if you will, that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had been the show you wanted it to be, following a rag-tag group of specialists sharing with each other only on a need-to-know basis while protecting and facing people with super-powers they couldn’t begin to understand. It might even have an interesting cast and fight choreography not done by a three-year old. Now imagine the very best episode that show-in-your-head might have, the kind of once-in-a-season nailbiter that offers enough answers to make you appreciate the mysteries it raises. Now you’ve got the pilot for NBC’s Believe.

In the pilot, we meet Bo (Johnny Sequoyah), a little girl with powers she can’t quite control but that involve telepathy, telekinesis, seeing people’s futures, and commanding animals to get downright feisty. A mysterious billionaire named Skouras (Kyle MacLachlan) is out to get her – to train her as a weapon, we’re told – and it’s up to an ill-funded underground operation to protect her. Bo’s newest foster parents are assassinated in the opening sequence, in one of those trademark long-takes that director (and co-creator) Alfonso Cuaron does so well. Cuaron’s coming off an Oscar for his direction of Gravity, but he adjusts tone well to television – there are shades of grittiness akin to his Children of Men, but by and large, Believe is a unique creation.

One thing about having Cuaron and executive producer J.J. Abrams (Lost; Almost Human) on board is that they’ve attracted top notch TV talent. It’s up to the enigmatic Winter (Delroy Lindo) and his protege Channing (Jamie Chung) to find a replacement to protect Bo. They choose an unlikely candidate in Tate (Jake McLaughlin), a death row inmate we meet just a few minutes before his scheduled execution. It’s up to him to rescue Bo from the first of what I’m sure will be many spies in the assassin Moore (a wicked Sienna Guillory). Most of the pilot is an enjoyable extended chase, involving two very well-done fight sequences, clever set-piecing and superb choreography.

The Cast

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Lindo is constantly underrated in B-material (most notably David Mamet’s Heist). It’s fun for a cinephile to think of him going up against Kyle MacLachlan (made famous by David Lynch in Twin Peaks). Lindo plays Winter so earnestly that it’s hard to tell if he’s just that good of a guy or if he has his own ulterior motives for Bo.

Chung and Jake McLaughlin, as the two younger heroes, have been working their way steadily to this sort of gig for years – Chung through thankless chauvinist dreck like Sucker Punch and The Hangover series, McLaughlin as supporting characters in Warrior and Savages. In just a handful of scenes, Chung communicates Channing’s near-religious awe for Bo and, by extension, Winter. McLaughlin plays rough and ready-to-rumble well, while balancing Tate on the fine line between charming and smug.

Sequoyah is key to the series, and she invests her role as a maybe-prophet with the flightiness and curiosity of a normal little girl. It makes for a compelling character, but one who we need to understand as more than a MacGuffin before we’re ready to take a season-long ride with Believe.

Much as Fox’s Sleepy Hollow and Almost Human feature African-American and Latin American protagonists, representing the cultural makeup of today’s United States in a realistic fashion, I also applaud Believe for featuring a Native American, an African American, and a Korean American actor as three of its four good guys. All three of these shows are associated with J.J. Abrams or his producing tree. That’s no mere coincidence. However much of a problem fans may have with how Lost ended or how Star Trek got rebooted, he’s pretty much the only producing force on network TV whose shows regularly feature minorities in roles of heroism and leadership.

Should You Watch…

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…the pilot? Absolutely. It’s a fantastic hour of TV. I’d be shouting this one from the mountaintops save for two things.

Thing the first: Alfonso Cuaron directed the pilot episode. It’s tense, energetic, and just a touch gritty. He’s obviously not directing past this, so this may be the best episode we get for a while. On the list of future directors, the one that jumps out is Roxann Dawson. She’s most recognizable as an actress from Star Trek: Voyager, but has directed episodes of various Star Treks, Crossing Jordan, Cold Case, The Closer, and – most recently – the best Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. yet (“Eye Spy”). She’s a go-to contract director on genre fare. Stephen Williams, a director of 26 episodes on Lost, also gives me hope.

There’s some neat stability – the cinematographer across the first several episodes, Gonzalo Amat, is a Mexican short film director hand-picked by Cuaron. Production designer Lester Cohen has created clean, evocative set design for both White Collar and Suits. Make-up head Patricia Regan held the same position with the fantastical Pan Am and the realistic Girls and her looks – especially for McLaughlin and Guillory – are creative and enticing while being just a touch off-putting. That shows me that the behind-the-scenes talent is being given the room to get creative and spread their wings here. That’s promising, so long as the direction of the show itself remains tight.

Thing the second: if movies are the director’s playground, then TV belongs to the writers, and the first episode gets schmaltzy. Now, I like a bit of schmaltz now and then, but there’s noise made about Bo to the tune of: “Think how many people she’ll help along the way.” The show is better set up as an episodic action-adventure than as a miracle-of-the-week. They need to keep the chase the priority and humanize Bo – these two things will let them get away with any Touched By An Angel dynamic they want to work in, but it’s got to be action first if they want it to function.

The directors and writers are rounded out by a smattering of Battlestar Galactica vets and writers on BBC dramas. That sounds like…I don’t know what that sounds like. If there’s a show that combined gritty action and schmaltzy philosophy so simultaneously annoying and provocative as Battlestar Galactica, I haven’t met it. The banter between Tate and Bo is wryly promising. That and Delroy Lindo should keep things very watchable, but this pilot isn’t the kind to tell you where the show is headed yet. I’m being a bit hard on Believe because, even though it’s so promising, you can see the potential pitfalls a mile off…and we’ve been disappointed enough by the Heroes and Agents of recent years. Hopefully, Believe has learned the lessons of these other shows. With a first episode this good, it’s hard not to be cautiously optimistic.