'Resurrection,' 'Believe' require a leap of faith.
Unlike Vladimir Putin, Americans would rather be liked than feared.
"Resurrection'' a new ABC series starting Sunday, and "Believe,'' which begins on NBC on Monday, are two fantasy dramas that are meant to scare but instead hurriedly defuse and reassure.
Both feature children with supernatural traits, and both are technically polished and well-made, with spooky special effects and neatly choreographed violence. That's particularly the case with "Believe,'' which counts J.J. Abrams ("Lost'' and the most recent "Star Trek'' movies) among its executive producers and was created by Alfonso Cuaron, who just won an Oscar for directing "Gravity.''
The writing for both shows, however, is not as sophisticated. Like first-time tourists in Paris, these fantasy thrillers too quickly try to please and be understood.
It's particularly noticeable with "Resurrection,'' a show based on a Jason Mott novel, "The Returned,'' that is weirdly similar to a French series, "Les Revenants'' (also "The Returned''). Both the U.S. and French series are about dead people who come to life and return to their small communities -- without an explanation and without having aged a day.
The French version, which was recently shown on the Sundance Channel and will be rerun there in a marathon Sunday, was riveting because it was so veiled and withholding. The resurrected loved ones had little to say for themselves, and the reactions of their friends and relatives were also secretive and muted: Not everyone was pleased, and even parents' initial joy slowly gave way to doubt and, ultimately, fear and suspicion.
The mystery lay not just in people's rising from the dead but also in the creepily uncommunicative response of a small town in France.
"Resurrection'' starts out well enough. An 8-year-old boy (Landon Gimenez) wakes up in a rice paddy in rural China with no idea how he got there; it takes a kindly customs and immigration agent, J. Martin Bellamy, known as Marty (Omar Epps), to figure out that his name is Jacob Langston and that he is from Arcadia, Mo. But it turns out that no child is missing from there. The real Jacob died 32 years ago. (The first hint comes when Jacob is presented with a choice of video games and selects "Donkey Kong.'')
All too soon, however, the mystery turns into soapy melodrama, and the supernatural is superseded by the cliches of network drama: stock characters, obvious plot twists and too much heavy-handed exposition. Casting is part of the problem. As Lucille, Jacob's now 60-something mother, Frances Fisher is quietly excellent, but she is the exception. Most of the other actors are familiar television warhorses who bring only the obvious to their roles.
"Believe'' is a faith-based mystery: Bo (Johnny Sequoyah) is a lovely 10-year-old girl with special powers, including healing and telekinesis. She has a cult following of adults who are dedicated to protecting her from enemies who seek to harness her talents for evil.
Cuaron directed the pilot, and the opening scene, a car crash shot from the passengers' point of view, is genuinely shocking. But the characters don't live up to the swirling, often violent action that surrounds them.
Milton Winter (Delroy Lindo) runs an underground network of believers who are ready to sacrifice their lives to protect Bo. Winter helps a death row convict, Tate (Jake McLaughlin), escape to look after Bo. (His reasons are revealed at the end of the pilot.)
Tate reluctantly agrees to what is obviously a dangerous mission. Everywhere he and Bo go, there is a relentless, ruthless killer a few steps behind, following the instructions of a well-connected tycoon known as Skouras (Kyle MacLachlan).
Bo's goodness -- she has a Christlike ability to feel people's pain and heal their suffering -- is established at the start, so there is little mystery to why Winter and others are so determined to keep her safe.
"Believe,'' like "Resurrection,'' requires viewers to trust that there is a good reason to keep watching week after week. Some series improve with time, but these pilots aren't very promising: For all their cinematic prowess, they lack the mystique that inspires a leap of faith.