ABC’s mid-season offering, Resurrection, arrived to mixed reviews, sporting a 59 out of 100 on Metacritic and a 53% rating with a 5.7 out of 10 on Rotten Tomatoes. What’s been interesting, though, has been the content of the critical reviews. Critics appear to have panned the show largely because the premise is unoriginal. In paging through the Metacritic reviews, one critic concludes, “Hey, we see dead people.” Another says, “…Resurrection feels awfully ordinary.” The A.V. Club flatly declares, “It’s hard to look at Resurrection and not see all the nerve that broadcast networks have lost.” Ouch!
Of course, the show is unoriginal, being based as it is on a French Series, The Returned, which was aired in the U.S. on Sundance TV, but the indifference with which critics are hitting Resurrection is not so much a result of its “network copycat” character, but the absolute familiarity of its basic premise. What has critics snoozing is that shows about people coming back from the dead are no longer original. We’ve seen it all before, numerous times. In fact, The Returned is itself a copycat of the 2004 French film, They Came Back. And there have been numerous offerings here in the US in which the dead come back to life (whether as zombies or as real people), or the living communicate with the dead. From The Sixth Sense to Walking Dead to The Ghost Whisperer and The Medium to, um, dare I include it, Ghost, we’ve seen it all before. Nothing to see here, people, move along.
And why this matters in terms of the Christian life was simply, yet eloquently, stated some years ago by Methodist theologian and bishop Will Willimon. In a 2009 interview on the White Horse Inn, Dr. Willimon was asked about the challenges facing Christian preachers in the postmodern age, and he responded with a folksy tale about himself as a young preacher on one of his first experiences preaching on Easter Sunday.
I recall Willimon saying that he initially wondered how he could effectively preach about such an obviously supernatural event to a congregation full of modern, sceptical thinkers. Then he realized that our modern society is steeped in an affinity for the occult and supernatural. This fascination plays out in our culture through movies and shows like the ones mentioned above, books by authors like Stephen King, even a societal fascination with world religions that teach reincarnation and life after death. The blurring of the line between life and death has become so commonplace in our society that it is now simply a part of the cultural air that we breathe.
So Willimon concluded that his challenge in preaching the resurrection of Christ was not so much in convincing a modern congregation that resurrection was possible… It was convincing a room full of modern Americans that it only ever happened once.