From One Dream To Another, 'The Returned' Shows Promise

Eric Deggans talks with author Jason Mott about the year's hottest book-to-TV translation, Resurrection. The series, a rare television show starring a black man, is based on Mott's book, The Returned.

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It's something most writer only dream of, but Jason Mott is living the dream. ABC has turned his first novel into a TV series. "Resurrection" premieres Sunday night. As NPR's Eric Deggans reports, it explores one transition just about everyone faces sooner or later.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: For Jason Mott, it all started with a vision about life after his mother's death.

JASON MOTT: I had this dream that I came home from work and found my mother sitting at the kitchen table waiting for me. So I came in and sat with her and for what seemed like hours, we just talked, where for the first time in about nine years, I really felt like I was back with my mother again.

DEGGANS: That feeling, the exhilaration and then a deeper loss inspired Mott to write a novel about dead people reappearing on Earth called "The Return." Now, before the book was even published, Brad Pitt's Plan B company bought the TV rights and ABC began filming. There's lots of TV shows with zombies around, but "Resurrection" is different.

It's a romanticized meditation on coping with loss. It's also a TV series which might be better than the book it's based on. It moves slowly. The story starts as two government agents meet the first of the returned. He's a mysterious American child brought to a New York airport with few clues to his identity.

(SOUNDBITE FROM TV SERIES "RESURRECTION")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Kid showed up in a village in rural China out of nowhere. No ID, no passport.

OMAR EPS: (as Bellamy) And what's the kid say?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That's the thing. Nothing. Hasn't said a word since we found him.

EPS: (As Bellamy) Jacob? I'm Agent J. Martin Bellamy. You can call me Marty.

DEGGANS: Agent Bellamy is played by Omar Eps who used to star in the medical drama "House." He says when dead people appear on "Resurrection," they undo the healing of loved ones they left behind.

EPS: You get on with life, right? And to have that person be here, reappear as they were, all the work that you did to be able to get on from that is sort of ripped away now.

DEGGANS: Bellamy confronts that issue when he returns Jacob to his parents. The agent's delicate task: persuading Jacob's father that his son is alive again.

(SOUNDBITE FROM TV SERIES, "RESURRECTION")

EPS: (As Bellamy) I don't know what to think about any of this. But I saw you the moment you saw him. You believed.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Believed what? That he's not there in that vault where I laid him 32 years ago?

EPS: (As Bellamy) Maybe you're missing the real question. Do you want to believe?

DEGGANS: "Resurrection" is the only network drama this spring to feature a black man as its sole star, which makes Agent Bellamy that rarest of TV figures: an African-American hero. But author Jason Mott says race has very little to do with his story.

MOTT: None of the characters had a racial identity till very late in the editorial process. What happened was my editor was - she said I really love these characters, but I can't see any of them. And with Bellamy, that was always my proxy character. That was always me kind of telling my personal story. He became a character that was black just because I'm a black author.

EPS: I mean, I think race is replaced with belief.

DEGGANS: Eps says race usually separates people, but on this show the character's spiritual values are the dividing lines.

EPS: Whatever your beliefs are, that's going to be your race, you know, in terms of how you may experience the story in the book and in the pilot. I mean, we were - race never came up.

DEGGANS: As ABC spreads the story to a larger audience, Mott admits there's one fantasy left unfulfilled, meeting his celebrity benefactor, Brad Pitt.

MOTT: I wish I had a really terrific story about meeting Brad Pitt on the French Riviera or something like that. But unfortunately, the truth is much more unexciting than that.

DEGGANS: That's OK. Omar Eps hasn't met him, either.

EPS: But I told Jason, I'm like, look, not to jinx you, but we get an Emmy or something, I think we might meet him at the after party. You never know.

DEGGANS: Another unlikely dream for Mott, which now seems quite possible, thanks to an idea about death that completely transformed his life. Eric Deggans, NPR News.

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