An 8-year-old boy wakes up alone in a rice paddy in rural China. His name is Jacob and he doesn’t belong there.

An older couple, Henry and Lucille Langston, are at home in Arcadia, Mo., when Immigration agent J. Martin Bellamy (Omar Epps) knocks on their door. He’s with Jacob, who studies Henry for a moment and calls him Dad. A small sign of recognition flickers across Henry’s face before turning into shock. His son Jacob drowned 32 years ago.

Jacob is the first of Arcadia’s community to come back from the dead. He won’t be the last.

This intriguing new series based on Jason Mott’s book “The Returned” is a story that asks startling questions with deeply complex implications. What if a deceased person you loved came back to you decades later? What if you died and were resurrected? The show doesn’t provide easy answers, making it smart, emotional and challenging TV.

Among his family and friends, Jacob’s (Landon Gimenez) return is met with unconditional acceptance, confusion and skepticism. Lucille (Frances Fisher) believes almost instantly while Henry’s (Kurtwood Smith) reaction is a mix of hope and fear. Jacob’s cousin Dr. Maggie Langston (Devin Kelley) was a baby when he drowned. Her mother died in the river that day, too, so her doubt about his story fights with her desire for a connection to the woman she doesn’t remember. Her father and Henry’s brother Sheriff Fred Langston (Matt Craven) may be a man too damaged by the past to believe. How their feelings change over time has the potential to be one of the more compelling aspects of the series.

Jacob asks: “Did I die?” but he doesn’t remember anything after hitting his head on a rock while underwater. Is he telling the truth? Will the others who return remember more? There’s an obvious spiritual undertone here that the show isn’t afraid to confront, namely in the form of Jacob’s childhood friend Tom Hale (Mark Hildreth), who is now Arcadia’s pastor. Jacob’s appearance causes a crisis of faith for Tom as he struggles to accept what is happening.

Memory plays a large role as well and the series uses flashbacks to reveal the past as both the family members and the resurrected remember it. They are a useful back story device, but they also add a layer of tension. It will be interesting to see how the series develops the darker side to this idea. Memories can be unreliable and not all memories are happy ones.

The mysteries of “Resurrection” have scientific, spiritual and political layers, but it’s also based on a profoundly personal idea. Its success lies in how well it continues to ask the big questions (How is it possible?) without losing sight of the small ones (Why is it happening to me?).

“Resurrection” premieres Sunday, March 9 at 9 p.m. EDT on ABC.

Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at staytuned@outlook.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.