Saturday, September 20, 2014

Pilot Review: Forever

Forever (Tuesdays at 10:00 on ABC; Premieres September 22)

It's really hard to watch thoroughly mediocre television. If something is great, it's enjoyable. If something is utterly terrible, that can be enjoyable too, in a totally different way. But it's all the series that fall in between those two poles that are painful to sit through: the ones that are shameless rip-offs of better shows; ones that are unremarkable cop procedurals in a new city but with the same boring cast of stock characters; ones that are remakes of foreign shows no one cared about in the first place; etc. Forever is of the first type, a mediocre show that is a shameless rip-off of a bunch of better shows.

Dr. Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd) is a New York City medical examiner with a learned gift for astute observation. He's also inexplicably immortal. Since a fateful night almost two hundred years ago, every time Henry dies, he is reborn in a nearby body of water, stark naked and with no memory of the time between his death and rebirth. Over time, he has taught himself extensively about the world and has developed his skill for noticing things that others do not. Now he studies death and corpses in hopes of finding out what makes him immortal.

Morgan is a Sherlock clone, from his observations of the minutia around him (he deduces a woman to be a cellist based on the indentations on her fingers but lack of markings under her neck that would indicate playing the violin) to his British accent and three-piece suits. The only thing that prevents him from being a direct rip-off is the twist of his inability to stay dead, which is interesting but not really enough for me to want to watch Forever week after week. Were Morgan's immortality at all consequential, I would be whistling a different tune. But his past has no bearing on the procedural aspect of the show, so Forever becomes a show about Morgan and his relationship with the mystery of himself... and how he solves some crimes, just because. Why is this show half procedural? Because the creators are lazy. It's easier to make a procedural with sci-fi/supernatural elements, and it's easier to sell a procedural than a sci-fi/supernatural show.

Aside from that, there are just too many questions raised by the pilot to enjoy the proceedings. For instance, there is a scene in which Henry requests Abe to inject him with poison... yet though Henry has no memory of where he goes between dying and resurrecting in a river, Abe makes no mention of what happens when he kills him. Did his body vanish and then reappear in the river? Isn't this more interesting and more pressing than finding out if the poison you're testing is, indeed, fatal? Then there are the questionable characters. How awful (or green) of a detective must Martinez be if Morgan, a quirky guy with a high level of intelligence, is the "weirdest, creepiest" guy she's ever met in the homicide division? Martinez doesn't follow in the long-line of strong central female characters on ABC shows; she's a twit, and she's woodenly portrayed by Law & Order's Alana de la Garza. I suppose it's a breath of fresh air that Martinez is flawed and not just another ingenious cop, but it's also not terribly engaging. And Abe... what is the point of Abe? He doesn't seem to serve much purpose, other than to be the one guy who knows Henry's secret (well, except for the Moriarty-esque character who taunts Henry through much of the pilot). We get to know next-to-nothing about Abe in the pilot. I guess he's just there because it's Judd Hirsch, and he'll draw in some older viewers.

The structure of the show itself is a bit problematic as well. Tiresome, overused, unnecessary voiceovers dominate the first act. Morgan muses about how dreary life is for those who live forever, having to watch everyone you care about die while you are perpetually left behind. He muses about fate, about friendship, about lost love. It's all well-trod stuff. The way Henry uses his endless cache of memories to his advantage is cool, but it gives the show a disjointed feeling when we're suddenly in the middle of a brief flashback; it's almost like how the clues Shawn used on Psych glowed as they became relevant to his investigation, except here we are taken back to the 1950s and so on for a few seconds. It's a bizarre choice that's good in theory but a little confusing in practice. On the plus side, there are some nice moments of dark comedy ("Hang me once, shame on me. Hang me twice...") and self-awareness ("Trust me, it's not a nice way to die."), and Gruffudd can make almost anything at the very least watchable. Unfortunately, not much else about Forever does. Creator Matthew Miller has a good hook with Henry's immortality, but I know that the question of how and why is not going to be answered anytime soon. So Forever is just going to be another procedural exploring pretty much the same relationship dynamic as the early episodes of Castle (unlikely partnership between a female NYPD detective and the non-cop who somehow knows more than she does) and Elementary, among others, so what's the point? Save yourself the time and the inevitable boredom and just skip it.

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