Friday, 11 July 2014

Pilot preview: ABC's FOREVER - an entertaining, unoriginal assemblage

Friday, 11 July 2014

It's hard to criticise FOREVER too harshly, because it does everything a good pilot should do. The premise is outlined succinctly, there are big dramatic moments, a 'message' is imparted over the course of the hour, the performances are charming, there are good special effects, and a touching twist concerning the surprise back-story of a supporting character. For those reasons alone, I don't begrudge anyone enjoying this and coming away intending to watch more. However, Forever doesn't have an original bone in its body.

This ABC drama concerns Dr Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd), a handsome New York medical examiner who hides an extraordinary secret: he's immortal and already 200-years-old. Whenever he dies, Henry awakens in nearby water with no physical signs of injury on his naked body, and the only person who knows his secret is elderly Jewish friend Abe (Judd Hirsch). This pilot sets up Henry's partnership with homicide detective Jo Martinez (Alana De La Garza), who's investigating a subway crash Henry actually died in. Needless to say, they're going to be solving a lot of cases together...

Loosely speaking, the above reads like the concept behind every procedural pilot the U.S churns out every year, but the twist of involving an immortal lead character does give the show added zest. It was a little annoying how Henry's voice-overs explain immortality and its gift/curse as if nobody's ever thought of the idea before—when it's actually quite common. It's only been six years since Fox's immortal cop series New Amsterdam, with a pre-Game of Thrones Nicolaj Coster-Waldau.

It feels like Forever creator Matthew Miller (Chuck) saw and enjoyed New Amsterdam, so just tweaked a few things. Actually, it feels like Miller's seen a great deal and brought some of his favourite TV ideas into this show, disguising his influences only slightly...

There's a touch of Angel in the use of flashbacks, which is fine, but deciding to give Henry amazing skills of perception felt like Miller overtly copying a Sherlock signature. The first scene, with Henry flirting with a subway passenger by "guessing" she's a Russian musician (simply by observing her person), almost felt like a deleted Sherlock scene. There's also a touch of Elementary's Jonny Lee Miller (another Sherlock) in Ioan Gruffudd's manner and suave English line deliveries, too. He even wears a fashionable neck scarf!. Even stranger, Forever's pilot begins what appears to be its season-long mystery, with a mystery man contacting Henry and claiming to know his secret... and it plays exactly like the pilot of Dexter (another Morgan), who was contacted by a fellow serial killer, also aware of his secret.

It's okay to be inspired by other people's stories (the cultural stew is there to be stirred by different hands), but there were times in this pilot episode where the show resembled a patchwork of stolen ideas. How much of this pilot worked based on its own unique ideas? Very little.

But did any of this lessen my enjoyment of Forever's first episode? Curiously, no. It was certainly a 'best of' package cribbed from better shows (even Henry's post-mortem teleportation reminded me of folk being spat out at the New Jersey turnpike in Being John Malkovich), but it was well-paced and entertaining to watch. The story was told clearly, the characters entertained me, the actors handled their scenes well, and I would definitely watch some more... if only to see if the show forges its own path, to become something more incomparable.

written by Matthew Miller | directed by Brad Anderson