in Television

Fall Preview: ‘Forever’ Feels Eternally Hollow

There should be a limit on how many shows in a five year period that get to copy the Sherlock Holmes formula. You know the one: prickly white guy has super impressive observational skills that he can drop at a moment’s notice, starts consulting for the police for some reason and singlehandedly puts the entire police force to shame, but is woefully emotionally stunted. With the power of friendship and perhaps the love of a good woman, he will rise above and conquer his demons.

Enter: Dr. Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd) in ABC’s new detective show, Forever. To make Henry stand apart from other Sherlocks, the creator of Forever has given him… the power of immortality!

So Henry isn’t your typical medical examiner who also consults for the FBI after all. He’s unkillable! He’s lived for over 200 years! When he dies, he always wakes up naked in a large body of water! (By the way, how many public indecency violations do you think he’s racked up by now? It’s gotta be a lot. They never even explain the physics of the show – does his body just get whisked away when he dies? If there’s a giant puddle of blood left on the floor when he disappears, does his DNA get whisked away too? How is he gonna explain losing pints of blood in one place and waking up naked and fine 10 miles away?) Watch Forever to find out all about the mysteries of Henry’s immortality and see how many times Henry can plausibly die in a single episode…

Unfortunately, Forever isn’t good enough to justify why we need yet another Sherlock Holmes type show, especially one that feels like a rehash of detective shows we’ve already seen like Elementary, BBC’s Sherlock, and The Mentalist. Already in the first 2 minutes of the pilot, Henry employs the famous “Sherlock Scan” on a young woman sitting on the subway. Instead of finding him creepy and off-putting like any normal person, she’s charmed and even invites him out on a date.

Later in the episode, when his future partner Detective Jo Martinez (Alana de la Garza) walks into the Medical Examiner’s office, he tells her “I’m sorry for your loss,” referring to a tan line a wedding band had left on her finger. We’re not sure if it’s the delivery or the writing, but Henry doesn’t come off as sorry – he just seems like he’s showing off how smart he is at Jo’s expense, which to us makes him really, really rude.

See, Henry is kind of a douchebag, but we’re supposed to find him charmingElementary tries the same thing, but does it much better because they actually acknowledge that Holmes has a problem. Holmes in Elementary is on an emotional journey and we’re right there with him. It’s still early days for Henry Morgan, but based on this pilot, there’s not much of a journey to be had.

There just aren’t any stakes in Forever. Henry’s wealthy. He’s highly intelligent and observational (perks of living 200+ years studying medicine and learning how to read people). Not to mention he’s immortal. It doesn’t feel like there’s any real or present danger, which makes it difficult to become emotionally invested in the show.

We’re told that his goal is to end his curse of immortality, and we’re shown, through flashbacks, that he’s mourning the death of his true love. But we find it difficult to really care when Henry seems perfectly well-adjusted, with a decent support system in his friend and confidant Abe (Judd Hirsch). There’s no sense of urgency, because Henry literally has all the time in the world to figure out his immortality issue.

We already have an uninteresting premise; Henry’s immortality is obviously a gimmick propping up what will inevitably be a stereotypical police procedural. The pilot episode’s case is boring and doesn’t make that much sense (to be fair, we did zone out a lot during the explanations of why the killer was doing what he was doing) but as always with these sorts of things, ultimately isn’t important, since the focus is on introducing Henry and the overall premise of the show. The mystery around Henry’s immortality isn’t going to be enough to keep our interest, despite how many cryptic envelopes and phone calls Henry gets from a mysterious Moriarty-like figure.

Speaking of which, by the time Henry receives his first phone call from “Moriarty,” we’ve already seen the series’ main conflict coming. Henry’s immortality hasn’t gone unnoticed, and there’s a shadowy, unnamed figure lurking just around the corner who somehow knows all of Henry’s secrets and can go undetected whilst leaving unmarked envelopes and untraceable calls. Yet, knowing Henry can’t be killed or harmed in any serious way, it doesn’t feel like this mysterious stranger poses any threat.

Meanwhile, Detective Jo Martinez remained a shining bright spot in an otherwise lackluster pilot. We don’t learn as much about Jo as we do about Henry, but of what we do learn, she’s already much more intriguing and charismatic – and all this without any powers of immortality. She gets a few adorkable moments – we first meet her awkwardly fleeing a one night stand,  for instance – which, in the face of Henry’s unlikeability, endears her character to us all the more. The pilot strongly hints that she’s going to be a main love interest at some point (after a season or three of will-they-won’t-they tension, naturally) but there is a serious lack of chemistry between the actors and characters.

Forever isn’t entirely hopeless. The thing about shaky pilots is there’s lots of room for improvement. What it does have going for it so far is that it’s pretty light-hearted and doesn’t take itself too seriously. What it needs in order to be better- besides getting rid of that unnecessary, distracting voiceover (we really don’t need Henry’s disembodied voice explaining everything to us, we can figure it out for ourselves) – is for Forever to up the ante with regards to internal and external stakes. We need to be able to root for Henry, to find him a sympathetic character with room for growth. We need less of Henry being all-knowing, all-powerful, and revered by nearly all his peers.

(Written by Christine Duong and Hera Syed)