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On its surface, ABC’s new mystery drama Forever sounds like a home run. Dr. Henry Morgan has been around for 200 years, unable to die with permanence, and his job as a medical examiner puts him in with the police to help solve difficult cases. It’s all tied together with a creepy antagonist and a gingerly morbid sense of humor. Luckily, this intriguing premise goes deeper than the surface and pushes Forever into the upper echelon of ABC’s drama pilots. It’s no Lost, of course, but then it’s also not the dozens of shows that have come and gone in the meantime.
Welsh actor Iaon Gruffudd stars as Henry, the man for whom life is the only option, which isn’t to say he cannot die. On the contrary, Henry dies all the time, the victim of circumstance as well as tragedy. His secret has remained safe over the years, for each time he dies, his body disappears and he somewhat magically wakes up in a nearby body of water with his memories still intact. The only other person who knows about his odd predicament is antique store owner Abe (Judd Hirsch), who is introduced for the first time behind the wheel of a car in what felt like a callback to Hirsch's Taxi days.
A subway accident is at the heart of the pilot, and it’s one in which our main character was present. It’s a solid way to introduce Henry, as he appears to be a modern-day Sherlock Holmes while flirting with another passenger, able to pinpoint almost everything about her just from her appearance and demeanor. One crash and swim in the East River later, and Henry find himself working with the NYPD, particularly Detective Jo Martinez (Alana De La Garza). She, of course, doesn’t realize why Henry is able to almost do her job better than she can, but she recognizes his potential, and they work together to figure out what caused the crash. Surprisingly, it felt rather unlike a procedural, though I’m sure the “case of the week” fatigue will come.
The mystery at hand has nothing to do with the cops, though. Henry begins receiving messages from someone who calls himself a “fan;” someone that knows Henry’s secret and also has a secret of his own. And before you can say Unbreakable, it’s over, and the brain’s capacity for curiosity goes into overload. What’s this about? What’s that about? Why isn’t Judd Hirsch in more TV series?
Created by former Chuck writer/producer Matthew Miller, Forever is quite enjoyable but does have its faults. Joel David Moore, an actor I generally enjoy, plays Henry’s assistant Lucas, and he’s the overtly stereotypical guy who never gets the attention he’s aiming for, and his welcome is worn out almost instantly. Gruffudd is also too pointed in his assessments of things, making most of his scenes feel like they belong on the stage rather than a vaguely realistic TV series. Plus, any time a super-smart character is helping the cops – think of Castle – it tends to make the cops look like a bunch of inept assholes.
Still, there’s far more to revel in than complain about. I thought I’d find Henry’s flashbacks to his “one true love” somewhat corny, but they’re rather sweet, and they inspire one to wonder how love is supposed to be handled for immortal people. Also, the pilot was directed by one of my favorite filmmakers, Brad Anderson, who also directed last year’s The Call and the upcoming thriller Stonehearst Asylum. It’s not a showy pilot, but there are a lot of visually interesting things happening throughout. Tie it all together with Gruffudd and Hirsch's winning chemistry and ABC has got a winner on its hands.
A sneak preview for Forever will air on Monday, September 22 at 10 p.m. ET. You can then watch the next episode during its normal Tuesday night timeslot on September 23 at 10 p.m. ET. Find all of the other fall TV premieres here.