[This is a review for Forever season 1, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
Even though its hook sets it apart from the majority of what's on television at the moment, Forever is a series that lends itself quite easily to comparison. It's one part Bones and one part Castle, but with a supernatural catch that makes the series unique enough it's not entirely another rote procedural. Well, the portions not of a procedural nature, anyway.
Sure, by the end of the series premiere there's an established working order to things that is as perfunctory as any other lighthearted crime-of-the-week series out there. But as with the more successful of the bunch, Forever manages to have enough charm in its conceit and chemistry among its primary leads of Ioan Gruffudd, Alana De La Garza, and Judd Hirsch that it seems like a foregone conclusion the series could at the very least become a modest hit for ABC.
For those who are still unaware, Forever concerns Dr. Henry Morgan (Gruffudd), a man who has been alive for the better part of 200 years. Well, been alive is not entirely accurate, considering he's died countless times over his unnaturally long lifespan. At any rate, it's not that Henry Morgan cannot die, he can; it's that he simply does not stay dead. Instead, after he passes on, Henry is reborn, always in water, and always naked – which sheds a humorous light on an otherwise dark premise. What actually happens to his body, though, remains an interesting question.
All that extra time on the planet has given Henry a unique outlook on life…and on death. He's not terribly excited to be continuing with the former and he's completely obsessed with unlocking the mysteries of the latter. Henry's so intimate with dying and his own resurrection that he manages to kick the bucket three times in the pilot alone – and only one of those times is not on purpose.
It's like Groundhog Day, except the world keeps turning. And in that sense, Henry's blessing of eternal life becomes something more akin to a curse.
There is a complicated backstory at the heart of Forever that helps to keep things fresh during this first hour. Although Henry's life is not necessarily an open book, the pilot gives enough information on his past to understand who he is in the present. The title of the series alone hints at the vast amount of time the story has at its disposal, through the use of sepia toned flashbacks, which introduce Abigail, a woman Henry was in love with during World War II, and whom he would like nothing more than to die for. The pilot's flashbacks also introduce Abe (Judd Hirsch), whose relationship to Henry winds up being a rewarding moment revealed in the episode's closing moments.
The flashbacks are used here primarily to set up Henry's circumstances and to reinforce what it is his character wants. As the series moves on, one can already see how insight into Henry's past will lead to some correlation with the case he's working on at the moment, and perhaps unravel some part of the mystery that is his seemingly eternal life. And with two centuries worth of living to cover, Forever has conveniently built in a clever gimmick capable of keeping a multi-season run chock full of fun historical settings, costumes, and storylines.
But what's a procedural without a supporting cast of characters designed to either help propel the plot or fill the spare moments between plot developments with lighthearted banter and character development? Unsurprisingly, Forever has plenty of both in Alana De La Garza's Det. Jo Martinez and Joel David Moore as Lucas Wan (pay no attention to the similarity of Moore's character to the role he played on Bones), Henry's assistant down at the medical examiner's office.
While Moore's character develops the understanding that Henry Morgan is something of an enigma – even to those who have worked side by side with him for years – the pilot puts in a considerable amount of effort to situate De La Garza as the ostensible co-lead of the series by partnering her with Morgan (or the other way around, really). And the fact that there could easily be a romantic connection between the two, somewhere down the line, is surely just a coincidence.
To the show's credit, though, it does give Det. Martinez a death-related angle as a recent widow, who has taken to self-medicating through alcohol. As far as backstory goes, its not particularly original, but given the show's interest in death and its protagonist's preoccupation with the subject, the possibility of a compelling storyline built around the two death-related elements could work to give the show a weird edge to go along with its strangely entertaining premise.
And while the pilot gets most of the heavy lifting out of the way regarding Henry's strange predicament/ability, Forever also sets up a larger plotline to go along with the criminal of the week stories, like the pilot's focus on the grieving husband (played by The Americans' Lee Tergesen) driven to murder NYC transit employees by very exotic means. Though that plot starts the series off with Henry's first death of the episode, it also comes so close to being a direct reproduction of the plot/twist seen in Unbreakable that there's a sigh of relief when it deviates just enough to avoid being one.
Of course that's in relation to Henry's off-screen admirer, who seems to be watching him at all times and claims to be just like him. Whether or not this mysterious individual is intended to be an ongoing antagonist or is merely as shy of certain forms of human interaction as Henry is remains to be seen. It's an interesting addition for Forever to have this early on, and hopefully it develops into something the series can build off of, rather than perpetually work towards.
Forever sticks to the expected when it comes to its procedural elements, but thanks to its appealing and out of the ordinary foundation, the level of sameness it produces never quite steers into utter blandness. It likely won't make waves, but it will make for passable, passive entertainment.
Forever will air its second episode 'Look Before You Leap' on Tuesday, September 23 @10pm on ABC.