In searching for an answer to why so many people were put-off by the heavy subject matter of HBO’s The Leftovers, it only took a few episodes to disregard the religious overtones and puzzling mystery of rapture-like “departure” of millions of people.
The real focus of the first season was not just who was left to walk this earth, but how they were able to grapple with the question of why they’re still here. What made the show a pleasure to watch for me was being uncomfortably forced to acknowledge the why. Coming to grips with your own mortality can take your mind to dark places and for many that was a deal breaker for The Leftovers.
The topic can be broached in lighter ways. ABC’s new procedural drama, Forever, wants to ask some of the same polarizing questions, but do it in a more accessible and less intruding way. The story revolves around Dr. Henry Morgan (played brilliantly by Ioan Gruffudd), a New York City medical examiner who may seem like a savant at first. He acts as though he’s been plucked straight out of The Mentalist or Elementary yet he’s no more gifted than the average medical examiner. Really, he’s just a little more experienced.
Morgan’s life is like yours and mine, he says, “except there’s one small difference: It never ends.” He’s lived for over 200 years because he’s incapable of dying. Every time he’s murdered or voluntarily takes his life, he wakes up a few hours later butt naked in the ocean.
Here we are again, left to answer the question of why. If you watched the pilot, and judging from the ratings many of you did not, you know there isn’t a good answer for it, at least not yet. Hell, even Morgan has no idea why he’s been around for so long. Now we can sit here and say the premise is overdone. Fox essentially premiered and quickly cancelled New Amsterdam, a series from 2008 with a nearly identical premise. I can say that I really dislike procedural dramas, and its sub-genre of painstakingly intuitive detectives as I previously mentioned, because I do.
Yet, I’m sticking around with Dr. Morgan for the time being because his goofy backstory has potential to be a ton of fun. Even with the somewhat serious tone of Forever, the pilot held my interest because of how non-procedural it all felt. The main storyline revolves around a man trying to contact Morgan because he knows his secret. That could hold some water at least initially, depending on where they go with it. If you match that with Morgan’s past, history almost acts as another arc for the show. Then we get to the procedural part of the program with his soon-to-be sidekick, Detective Jo Martinez (Alana de la Garza), but by then I was already hung up on wonder how much cool shit this man has seen over the last 200 years.
There’s no doubt this is a challenging role for Gruffudd. He’ll have to manage the modern day while stretching himself to be the anchor for a variety of historical set pieces. The rest of the cast, including the always-reliable Judd Hirsch, should help him out.
Inevitably a show is measured against the class it comes in with and if it can make a dent in the ratings when going up against established returners. The remaining questions moving forward are: Is Forever a promising half-procedural or is it just the least mediocre in an overall bland freshman drama pack? And can it overcome some difficult timeslot competition and a premiere that was buried in the ratings by just about everything else on television?
ABC didn’t give the show much help by putting the pilot up against The Blacklist then airing the second episode just a day later. In tonight’s episode “Look Before You Leap,” Morgan (as the narrator) relates the pain and suffering for those left behind. “Why seems to be the only question that matters,” he says. Forever won’t ask the hard questions about life, fate and mortality. So why should you watch? After the first two episodes, it’s clear that we’re getting an odd cross between the History Channel, 1000 Ways to Die and Elementary, and that actually sounds pretty fun.