Forever episode 1 review: Pilot

Billy discovers an odd combination of science fiction and detective genres, in ABC’s new show Forever...

This review contains spoilers.

1.1 Pilot

The success of any TV show is based for the most part on how it connects to its audience, and in this respect Forever rolls out as many familiar and immediately recognisable characters as it can early on. Immediately we’re introduced to Dr. Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd), as a New York City medical examiner who has a peculiar secret only known to his friend Abe (Judd Hirsch).

If you wanted an old friend it would probably be Judd Hirsch, and if you wanted a secret it might well be that you can potentially never die.

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The way that this is explained in the pilot with the subway crash is rather elegant, a little unexpected, and also ties in the other critical main character, Detective Jo Martinez (Alana De La Garza). The preamble to the crash where he hits on the soon-to-be-deceased Russian cellist, reveals that Doc Morgan also fancies himself as Sherlock Holmes in his power of deduction. That’s one pitch, and the other is that it borrows rather heavily from Highlander. Included in the similarities to that film are the immortality twist, that Henry has lived long enough to see his loved ones die, save small children in WWII, and has (with Abe) an antiques business in New York.

If it turns out that he can only truly die at the hands of another immortal, then I rest my case on the inspiration for much that’s lore in Forever. However, some might also recall the 2008 series New Amsterdam, about a 400-year-old man who works as a detective that Fox ran for a season. Originality? Not so much.

Yet, it has a natural charm. Gruffudd (Reed Richards in Fantastic 4 and Horatio Hornblower) is an easy-to-watch actor even if he tends to ham things slightly playing the embarrassed-at-being-naked Englishman. A more measured actor is Alana De La Garza (Law & Order), who sells the widow experiencing something of a mid-life crisis rather plausibly. And, Judd Hirsch is exactly who he was employed to be: himself.

Probably the least compelling aspect of this is the detective story of tracking down the person who caused the train to crash, because not one person asks why the dead-mans-handle on the subway car didn’t apply the brakes when the driver died.

And, the pilot leaves so rather large and obvious questions unanswered about how exactly Henry’s immortality works.

We’re told when he dies he’s reborn into water, usually the Hudson River it seems, but it is never explained what happens to his dead body. Surely if he left a train of identical corpses around it would be much more difficult for this to all remain secret. But equally, not leaving them would create more mystery, like people wondering where the body-shaped impression in the roof of a car came from?

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I can’t see the obvious reason for leaving this out this information, other than the writing team hadn’t decided how to solve those issues when the pilot was created.

What’s laid down in the pilot is therefore the germination of a romance between Martinez and Morgan, how long his secret will remain that from her, and the external dynamic of another immortal who appears sociopathic. This is wedged into a somewhat formulaic Sherlock model, where with 200 years of experience you’d obviously make a really good medical examiner. Except that last bit I’d contest, because the technology has only really existed in the past hundred years or so to really expand our understanding, and I don’t really buy that learning how people who aren’t immortal die has any bearing on his condition.

How well this all works on a weekly basis we’ll get to see, but this being a rating success is very much down to the chemistry of the leads (as per Elementary). Because if they don’t spark off each other in a compelling way then Forever will be remarkably short experience, ironically.

To follow the pilot is the first proper episode the same evening, Look Before You Leap. From this I’m hoping to get a better sense of where this show might go, and if the journey is worth taking. It seems initially amiable, but is that enough to keep people watching?

Forever starts in the US on Monday the 22nd of September on ABC.

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