Forever: Fountain of Youth

Posted on October 01, 2014

IOAN GRUFFUDD, CHRISTINA BENNETT LINDIoan Gruffud in ABC’s “Forever”

 

We didn’t have much intention to catch this show when it first premiered because it looked so derivative and bland to us, starring an actor we’ve always found fairly forgettable. But the buzz on the show was good after it premiered and we just can’t stand hearing buzz and not knowing what it’s about, so we sat through the first three episodes last night to catch up. And while it is mostly what we assumed it was – a network mystery-of-the-week show with a highly derivative Sherlock knockoff with a tiny bit of Doctor Who thrown into the mix – it’s much better than we expected it to be.

We don’t know who gets more of the credit, Benedict Cumberbatch, Hugh Laurie or Matt Smith, but the newest trope in American television is the stylishly good-looking, highly romantic Englishman loaded with quirks and behavioral problems who’s so brilliant that everyone forgives his excesses. From Sherlock to Elementary to Sleepy Hollow, we are having a “Mr. Darcy with Aspergers” moment right now. It’s a character type with a lot of inherent charm, but we’re right on the cusp of it turning into a cliche. Which is why we think it was smart of the folks at Who to run away from it as far as possible with the casting of Peter Capaldi, who is certainly quirky but decidedly unromantic. Does Forever manage to avoid the cliches of the Sherlock-like lead? No, not yet. But in the three episodes we watched last night, we detected an encouraging sense of evolution and development in the show.

Ioan Gruffudd (an actor with a name destined to be copy-pasted forever, rather than attempting to spell it out) plays Dr. Henry Morgan, an English-born medical examiner in New York City who happens to be over 200 years old and doesn’t know why he’s immortal. He is destined to die and be resurrected over and over again, and his long life has left him both brilliant and obsessed with death. Now, on paper, that all sounds a little eyeroll-worthy, but Gruffudd plays him with so much charm and deftly infuses him with an unexpected lightness. A lesser actor or creators with less imagination would have had the part played as moody and tortured, but Gruffudd plays him as someone who’s got pain in their heart, but still enjoys life. It’s a slightly contradictory turn but it works well and makes what could have been a cookie-cutter character more complex and intriguing.

Judd Hirsch plays Judd Hirsch to the hilt and again, that might have all turned into cliche, but there’s a really lovely reveal about his character and what he means to Henry that completely recasts their relationship into something unlike any we’ve ever seen on television.  

The one weak spot, through no fault of her own, is Alana de la Garza as Detective Martinez. The problem with sidekick characters is that they, by their very nature, are going to be put in a slightly subservient role. Sherlock, Elementary and Doctor Who all do a reasonably good job of making sure that the sidekick is as important to the story as the genius at the center of it, but so far, all Martinez does is take notes while Henry is talking and then make phone calls based on what he said. It’s 2014 and we shouldn’t be turning female detective characters into glorified secretaries. To Alana de la Garza’s credit, she’s infusing as much character and charisma into her role as the scripts will allow. In fact, it’s her strong performance that made us note how poorly she’s being used.

The good news is that she and Gruffud have great chemistry together and there are little bits of writing here and there that tend to elevate her. We chuckled at a crack she made last night along the lines of “If you say one more thing about the perfect symmetry of my face…” because we had been thinking the same thing about her. She has the most amazing bone structure and there are times where she looks more like a drawing of a person than an actual person. It’s a little thing, but it reminded us of something Mad Men executive producer Matthew Weiner once said in regards to actors like Jon Hamm, January Jones and Christina Hendricks; namely that he finds it unrealistic when TV shows cast extremely good-looking people and no one ever comments on the fact that they’re so good-looking, like we all would in the real world. A little aside like that one isn’t all that important in the scheme of things, but it shows that the creators are living in the world they created and seeing these characters as real people. Nothing demonstrates the potential this show has more than that, to us.

It’s a show about death, basically. All the main characters have an intimate relationship and/or fascination with death. But paradoxically, it’s also an uplifting show that tends to end each episode with a treacly pop song. We won’t claim it’s breaking any boundaries or anything. It is, after all, a mystery-of-the-week show modeled on the latest hot character trope, but it is surprisingly endearing and entertaining, with a long-form mythology that gets doled out bit by bit each week.

 

[Photo Credit: ABC]

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