Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Pilot Season: Forever (The Weird Grandpa We All Wish We Had)

I have a guilty confession to make. Out of all of the new fantastic shows that are premiering this year, by far the one that I am enjoying the most, the one that I actually kick my roommates off the TV so that I can watch when it airs, the one that I am alarmingly pumped for is...Forever. A show that I literally had not heard of before I stumbled across a pre-air version of its pilot on Hulu. 

It's not the most original show in the world (I can give countless examples of other shows that have tried this premise), but for some reason, some arcane and kind of spooky reason, this show is incredibly addictive.

If I had to guess, I'd say that's because it's fun.

Okay, so backing up here, because I just threw a heck of a lot of material at you, Forever is a police procedural with a twist that airs on ABC. In other words, it's a rather blatant ripoff of the wildly successful Castle, wherein a devilishly handsome man who is not a cop but happens to be good at solving crimes is paired up with a by-the-books all business lady detective who happens to be stunning and have a tragedy in her past. Together, they solve crimes and have sexual tension.

I'm really not kidding either with the similarities. Aside from a wild difference in the situations of the male leads, these two shows are virtually identical. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. As I said above, Castle is wildly popular. Why fix it if it ain't broke?

The twist, of course, comes in who our leading man is. In this case, he's Dr. Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd), a medical examiner for the NYPD who happens to be over two hundred years old. Henry Morgan is immortal - sort of. He died back in the early eighteen hundreds (I think), and has been coming back from the dead ever since. It's not that he can't die, it's that he can't stay dead. And so he's decided to use his medical degree (he was already a doctor before his first death) to study his "affliction" and figure out how to reverse it.

His partner of sorts is Detective Jo Martinez (Alana De La Garza), a detective for the NYPD who is great at solving cases, but has kind of a mess of a personal life. Her husband was killed by a drunk driver less than a year ago, and she's been going through a rollercoaster ever since. From binge-drinking and random hookups to becoming a workaholic, she's trying everything she can to forget the love of her life. Awww.

Together, they solve crime! Aided by Henry's creepy and extensive knowledge of death (most of it firsthand) and Jo's general being a good cop-ness, they manage to solve some pretty weird and impressive murders. There are only three episodes out so far and already we've seen attempted mass poisoning, standard fake suicide murders, and a case involving illegal pharmaceuticals trying to be the fountain of youth. In three episodes.

The pilot episode actually introduces them when Henry is caught in a train derailment and dies. His blood is found at the crime scene, as is his pocket watch, and Henry instantly becomes a suspect for causing the accident. He manages to prove he didn't do it and help catch the real killer, only to have to die again in order to stop the guy. Man. Dying is so much work. And it introduces one of the chief mechanics and gags of the show: Henry dies. A lot.

The show really isn't about the cases, though, for all that it is a procedural. Like Castle and NCIS and many other shows before it, the point here is the characters, and how they interact. The longrunning arc of the season involves Henry trying to figure out why he can't die, and in the first episode we get a bit clue: He's not the only one who can live forever.

For the rest of the episodes he's been trying to figure out who this other mysterious immortal is. Helping him is the only living person who knows his secret, his adopted son, Abraham (Judd Hirsch). Abe and Henry have a frankly wonderful relationship, mostly due to the oddness of it. 

I mean, Abe is visibly older than Henry. A lot of people think he's Henry's father. But he isn't. Abe, in the way of many grown children, worries about his father and hopes that he won't just stew like the grumpy old man he is. Henry freaks out when Abe goes on dates, teases him incessantly about his foibles, and worries obsessively about what kind of trouble his son's gotten into.

In fact, this is a huge part of why the show works while others that have attempted this same premise before (New Amsterdam springs to mind) crashed and burned. Forever is fun, light-hearted, and a bit weird. Henry blithely solves crimes by killing himself to see exactly how the victim died, and every time he comes back to life it's with him popping out of the Hudson River, stark naked, and calling his adult son for a ride home. Heehee.

It also works because the show refuses to make categorical statements (so far) about the virtues or evils of immortality. While Henry is always decrying his fate and trying to figure out how to die, Abe is sitting right next to him, reminding him loudly that getting old and dying isn't all that great either. There's a very strong current of "don't forget to live" that I quite like. Besides, this week's episode ended with a seventy year old man skateboarding a half-pipe while is father looked on in horror. It's a show that knows precisely how ridiculous it is, and I love that.

Also nice to see? The female lead here is a Hispanic detective, clearly well-respected and good at her job. Her boss is an African-American woman (Lorraine Toussant), who admittedly we haven't seen much of but who I generally like so far. It doesn't pass the Bechdel Test every episode, but it has passed, and that's great. 

There's only one regard in which the show could use some work: class. So far class has played very little role in the show, with all of the characters, criminal and law enforcement, solidly middle to upper class. Henry himself has lived a life of pure privilege, as a member of the British aristocracy and then a well-respected doctor for a few hundred years. As a white, privileged man, it does feel a little weird for Henry to be going on about the struggles of life. But that's honestly the biggest complaint, and I have hopes that the show will deal with that soon.

I will say that the show has some work to do if it wants to convince us that Henry and Jo are into each other and are going to end up together. The actors have fantastic chemistry with each other, but none of it is even a little sexual, and honestly the idea of Henry dating anyone feels weird. He's a grandpa. He can't wind up with a woman that much younger than him. It's creepy.

One of the most promising details of the show actually is the characterization of Henry. Instead of going the route usually taken, where the immortal character is rather immature, or else dour and unimpressed, Henry feels like a favorite great-uncle or grandparent. Kind of grumpy, but he secretly adores you and always has some hard candies in his pocket. As he himself says, he's the "least judgmental person you will ever meet", because he's seen it all before, and he's found it in himself to be compassionate.

In short, this show works because the people in it are kind and loving and lovable. It feels weird to say that on a police procedural, but it's true. One of the episodes already aired ends with Henry actually hugging a criminal, and it is not out of context or weird. Yes, there is wacky immortality stuff and insane flashbacks of Henry's lives plus lots of gruesome crimes. But the heart of the show is Henry. He's a good person. He's the sort of person you actually would want to live forever, and for some reason, that makes a hell of a fun TV show.

Also we're still waiting to find out what happened to his wife...


  1. Out of all of the new fantastic shows that are premiering this year, by far the one that I am enjoying the most ...Forever.

    Even more than Outlander? Huh.

    Castle is wildly popular. Why fix it if it ain't broke?

    Castle is following a existing forumla anyway. The twist in it is more that Beckett and the other cops are competent enough that you can understand how crimes still got solved before Castle came along (cf the Mentalist, where Lisbon is pretty much always wrong about everything). Though from what I understood from reading about this elsewhere, and you confirm, Forever more follows Castle in this regard.

    I will say that the show has some work to do if it wants to convince us that Henry and Jo are into each other and are going to end up together. The actors have fantastic chemistry with each other, but none of it is even a little sexual

    It would be rather cool if they *don't* get together. Or have Henry play to grandparent (I know he's not hers, but still) stereotype and compulsively matchmake for Jo.

    1. I enjoy Forever in a very different way than I enjoy Outlander. Forever is just sort of mindless gleeful fun. I can watch it while lying down on the couch and doing a sudoku. Outlander is a commitment. I spend like five hours a week watching and analyzing that thing. So, I have very different feelings about them...

      I really do appreciate the way that Forever and Castle and Bones work to make sure that the cops still seem competent. It's that the genius person makes it all easier, and allows them to tackle harder cases. I like that.

      I would be so happy if they don't get together. And I love the idea of Henry trying to set her up with guys but getting the age differences wrong. LIke, setting her up with guys that are a lot younger than her, because "But you're both so young! You have lots of young people things in common!"

      I have a lot of feelings about GrandpaHenry.

    2. So, I have very different feelings about them...

      I get you.

      It's that the genius person makes it all easier, and allows them to tackle harder cases.

      Numbers is a good example of a series that started well - its gimmick was using mathematical modelling, if you're unfamiliar and the name doesn't give it away - but fell apart later. They started off with weird-ass cases where the modelling filled a hole that conventional investigative techniques weren't designed for, but later-on ran out of weird-ass ideas and had the maths genius teaching FBI agents their jobs on much more normal cases.

    3. I watched Numbers for about a season before I had to give it up. It couldn't sustain the need for mathematical modeling in normal police work, and without the procedural aspect it didn't have enough character development to stand up. In general the "genius helps out" shows don't work for me. This has been a rare exception. I think it's because we're not with the normal people looking on in wonder, but we're in on the trick. Knowing exactly how Henry got his knowledge makes it all the more fun.

  2. I thought her husband died on a treadmill? If not, then where did I even pick up such a random COD?

    1. I can't find it written anywhere. It's possible I misremembered it. Not sure...

  3. I got a kick out of this show, and I really don't know why. Maybe it's just so strange to watch a main character get killed over and over? No idea. But it is oddly fun.

  4. Is anyone else bothered by the way Alana De La Garza (Ramirez) walks?? She walks with her butt pushed out, way too much to be comfortable!!

    1. I can honestly say that I've never noticed that... Is it because she's doing that bent over, butt out stance that cops use sometimes? You see it on a lot of the shows.

  5. ooops..^^^^^^^^ Martinez, not Ramirez...I watch the show, I really do, just suck at names!!