The only new fantasy/sci-fi series of the Fall 2014 season that’s not based on a comic book, the hero of Forever, a Manhattan medical examiner who’s also a 200-year-old immortal, could’ve been adapted from the medium, using either DC Comics’ Immortal Man or Vandal Savage, or Marvel’s Mr. Immortal from the Great Lakes Avengers. Instead this mash-up derived from the crossed bones of the much more popular Sleepy Hollow and Sherlock will have to rise or fall on the strength of some added flourishes and the charms of star Ioan Gruffudd, who’s much more at ease here than he was as the uptight Reed Richards in the two Fantastic Four films.
Gruffudd is Henry Morgan, an 18th-century Englishman who’s first murdered for the heinous crime of defending a slave. He was shot and his body tossed overboard from a slave-trading boat. Then he got better. Ever since that dark incident, whenever he dies he comes back to life, but not in the exact spot where he died — instead he’s reborn as the same adult emerging naked from the nearest body of water. Two hundred years later, he’s had several lifetimes worth of experience (including a briefly hinted history as a government prisoner and guinea pig) and now lives in Manhattan as a medical examiner, the perfect job for someone who’s experienced multiple forms of death and can deduce some causes of murder before the autopsy’s officially begun with incision one. Alas, his secret is threatened — probably for the thousandth time — when he’s caught walking away from a big-budget subway crash. Soon his involvement in the accident escalates into a mystery involving monkshood, a sinister caller, and special guest Lee Tergesen from Oz.
Morgan himself is fun to watch at work, even if you recognize the same mold that spawned Ichabod Crane and the fastidious diagnoses that Benedict Cumberbatch usually recites at three times the speed. At home he’s backed up by the reliable Judd Hirsch as his roommate with a special relationship that goes back decades. At work his M.E. sidekick is Joel David Moore, the least famous Na’vi anthropologist from James Cameron’s Avatar, who tries buddying up to him with little success. The subway incident draws Henry out from the shadows and into the police spotlight, where one Jo Martinez (Law & Order‘s Alana De La Garza) is the homicide detective that the show requires to accept him far too easily as a de facto partner. Even after he’s fingered as a suspect, Jo barely thinks twice about inviting Henry along to interview other suspects and sneak into houses without a warrant. Meanwhile in flashback, Henry recalls one of the more joyous sections in his extended lifespan, the days shared with his wife Abigail (MacKenzie Mauzy, who’ll be Rapunzel in the upcoming Into the Woods), whose absence is fondly regretted and presently unexplained. Judging by the vagueness of his memories, I’m guessing she didn’t simply old-age to death.
What could devolve into standard procedural #15,008 takes a few inspired turns thanks to Henry’s two centuries of life experience, and his knack for problem-solving through dying. He dies three times in the pilot alone — once to get the ball rolling, once to answer a nagging research question, and once to win a fight scene. With just a bit of tweaking, Forever could become the Wolverine TV series many of us dreamed up when we were kids. He even ranks his own deaths against each other, judging one of these three as a “pain level 7”. That’s the sort of straight-faced gallows commentary I’d expect from someone who’s known too much pain and has too much time on their hands.
Some moments in the pilot veer closely to the treacly side, as spirited chords swell in the soundtrack and Judd Hirsch admonishes Our Hero with motivational-poster fodder such as, “You might not be able to die, but you haven’t lived for a very long time.” On the other hand, I can’t fault the show’s need to shift its tone away from the gritty, grimy grimness that permeates other procedurals. Considering how often the hero dies, it was a wise choice to insert rays of hope and levity for balance wherever possible, lest the audience begin mistaking Henry for just another doomed Downton Abbey character. If Forever can stay focused on what differentiates it from other shows, it could be a congenial sleeper hit. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
(For more information on the MCC 2014 Pilot Binge project, please visit the initial entry for the rationale, the official checklist of pilots, and links to completed entries as we go. Thanks for reading!)