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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Brace yourselves:  It’s another eccentric-male-expert-and-his-younger-female-law-enforcement-handler crime drama.  But this time there are a couple very big, very appealing twists.  Premiering September 23, 2014, ABC’s new supernatural drama Forever stars underused genre favorites Ioan Gruffudd (Horatio Hornblower, Fantastic Four, Ringer) and Alana De La Garza (Law & Order).  You’ve probably seen the previews and already know the premise: Ioan Gruffudd’s Henry Morgan, a New York City medical examiner, cannot die.  Or, rather, he keeps dying–but mysteriously returns to life, almost just at the moment of his departure.  It is the mysteries of that process–inexplicable even to Morgan, even after some 200 years–that the series will explore.  But it’s the powerhouse casting, rich writing, and excellent chemistry that set Forever apart from your run-of-the-mill immortal medical examiner and smart tough female cop drama.

Watching Ioan Gruffudd since Horatio Hornblower in the 1990s, you always got the feeling he was searching for that next perfect role.  He may have finally found it.  His somewhat formal, very British (the actor is originally from Wales) air has landed him brief roles as the stilted, brilliant, rich guy (Fantastic Four, Ringer, a recent guest spot as a billionaire on Castle)–but it’s all of those factors that make him perfect as the literally immortal physician.  Gruffudd really does seem like he stepped out of the past, smart enough to have lived and learned for 200 years, but never quite shaking his original 1800s mien.  A self-proclaimed expert on death (his own, and everyone else’s), Morgan is doomed to suffer the familiar pang of every immortal: watching everyone else grow old and die.

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With obvious nods to BBC/Masterpiece Mystery megahit Sherlock (Gruffudd even ties his scarf in Benedict Cumberbatch’s signature knot), it’s clear what audience Forever is trying to reach.  And yet Morgan is infinitely more charming than Sherlock Holmes ever was, even as he instantly micro-analyzes your life the moment he meets you.  What comes off as egregiously, appallingly pompous from Holmes, is a winsome parlor trick in Morgan’s hands–and that charm and affability make him immediately sympathetic, because you understand that all the charm in the world can’t protect him from eventually losing anyone he cares about.

De La Garza plays (of course) homicide detective Jo Martinez, nursing her own loss–the death of her husband (less than a year ago, as Morgan deftly announces upon their first meeting).  She enters the tale while investigating Morgan’s latest near-miss:  a subway crash that killed the driver and 15 passengers.  Encountering Dr. Morgan over the autopsy of the driver, she hits on Morgan as her chief suspect… and that is the point at which the show really hit its unique stride.  Rather than the expected, adversarial, aggressive cop/defensive suspect mode, Morgan hops instead into a “hypothetical”: Say I did it. How? Why?, setting up a fun, almost playful relationship with Martinez.  They team up, comfortable together from the start, relieving the viewer (and writers!) from having to live through the typical awkward buddy cop growing pains.

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Morgan’s curious “affliction” is used to excellent effect throughout the pilot–so much so that the writers have their work cut out for them, coming up with new ways and reasons to kill Morgan off in every episode!  It begins with Morgan’s initial death, which is shown through a (somewhat tedious) flashback that only raises more questions than it answers.  And we are treated to a third death, as well, in one of the high points of the episode, when Morgan begins testing murder weapons on himself.  In all, Morgan dies four times in the pilot alone–and you just know fans will be keeping tally.

An intriguing series mystery is also launched, with a Professor Moriarity-styled nemesis:  a mysterious “fan” of Dr. Morgan who claims to know his secret–and share his condition.  It remains to be seen whether that fan will turn out to be Koehler (Lee Tergesen, Homicide, Weird Science, Longmire), the culprit from the pilot–last seen being pulled from a building (not, ahem, Reichenbach Falls) in Morgan’s arms.

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Though the show is full of death and murder, it’s not without its lighter and more tenderhearted moments.  Some of the best are provided by Judd Hirsch (Warehouse 13, Taxi) as New York City cabbie (ha!) Abe, Morgan’s sole confidant.  More than a mere sidekick, Abe shares a troubled history with Morgan, and their bond looks to form much of the emotional heart of the series.

Forever has an impressive behind-the-scenes pedigree, as well.  Writer and Executive Producer Matt Miller worked on Chuck, one of borg.com‘s alltime favorites; additional Executive Producers Dan Lin (Sherlock Holmes, the ABC version) and Jennifer Gwartz (Veronica Mars) round out the creative team.

Forever premieres Tuesday, September 23, 2014, on ABC at 9 p.m. Central.

 

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