It seems the two rules of recent television seasons are: 1. every network must have some sort of male antihero prestige drama; and 2. every network must have a Sherlock Holmes-like procedural with serialized elements, whether the influence is straightforward (CBS’ Elementary) or slightly tweaked (Fox’s House). ABC’s entry into the Holmes genre is Forever, which centers on a very Sherlock-y doctor with an immortal twist. It’s not the most grabbing pilot of the season thus far, but it has a plain, bland quality that almost works.
Forever follows Dr. Henry Morgan (the affable Ioan Gruffudd), a gifted and highly intelligent medical examiner who happens to be immortal. He has died plenty of times — he dies in the opening of the pilot — but always returns inexplicably naked and inexplicably in a body of water. The immortality itself is inexplicable; he has no idea why he can’t die or if he ever will. Part of why he studies the dead is to try and figure out his own mystery. It is, oddly enough, not a very intriguing mystery.
Forever is the very definition of a bland drama. There is nothing about it that is overwhelmingly bad, but nothing about it that makes you immediately want to watch more. It is very much like ABC’s other long-running crime drama, Castle, in which — just like Forever — a very cute and lovable scamp lead (Nathan Fillion) solves crimes, flirts with his equally cute partner (who is at first resistant to his charms but soon gives in, as all partners do), is never in any true danger, and quietly exists on television for six seasons and counting. Castle has had 128 episodes so far, and most people have never heard of it. I have watched multiple full seasons of the show and can’t recall a single case.
ABC’s Castle and CBS’ The Mentalist (another similar procedural that I’ve watched dozens of forgettable episodes of), both entering their seventh seasons, are programs that I jokingly say are created solely for parents. These shows are simple, repetitive, occasionally funny and slightly thrilling (but never for too long), and serialized just enough to have full arcs but designed so you can skip four or five episodes and never truly miss anything. These are background shows for someone to put on while cooking a family dinner or repairing a broken sink. The episodes are a good way to occupy your time during one of those sleepy afternoons when you’re trying to catch up on your DVR but keep falling asleep so you don’t want to commit to a complicated narrative.
I love good TV, but I also love this sort of average TV: the rigid structure of the four-act format, the strange comfort that monotony can sometimes bring, and the relief of knowing that all of these characters are going to be fine (in contrast to, say, Breaking Bad which is undoubtedly a great television program but gave me so much unwanted anxiety). These average dramas, generally crime dramas, don’t demand your full attention, but are pleasant enough to listen to, and that’s why they work — look no further than the syndicated popularity of the Law and Order franchise (though it often has better writing than it’s given credit for). I suspect Forever will fall into this category as well, both in the general sense and in the sense that, a few months from now, I’ll receive an email from my mother asking if I’ve been watching.
The pilot of Forever, which premiers as a sneak preview on September 22 but already has a sneak-sneak preview up on Hulu, opens with Henry “dying” in a train crash. We learn all of the basics: He does not know why he is immortal, he keeps it a secret from everyone except his best friend Abe (Judd Hirsch), and he has extremely sharp observational skills (don’t they all?) that he has honed because of his very, very long life. When you live forever, you tend to find ways to occupy your time. But also, when you live forever, you outlive all of your friendships and romances; flashbacks depict Henry’s longing for a woman from his past who he still loves. In the pilot, Henry meets Detective Jo Martinez (Alana De La Garza), who is investigating the train crash and, coincidentally, just happens to be single. She’s curious about his involvement in the crash, especially once she figures out the conductor was poisoned, but — spoiler! — they work together and solve the case. Isn’t that surprising?
The setup is OK. The story is acceptable. The cast is fine — Gruffudd is charming (and thankfully speaks in his real accent) and has good enough chemistry with Garza, Joel David Moore does his time as a lab geek without complaint, and Hirsch bobbles along having slightly less fun than he did in Sharknado 2 — and Lorraine Toussaint (Orange Is The New Black) will join later in the season. It’s not an action-packed show (how can you endanger the life of a man who literally cannot die?), and I’m sure it will contain a few slow dips into romantic melodrama (between the two leads and within the flashbacks), but it will be fine.
Besides the endless predictability and a feeling of déjà vu, there isn’t anything to hate about Forever because Forever is content to simply exist, knowing that you will either watch it or ignore it, but either way you won’t think about it much at all. There are many instances when a show’s worst crime is being boring, but here, Forever‘s blandness isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If it’s not canceled due to low ratings within a few weeks, it will turn into procedural comfort television, the way that The Mentalist and Castle and many others have, a show that is always there for you when you need a mindless marathon. In six years, you won’t believe it’s still on.