The latest in a long line of network dramas featuring immortal heroes—its closest precursor being Fox’s 2008 police procedural New Amsterdam—Forever is a fairly innocuous addition to the fall season. The charismatic Ioan Gruffudd stars as Dr. Henry Morgan, a New York City medical examiner with a secret: He can’t die. While its premise suggests a sweeping mythos, the series keeps things simple—aside from his immortality, Henry is just like everyone else. He has no idea how or why he’s afflicted with what he considers a curse. The character is understandably preoccupied with death and uses his position to study it, searching for a way out; his expertise and keen observational skills make him uniquely qualified to determine the cause of death of each body that comes into his lab. Joining Henry on his adventures are his friend and confidant Abe (Judd Hirsch), his lab assistant Lucas (Joel David Moore), and Detective Jo Martinez (Alana De La Garza).
It’s a familiar format—a brilliant, unorthodox investigator solves crimes with a law-enforcement officer of the opposite gender, à la Castle, Bones, or The Mentalist—and unfortunately the immortality angle isn’t enough to make this setup feel fresh. Exacerbating this is the series’ blatant attempts to make its protagonist a Sherlock Holmes figure, minus that character’s less endearing traits. Henry is an affable fellow, but his unsolicited analytical monologues take him from charming to smug with annoying frequency. With no Watson stand-in deflating his ego or prompting him for assessments, Henry’s penchant for Holmesian pronouncements quickly becomes tiring. There’s almost no good way to let the audience in on any Holmes-like observations, a stumbling block masterfully sidestepped in Sherlock by the use of on-screen text; the writers will need to find their own solution, and soon, to keep Henry from becoming insufferable.
Forever’s lack of originality is disappointing, because it contains the pieces of an entertaining series. Gruffudd is a likable lead and is more than capable of carrying the show. The direction and musical score give Henry’s death/resurrection cycle a comedic touch, but Gruffudd makes sure that the pain his character feels is not trivialized. Hirsch is a welcome presence, adding humor and gravitas, and with the right material, these actors could bring tremendous depth to their characters’ complicated relationship. The series is also promisingly specific, giving viewers a rough idea of Henry’s timeline right off the bat while leaving plenty to the imagination. (Less promising are the unaddressed logistical concerns inherent to the character’s condition.)
Outside of Abe, the supporting cast remains undeveloped. Fans of Moore will be happy to see him pop up in a role similar to his recurring Bones character, but Lucas is purely functionary at this point. Even more disappointing are the glimpses of Detective Martinez’s precinct, particularly her partner, a skeptic of Henry who’s perpetually proven wrong.
Fortunately, Martinez is more compelling than all that: At the start, she’s primarily defined by grief, but the writers sprinkle in enough details about her to demonstrate an interest in the detective’s offscreen life. De La Garza and Gruffudd have good chemistry, but the series doesn’t immediately tease a romantic relationship between the two. Instead, it opts for a friendly, comfortable rapport that fits nicely with the series’ overall light tone. There are moments of angst, but for an immortal with emotional baggage, Henry spends a refreshingly small percentage of his time brooding. The serialized arc that’s introduced could easily tip toward the melodramatic, but for now the show seems happy to explore the day-to-day routine of Henry as he reengages with the world.
Despite its strong cast and potentially interesting premise, Forever fails to distinguish itself among a network landscape littered with quasi-serialized crime procedurals. Viewers looking for a fresh iteration of the popular format may enjoy this one, particularly if it maintains its somewhat whimsical and reflective tone. Those hoping for heavy genre elements or a new twist on the formula, however, will be disappointed.