This TV season, we’ve got so many writers who’ve seen these pilots that we thought getting two takes on each show would be helpful to you. The first review is the “official” TV Club review, and the grade applies to it. But we’ve also found another reviewer to offer their own take on the program. Today, Erik Adams and Todd VanDerWerff talk about The Finder.
The Finder debuts tonight on Fox at 9 p.m. Eastern.
Erik: First introduced in author Richard Greener’s two Locator novels, the character of Walter Sherman came to television last year via a sixth-season episode of Bones. Of course, given the colorful world of Greener’s novels and his protagonist’s unique gift with finding that which has been lost, stolen, or hidden, you’d be forgiven for thinking Sherman was a product of Fox’s procedural-drama machinery. As portrayed by the lantern-jawed Geoff Stutls’ in The Finder’s backdoor pilot—and now its official series première, “An Orphan Walks Into A Bar”—Sherman has all the markings of the damaged-yet-lovable heroes and heroines of such Fox dramas as Bones, House, and Lie To Me. And, on paper, The Finder doesn’t seem to far off from the template set by those shows either: the lead character has an unorthodox style of investigation, a way of inadvertently alienating those around him, and one toe in a “will they, won’t they” relationship.
Yet there’s something about the breezy, sporadically fun Finder that sets it aside from the show’s that came before it—even the show that spawned it and now acts as its Thursday-night lead-in. Much of that can be credited to one-time pro-football player and former Happy Town deputy Stults, who imbues Walter with the proper mix of cocksureness and guardedness. Walter has a tangled, military past (don’t they all?), bits and pieces of which are hinted at throughout “An Orphan Walks Into A Bar.”
Also hinted at in a pair of standout scenes: Walter’s apparent wizardry with homemade gadgets, such as the gears-and-shoes contraption that helps him corner a guitar thief in the cold open. There’s not much said about these jury-rigged finding devices in the first hour of The Finder, but they’re easily one of the more enjoyable elements of the episode, and an obvious indicator of the series’ lighter tone.
Unfortunately, “An Orphan Walks Into A Bar” is lightweight in ways that adversely affect the episode as well. Chalk it up to the necessities of series première, but approximately 75 percent of the dialogue spoken by Michael Clarke Duncan (as Leo Knox, Walter’s assistant/accountant/hired muscle) is clunky exposition that belies The Finder’s beach-read roots. “Does this make up for when Walter got you suspended?” Leo asks U.S. Marshal Isabel Zambada (Mercedes Masohn), eager to inform those watching at home that, indeed, Walter once landed Isabel in hot water with her superiors, a debt he has yet to repay. “This used to be Major Sherman,” Leo apprises a U.S. Air Force cadet seeking Walter’s help in locating (or finding?) his missing father—the past tense reference to Walter’s military rank scrambling to note the unfavorable end of his time in the service. The first official episode of The Finder attempts to keep several balls in the air at one time, and Leo’s ball seems to be the one with the longest hang time—they’ll give Duncan additional duties beyond “conveyor of backstories” and “lifter of other character’s moods” down the line, I’m sure.
In the mean time, we’ll likely learn more about Maddie Hasson’s Willa Monday, a teenaged grifter from a family of southern robber-gypsies (?)—it’s never clear from the be-porkpie-hatted urchan who continually haunts Willa’s corner of Walter’s bar/camper resort/hideaway, but the Mondays are clearly nomadic thieves of some sort. Either way, they’ve helped her accumulate quite the impressive rap sheet, one recounted item by item in the première by parole officer Amy Aquino. Willa doesn’t factor much into Walter’s investigation, but she does appear to be the vessel for one of the series’ first major plot arcs, as The Artful Hipster (acting by proxy for his Fagin-like master, the mysterious “Uncle Shadrach”) charges Willa with the task of breaking into Walter’s underground vault. Will she succeed? Or will her conscience get the better of her? Hell, this is a Hart Hanson show we’re talking about, so maybe we should think outside the box—given his Bones’ track record, it’s entirely possible that the young supporting character will end up the willing pawn in a serial killer’s deadly plot to eliminate Walter and Leo.
Still, you have to give credit to Hanson for bringing to life a network procedural that looks so lively. He and his crew are clearly taking a lot of inspiration from the series’ Floridian setting, giving the whole of “An Orphan Walks Into A Bar” a zestful pop; it’s reflected in the swift pacing of the episode as well as inspired choices like the bright orange track suits worn by the heavies who rough up Walter’s young client. Sure, Walter’s hideout looks like something out of Jimmy Buffett’s weed-and-margarita-induced fever dreams, but it’s a goddamn breath of fresh air to watch a procedural that breaks away from the stilted, sterile environs of government offices and police-department bull pens. (The goofy atrium that houses the NCIS: Los Angeles field office aside.) And as cookie-cutter as the basic building blocks of The Finder are, I don’t think this colorful band of kooks would fit in at a place like the Jeffersonian Institute. The perfect look and feel for the series is right there in the covers of Greener’s novels: bright, tawdry, and just a little bit off-kilter.
Todd: The Finder is often enjoyable throwback entertainment. It’s not going to change your life, and it’s not going to become your new favorite show, but it’s easy to see why Fox stays in business with Bones creator Hart Hanson. He has a knack for creating enjoyable procedural dramas that don’t make you feel like you the only way to deal with the world’s darkness is to completely shut off your emotions. The Finder is that to the max. It feels, for all the world, like a USA show, with the characters hanging out in picturesque locations and tackling light, relatively unchallenging cases that end with an unexpected moment of heart (or two).
There are problems here. Michael Clarke Duncan—an actor I’ve liked in other things—has so much exposition here that he occasionally sounds like he’s reading dialogue for a video game. A weird subplot involving teenage delinquent Willa Monday (seriously) who lives at the bar our titular finder owns and operates doesn’t sufficiently tease what’s to come. And the climax of the episode tries to toss at least one resolution too many into the mix. But the storytelling is sharp, the idea of a man who finds anything that’s gone missing is fun, and Geoff Stults is solid in the central role of Walter. He pulls off that uniquely Fox blend of not caring but obviously caring just enough.
And, hey, if nothing else, it opens with John Fogerty playing “Fortunate Son” for no real reason, because this is just that kind of show.