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The Finder

Series Premiere
Director: Dan Sackheim
Cast: Groff Stults, Michael Clarke Duncan, Mercedes Masohn, Maddie Hasson
Regular airtime: Thursdays, 9pm ET

(Fox; US: 12 Jan 2012)

Wacky, But Not Too Wacky

Walter Sherman, we are told near the start of The Finder, can find anything. This useful but maddeningly vague ability apparently has something to with a brain injury that the US Army vet Sherman (Geoff Stults) suffered in Iraq. Lest we are led to understand his mental perturbation as being entirely advantageous, Sherman’s condition has also turned him into a goofy eccentric (are there any other kind of mystery-unravelers on American television?). Perhaps he was always a little loopy, but it’s doubtful that such whimsy would have been very welcome in the military.


As his Key West dive bar is mostly empty, Sherman makes money locating the un-locate-able. The opening sequence of the premiere episode (“An Orphan Walks Into a Bar”) shows us that his target can be a missing object (a guitar belonging to guest star John Fogerty, which our hero snatches from a hood with an assist from a makeshift robot), and that he often liaises with the law in his searches, if it is to his or to the law’s advantage to do so. “The law” in this instance indicates Deputy US Marshal Isabel Zambada (Mercedes Masohn), and “liaises” can mean investigative cooperation as well as considerably more intimate sorts of interactions.


The demented Holmes figure Sherman has a Watsonesque partner in findery as well. This is Leo Knox (Michael Clarke Duncan), who generally runs PR and damage control for his loose cannon buddy as well as tagging along on his cases, ostensibly to provide muscle or a sounding board or a bit of both. There’s also a pathological liar and lifelong petty criminal in their orbit, Willa Monday (Maddie Hasson). She appears to have associations with a Romani-like travelling robber “family” and tells one of their representatives that she’s only hanging around Sherman to gain access to his secret underground vault and steal anything of value inside. But Sherman is holding out hope that Willa can be redeemed (“Like a coupon!”), and she seems intermittently persuaded by his faith in her inherent goodness.


Based on Richard Greener’s The Locator books, adapted for TV by Bones creator Hart Hanson, The Finder was introduced last year via a backdoor pilot during Bones’ sixth season. Even as it takes up that show’s mildly comic tone, it doesn’t indulge in Temperance Brennan’s flights of technical jargon and stubborn hyper-rationality. Its affect is more casual, and the images take full advantage of the sun-soaked South Florida setting, much as Dexter has for years—though it has little occasion for the smirking gallows humor of either that show or Bones.


Once it gets past the cumbersome background exposition, The Finder begins to find its specific groove. The first episode kicks off with the Fogerty cameo, his iconic bayou blues-rock acting as a sort of tonal epigraph for the aforementioned relaxed Florida Keys setting. From there, “An Orphan Walks Into a Bar” too often veers away from glib wit into painfully earnest martial Armed Forces veneration, what with the main locating job involving an Air Force cadet determined to track down his missing war hero father (whom Sherman knew in Bosnia). There is a loopy left turn or two, of course, including a desultory scene on the yacht of a trumpet-playing drug queenpin (Jaime Murray). Moments like this suggest that a stronger comic sensibility is in the works, and the writers would be well served to indulge it further.


The cast achieves no miracles with the material, it must be said. Stults is an effective if unimaginative choice for the male lead, a handsome protagonist with a stubble-strewn square jaw who gets a little wacky now and again, but not too wacky. His interactions with Masohn lack the thrust-and-parry energy of those between Bones stars Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz, but the immediate implication that Sherman and Zambada are friends with benefits dispenses with the possibility of seasons-long self-abnegating sexual tension with refreshing speed.


If Zambada’s role looks circumscribed thus far, Leo promises to be a low-key scene-stealer, and his bromantic repartee with Sherman is one of the premiere’s best features from the offset. A show like The Finder seems like an ideal gig for an actor of Duncan’s obvious limitations: he’s weirdly magnetic in his gregarious mediocrity. As Knox, he’s so darned avuncular and cheery that it’s a simple thing to overlook his lack of range and just enjoy the big lug. If you were to find yourself feeling the same way towards The Finder as a whole, I wouldn’t be surprised. The pieces are in place for an enjoyable weekly round of slightly madcap hide-and-seek with Walter Sherman and company. Ready or not, here they come.

Rating:

Ross Langager has been contributing music reviews to PopMatters since early 2008. He has a BA (Honors) in English and a MA in English, both from the University of Alberta in Edmonton. He lives in Toronto, Ontario. He also writes a blog at http://rosslangager.com/ .


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