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Television

The Forgotten: Series Premiere

The Forgotten's slick look doesn't exactly make up for its dearth of originality.

The Forgotten

Airtime: Tuesdays, 10pm ET
Cast: Christian Slater, Michelle Borth, Heather Stephens, Bob Stephenson, Anthony Carrigan, Rochelle Aytes
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: ABC
Air date: 2009-09-22
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"Look at them, all heading to work, living their lives, all with a story to tell, all with a future." The speaker is describing a series of familiar urban images, people on sidewalks, heads bowed and eyes averted as they start their days. "I was like them," she continues, "I was like you. And then, then this happened to me." The scene cuts to a lonely-looking road, the frame crossed by police tape and dominated by a young woman's corpse. She's generic, the anonymous victim you'll see at the start of most any forensics show. "I was on my way somewhere," she says, as cops appear blurred in a low angle shot. "At this point all I can do is wait and hope the police will do all they can. I'm not waiting to be saved."

Instead, she is waiting to be named, that is, remembered. Or so goes the conceit of The Forgotten, Jerry Bruckheimer's latest rip-off of his own product line. In this version, Christian Slater (a last minute replacement for Rupert Penry-Jones) as Alex Donovan, haunted by his young daughter's disappearance two years ago and now committed to identifying murder victims the cops can't. You know he's committed because he first appears in a boxing ring, shadowy and earnest, approached by Chicago Detective Russell (Rochelle Aytes). She also looks sincere, or at least aesthetically silhouetted in the doorway. Handing Alex a file, she tells him, "We need you." The case is another "Highway Jane," Russell offers, found about a month ago, "no witnesses, no ID, nothing." Alex bites his knuckles, the camera tilted up to underscore his personal angst. "It's time," Russell intones. "We've done everything we can. Now I'm giving her to you."

Technically, Alex is a volunteer, one of hundreds across the country who work each day to discover the names of victims who would otherwise remain open cases, their families never knowing what happened to them. But he's plainly special too, a leader for his particular Midwestern crew, young and intense and diverse (see also, the teams assembled in Bruckheimer's own CSIs, Cold Case, and Dark Blue, as well as The Cleaner, House, etc.). If the dead girl's voiceover evokes the grim poetry and allusive context of The Lovely Bones, the focus on Alex and Company is strictly procedural. Not professionals, per se (Alex is actually an ex-cop), the members of the Forgotten Network are passionate and smart and experienced, qualities designed to make them even more compelling than the average policeperson.

The mystery of Alex is enhanced by the show's use of a newbie on the team, your stand-in, Tyler (Anthony Carrigan), a med school dropout and would-have-been artist whose punishment for defacing public property is 200 hours of "community service." His first assignment for Alex's team is to sculpt the dead girl's face, not an easy task given that the month-old body has been subject to "a lot of decomp." Encouraged by cubicle worker Candace (Michelle Borth), high school science teacher Lindsey (Heather Stephens), and telephone lineman Walter (Bob Stephenson), Tyler soon overcomes his initial resistance to see the value of their self-appointed mission. "What's the point?" he asks, as her parents will still suffer whether if she's dead or missing. "It still matters," mutters Alex." Enough said.

Their case in the series premiere leads the team along some familiar forensics show pathways. The girl looks to be vaguely goth, has spent time in a club, hung out with heavily mascara-ed girls, and dated a creepy-seeming bouncer with a ponytail. "Are you cops?" asks one interviewee. "No," Candace says, "We're just looking for anybody who knows this girl." In the process, they do what you know they will: they check surveillance camera footage and sort through clothing purchases, while Russell occasionally drags a suspect into her interrogation room, where mirrors and windows allow for smart compositions.

The show's slick look doesn't exactly make up for its dearth of originality. Again and again, team members explain their responsibility. "She has no one," says Cameron when Tyler protests. "What's the first thing that happened when you're brought into this world?" No slouch, he sees where this is going: "You get a name." She presses again. "I'd want the world to remember that I was here, that I did things, that I affected people." And when Tyler tries once more ("It feels weird to care about someone you don’t even know"), Cameron lays down the show's fundamentally generic assertion: "She's a human being. You knew her." If this rationale isn't so convincing, it is bland enough that it might be used in pretty much any situation. Just like the Bruckheimer formula.

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