There is little that network TV loves more than a good cop or doctor show—except, possibly, a show about lawyers. The procedural delivers comforting formula for viewers with apparently insatiable appetites for it. For decades, crimes have been solved, patients cured (or not), and legal matters determined in courtrooms. In recent years, however, the networks have tried tweaking the format, inserting unfamiliar figures or twists of plot. So, we’ve seen a doctor indebted to the mob, a doctor with an evil split personality, cops who are androids or otherwise enhanced, and a doctor who talks to ghosts. None of these lasted more than a season.
It turns out that viewers, while willing to have their doctors and cops be unpleasant and even anti-social, prefer they not be too high-concept. That could be a problem for Forever, a new show that had a special preview Monday and begins its regular Tuesday time on 23 September. Here the doctor, named Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd), is immortal. However, it’s not what you think: he doesn’t sleep in a coffin, drink blood or have sparkly skin, and he hasn’t been transformed by a stranger’s spell (see: New Amsterdam). Forever doesn’t fall back on such clichés, and the mystery it poses as to how and why Morgan doesn’t die is, so far, its most compelling aspect.
That said, Forever is already showing an affection for plot conventions, drawing from both cop and doctor shows. Morgan works as a medical examiner in New York, and has spent 200 years honing his skills of observation, always helpful in the big city. We meet him on the subway, where he manages to determine that a young woman is a Russian cellist on the way to a performance just by looking at her. She finds his Sherlock Holmes shtick charming rather than creepy: he is, after all, played by Ioan Gruffudd, here making no secret of his British background.
Their flirtation is cut short when a train derailment kills everyone in the Morgan’s car—except him. Though he suffers a rather nasty impaling, immediately following his last breath, Morgan is reborn naked in the river. He explains to the audience that he has died countless times and always comes to in water at exactly the same age.
Granted, this explanation isn’t exactly detailed or even very explanatory, but it does set up for an irregular, potentially disturbing assignment. We follow Morgan back to the morgue, where he examines the corpses from the crash and is seemingly unaffected by the death around him or the tragedy he just witnessed. The good doctor’s breezy attitude around the dead is unnerving to his assistant, Lucas (Joel David Moore), who copes by injecting droll one-liners into this otherwise mostly serious business. Morgan’s odd mannerisms also catch the attention of Detective Jo Martinez (Alana de la Garza), who briefly considers him a suspect in the subway crash until she too is disarmed by the British wit and charm.
By the end of the first episode, after much sleuthing and dissecting, Morgan and Martinez are planning their next case together. The series will offer up a case week by week, even though Morgan’s quest to understand his immortality is far more engaging. When he gets a phone call from a stranger who also claims to be immortal and seems to know everything he does, Morgan’s instinct is to run. It is only at the insistence of his friend, Abe (Judd Hirsch), who has been helping him hide his difference for decades, that Morgan decides it is time to stay put.
Abe’s loyalty to Morgan is confusing for most of the premiere, until a single flashback explains their connection and manages to be more poignant than several gauzy scenes of Morgan’s lost love. As complicated as Morgan’s never-ending life may be, the choices that Abe has made on Morgan’s behalf look even more complicated.
Everything in the first episode suggests that Forever has a better shot at successfully combining procedural conventions and a high-concept than, say, Intelligence or Almost Human. The concept of an immortal man who wishes he could die is a powerful one, though for now, Morgan’s dilemma is sketched in broad strokes. He is Sherlock Holmes (or maybe House, or Quincy); he is not a vampire (thankfully). He has experienced many lifetimes of emotional and physical pain. We might hope that Forever grapples with the darkness inherent in its premise, and spend less time on its procedural scaffolding. To do so, however, it will have to find a way for Morgan to be more than a familiar British charmer in a peculiar situation.