Now, stop me if you’ve heard this one before…
An ageless man in New York City who has various lovers, children, and friends, yet yearns to die.
One of my favourite books is Pete Hamill’s 2003 novel, Forever, which centers on Cormac O’Connor, an Irish immigrant who arrives in New York City in the 1740s, and is granted immortality by an African slave. He is bound to the city, ageless, and never allowed to leave Manhattan. It’s a great book, and I completely recommend reading it.
Five years later, Fox debuted a show called New Amsterdam, about Johann van der Zee, now named John Amsterdam (as portrayed by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a Dutch man born in 1607 who was granted immortality for saving the life of a Native American girl. The series only lasted 8 episodes. I’ve watched it on Hulu, and other than the somewhat forced (and boring) romantic plot, I really liked the show. The flashbacks were really great, and his “sidekick” was an elderly man who was actually one of his sons.
Fast forward to this week, ABC is debuting a show called Forever. It centers around Ioan Gruffudd, who portrays Dr. Henry Morgan, a New York City Medical Examiner who was shot trying to save the life of an African slave and becomes immortal. As a twist, when he dies, he wakes up naked in water. He has an elderly sidekick name Abe, given life by the talented Judd Hirsch.
There has been a lot written on the similarities of these, as well as some court cases, but let’s just talk about the pilot of Forever, which was up on Hulu recently. Suffice it to say, though there are loads of similarities, they should all be treated as separate entities.
Let me preface this by saying I’m a sucker for New York City history, as well as being a fan of both the novel Forever and the last pseudo-incarnation of this television show.
We open with a voice over from Ioan Gruffudd as Dr. Henry Morgan, who displays his excellent intellect and deductive skills on a subway car before it crashes and he dies. We then flashback to his death 200 years ago aboard a vessel somewhere at sea while trying to protect a slave supposedly infected with cholera. We move back to the present where he dies on the train, only to wash up just offshore of Brooklyn Bridge Park, and is taken into custody by police officers. He has no explanation for his condition, and just keeps going.
After the teaser, we find Henry fully clothed and released back onto the street, he imagines a girl in a red beret who is obviously a previous lover. He notes that “eternity isn’t really a blessing, but a curse.” We are then introduced to Abe (Judd Hirsch), his confidant, who picks him up from the station. Hirsch provides an excellent sounding board for Gruffudd’s character, as well as some snarky commentary. I expect nothing less from such a great actor.
The show then cuts to Alana de la Garza as Detective Jo Martinez, who leaves a one night stand to head to the train wreck. They pick up Henry’s watch, which he tried to reach for before dying. She is shown to be a “tough cop”, yet there are these photos and saved voicemails on her phone, which hint to a softer side (we find out she’s a widow later on in the episode).
The voice over continues as we return to Henry. We see him in his “lair” beneath Abe’s antiques store. We then follow him to work, where he is given the train conductor from the wreck as his assignment. This is where Jo and Henry first meet, the latter demonstrating his deductive skills yet again.
There are three elements that cover the rest of the episode:
1. There is then a “spooky” phone call, which gives us a taste of the overall arc that someone else knows Henry’s secret. This is followed by envelopes sent and other cryptic clues.
2. Procedural stuff, which shows Jo and Henry working together to solve the episode’s mystery murder of the week. They also work separately, as well, which involved Henry killing himself with poison this time.
3. Flashbacks, which allude to Henry’s previous “lives”. He was a grave digger before a medical examiner, and probably many other careers that we will eventually discover.
I understand the possible need for the voiceover, especially in the pilot, but that’s an element I hope they lessen. Don’t get me wrong, I could listen to Ioan Gruffudd all day without complaint, but I feel it somewhat dumbs down the show unnecessarily. Thankfully, as the episode goes on, it does disappear a bit. The procedural element is going to be standard, as well as an overarching mystery surrounding Henry’s immortality.
Ultimately, I did enjoy the show and am interested in the direction they are going to take it. I truly hope that they leave the romantic element out, unlike New Amsterdam. I like “loner” Henry, and would like them to go more in that direction. Showing darker moments would be a nice change and also the downside of immortality, which he hints at early in the episode. I do like the idea of Jo and Henry having a friendship, a la Elementary, which starts to evolve near the end of the episode.
I am going to stick with this show even though I thought there were a few missteps in the pilot. I definitely think that this will be one to watch: Ioan Gruffudd is excellent and I secretly hope for more flashbacks of Old New York.
Forever aires Tuesdays on ABC at 10pm EST. The official premiere is September 22nd, and the second episode will air the following evening.
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