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Television

Review:  ABC’s ‘Forever’ compelling, but predictability may limit life

‘Forever’
Ioan Gruffudd in “Forever.”
(ABC)
Los Angeles Times Television Critic

All I want is a show in which a handsome Old World native, inexplicably cursed with immortality and a New York address, solves murders while contemplating the nature of life without things spiraling out of control almost immediately.

Am I asking for the stars?

Apparently, yes. Six years after Fox gave us Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as an immortal Dutch colonist turned brilliant NYPD homicide detective in the short-lived “New Amsterdam,” ABC offers us Ioan Gruffudd, an immortal British doctor turned brilliant NYPD medical examiner in the potentially short-lived “Forever.”

As with “New Amsterdam,” the lead actor is as compelling as he is spell check-challenged. Gruffudd plays Dr. Henry Morgan, whom we meet as the doctor of a slave ship. When he refuses to chuck an ill man overboard, the dastardly captain shoots him, and though Morgan dies, he does not stay dead. No matter how his life ends, he returns in a body of water, completely naked.

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Because, well, why the heck not completely naked?

Best known for roles as wildly diverse as “Poldark” and Mr. Fantastic in “The Fantastic Four,” Gruffudd is an immediately likable hero, radiating just the right mix of hope and resignation as he both leverages his inability to die and attempts to “cure” it.

An even more promising character is Abraham (Judd Hirsch). Henry’s confidant and the only other person who understands the situation, Abe dutifully delivers post-resurrection towels, excellent dinners and sage advice.

Indeed, their relationship is the most original and intriguing aspect of Matthew Miller’s story, which certainly owes a lot to “New Amsterdam” and has come under scrutiny for its immortal-being-in-New-York resemblance to the Pete Hamill novel, also called “Forever.”

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Unfortunately, Miller doesn’t seem to know this.

Hirsch is, as usual, wonderful and more than capable of taking Abraham’s story line wider and deeper than well-meaning banter and bromides assigned him, but in early episodes the story seems determined to showcase its more predictable aspects. In the lab, Henry is teamed with the inquisitive Lucas (Joel Michael Moore, echoing a role he played on “Bones”); in detection, with the lovely Det. Jo Martinez (Alana De La Garza), whom Henry might love if the immortal life hadn’t already proven such a thing too much to bear, blah, blah, blah.

Television has changed much since “New Amsterdam” premiered, and even procedural dramas now regularly explore larger themes with characters increasingly allowed to embody the many realms of love that lie outside the “happily ever” sphere. So the decision to solve murders amid suspicious higher-ups (how does Morgan know so much about death and New York history?!?) and stolen glances is not just disappointing, it’s mystifying.

As fans of “Doctor Who” know, there are few more endlessly satisfying characters than the ageless, immortal man who has no peer. He is wise and lonely and given to all manner of mood swings; he has seen the worst of humanity played out repeatedly but also the best. That there is never any clear and final winner clarifies both the necessity and insanity of hope.

Immortality also expands a show’s narrative, not to mention costume, possibilities infinitum — like the TARDIS, “Forever” could become bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

Could, that is, if someone realizes before it’s too late that Judd Hirsch is standing right there with one of the more brilliant character conceits in television history. So maybe “Forever” should use him for more than transportation and transition.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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‘Forever’

Where: ABC

When: 10 p.m. Monday

Rating: TV-PG-LV (may be unsuitable for young children, with advisories for coarse language and violence)


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