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Pilot Inspektor: An Advance Review of ABC's "The Forgotten"

It's impossible to keep track these days just how many police procedurals there are so it's hardly a surprise that each development season several writers try to crack a new way of doing the familiar cop drama without following the same formula.

This year, that project is ABC's The Forgotten, created by Mark Friedman and executive produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, which the network will launch this fall. Rather than focus on detectives attempting to solve cases, The Forgotten focuses on a group of amateur crime-fighters who work John and Jane Doe cases after the police have given up on identifying the victim, in order to solve the case, catch the killer, and give the dead back their names.

It's an interesting conceit but The Forgotten doesn't quite follow through on its potential. For one, the motley group of amateurs approaches the crimes in much the same way that the police would. (It's as though they've all been watching episodes of CSI and Cold Case round the clock.) Yes, there are reasons why each of them would join the self-styled Identity Network (some of them groan-inducingly obvious) but the pilot episode never quite gets inside their heads to see what really makes them tick. After all, these are men and women from very different walks of life--including an ex-cop, a wife of a criminal, a sculptor with forensic experience and a record, an office drone, and a telephone company repairman--so why exactly have they chosen to devote their time to this particular endeavor with these particular people?

I have a hard time understanding why we jump into their ongoing investigations with this precise case, the so-called "Highway Jane," a young woman found murdered and faceless in a highway ditch. Yet rather than show us how the Identity Network came together, we are thrown into what seems like a rather standard case for them. The introduction of vandal/artist Tyler Davies (Anthony Carrigan) is, I believe, meant to serve as the audience's entry into this story but Tyler is so aloof and standoffish that he's not really the right Virgil to lead us into the plot. (Tyler would also appear to be some sort of sculptor wunderkind; despite his protestations that he's never sculpted a dead woman before, he manages in a single night to craft a facsimile of her face without breaking a sweat.)

It's worth noting that two of The Forgotten's leads--Rupert Penry-Jones and Reiko Aylesworth--will be recast before the series hits the airwaves. It's a smart move as Penry-Jones and Aylesworth remain doggedly dour throughout the pilot episode, creating a vacuum of downbeat energy. (And I say that being a huge fan of Penry-Jones' run on Spooks, a.k.a. MI-5.) As former cop Alex Donovan and reclusive Linda Manning, Penry-Jones and Aylesworth lack the spark and energy to anchor this series.

We're told (rather than shown) that they both have serious internal demons to battle; Donovan's eleven-year-old daughter went missing and was never found and reclusive Linda's husband was a notorious murderer whose exploits were unknown to her. While both are valid reasons for being a part of the Chicago chapter of the Identity Network, the two characters are so devoid of animation and vitality, that they might as well be ghosts flitting through the action.

The rest of the cast is serviceable, though their characters take a definite back seat to the case at hand. Rochelle Aytes's Detective Russell is Donovan's former partner on the force and she accepts his help solving these cases even as she resents his constant intrusion back into the precinct. Michelle Borth's Candace Butler is a put-upon worker bee who chafes at the office politics at her company, preferring to flip off her co-workers even as she solves crimes during work hours. Bob Stephenson's Walter Bailey is the sort of sad sack blue-collar worker who isn't usually seen in these types of crime-solving series; his expertise is the stakeout, though he doesn't seem all that good at keeping his cover. Still, all of the characters need significantly more depth than they are given here.

I'm not really sure why the Identity Network uses a sculptor (such as Tyler, who's only there to fulfill some community service obligations stemming from his arrest) rather than using some computer-generated facial reconstruction software. Sure, this stuff is expensive but sculpting, while cheap, feels depressingly low-tech in an age of such sophisticated crime-fighting technology such as that used on Bones or any other procedural series. Yes, these are meant to be amateurs rather than the real-deal police but I couldn't shake that comparison the entire time I was watching The Forgotten. Surely, there's someone in the Identity Network that could hook them up with some imaging software?

It's little things like that which irk throughout the pilot episode, compounded with the ham-fisted use of narration, provided here by Highway Jane herself. One has to assume that subsequent episodes would be narrated by that week's deceased and nameless victim. The intended effect is something akin to an aura of "The Lovely Bones," but in actuality the narration is more grating than gratifying. The narration as a whole is overwrought as the tireless Identity Network sleuths seek to reconstruct the deceased's "story," which is then brought to life by the actor playing the John or Jane Doe in flashbacks and corpse shots. It lends the entire affair a dismal note that seems to be carried through the entire piece. Efforts to inject humor fall flat and seem wholly out of place.

These things are all the more obvious because the central mystery--unmasking the killer of Highway Jane--is so blatantly obvious. Anyone who reads even boilerplate detective stories or watches any mystery series will immediately peg the likely suspect in Jane's murder... who sure enough ends up being the culprit at the end. If we're going to care at all about these characters and the victims they investigate, the cases need to be smart, twisty, and provocative but the plot of The Forgotten's initial case is anything but.

All in all, The Forgotten definitely needs some retooling if it has any hopes of attracting an audience. Jettisoning Penry-Jones and Aylesworth is a start but a lot of the problem is the surface-level characterization, the obvious suspect, and the depressingly bleak tone, which will likely keep many away, especially on a Tuesday evening, where the series will compete with legal drama The Good Wife, starring Juliana Margulies. Right now, victory will likely go to The Good Wife while The Forgotten will likely be, well, forgotten.

The Forgotten will air Tuesdays at 10 pm ET/PT this fall on ABC.


jen said…
Aww, too bad about RPJ being recast. Here's hoping a better show comes along for him to make his American "debut."
Ruthie said…
An interesting idea but sounds like the execution is poor. I'm surprised about Rupert Penry-Jones being so lackluster as I really enjoyed his performance in MI-5. Maybe he was just uninspired by the material he was given!
Anonymous said…
I was looking forward to seeing RPJ in a US show and though part of me is glad it's not this one, I'm also disappointed he has been recast.

RPJ normally puts lots of energy into shows but maybe this didn't inspire him. I wonder how much the review was clouded by the knowledge of the recast.
Jace Lacob said…

None as I originally watched the pilot before it was announced that Penry-Jones and Aylesworth were being recast.
Mazza said…
Sounds like it should be on CBS. Not an ABC show at all. I like Rupert but seems like it's a good thing he's not sticking around.
Worthless said…
The snide remarks about Aylesworth and Perny-Jones were really uncalled for, although I've noticed that is SOP toward Reiko. Actors are only 1/2 the character, the writers are the ones who create the personality. Both were likely told to play the characters that way, trying to make them "dark." This show never had much of a chance to begin with, and with nothing but a bunch of no-names left in the cast and regardless of who they con into filling the two roles, it will be lucky to last six episodes. Perny-Jones and Aylesworth are better off getting away from this coming disaster.
Wendyburd1 said…
I'm going to give it a chance. Sometimes shows start off a little rocky but once they are in their groove, they are amazing!

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