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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2009-2010 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on either a cut screened to us privately or a copy supplied by a third party NOT a screener provided by the network in question. All were received or screened prior to the networks' official mailings that went out in mid-June.]
THE FORGOTTEN (ABC)
(Tuesdays at 10:00/9:00c starting this fall; TRT: 45:31)
The network's description: "From executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer comes a crime show in which a team of dedicated amateurs work on cases involving unidentified victims. After the police have given up, this group must first solve the puzzle of the victim's identity in order to then help catch the killer. They work to give the deceased back their names, lest they become -- The Forgotten."
What did they leave out? The characters of Alex ("MI-5's" Rupert Penry-Jones) and Linda ("24's" Reiko Aylesworth) are being recast.
The plot in a nutshell: "In the United States, the remains of 40,000 people have not been identified," explains the opening title card. "When police investigations reach a dead end, groups of civilian volunteers across the country work to name... The Forgotten." And with that the disembodied voice of a murder victim leads us to her body, a young woman whose face has been mutilated. It seems that the police haven't had any luck identifying said "Highway Jane" and have brought in the Identity Network, a nationwide network of amateur sleuths, to help. Spearheading the Chicago chapter is Alex Donovan (Rupert Penry-Jones), a ex-cop who's often fed cases by his overworked former partner, Det. Russell (Rochelle Aytes). His team however comes from all sorts of backgrounds: Candace Butler (Michelle Borth) is an office drone; Walter Bailey (Bob Stephenson) works for the phone company; and Linda Manning (Reiko Aylesworth) is a homebody who runs their web site. Rounding out the group is its newest member - and our way into the show - Tyler Davies (Anthony Carrigan), a talented artist/vandal who's been assigned to the group as part of his community service.
Tyler is not surprisingly skeptical of the group - volunteers playing detective? Each nevertheless has their own particular skill - Walter's is surveillance, Candace's is people, Linda's is computers; and Alex's is, well, being an ex-cop. The gang then is banking on Tyler being able to do a facial reconstruction, to give them a face that will hopefully get them a name. And so the pavement pounding begins: Candace looks into Jane's peculiar nail polish, Walter visits the closest gas station to see if they noticed anything, Linda checks out a unique tattoo on the body; and Alex hits up some nearby thrift stores about her clothes. Sure enough they stumble their way into a lead: it seems Jane was a regular at a nearby Goth club where she gained the unwanted attention of Quint, the resident bad egg. That in turn leads them to her job, her apartment and her associates (including Devon Gummersall as her neighbor and Deirdre Lovejoy as her former teacher) and before long the various dominos begin falling into place as her identity and more potential killers begin to reveal themselves. In the end Jane gets a name and her loved ones can finally get some peace.
What works: At its core, "The Forgotten" is genuinely clever concept - regular people playing gumshoe. And once it's processed through the Jerry Bruckheimer machine, not to mention Danny Cannon's deft direction, the end result is a solidly crafted procedural. And while it's your typically grim and gritty affair, I was surprised by the refreshingly punless humor that dots the action: whether it be Walter keeping a photo of Andy Sipowicz in the visor of his car, Russell asking Alex if he fires up some sort of Bat Signal to alert the team or Linda giving Walter a hard time about his day job (Linda: "Weren't you supposed to be there two hours ago?" Walter: "We can only provide a window, Linda."). From a character standpoint, Borth's Candace and Stephenson's Walter are by the far the standouts as their archetypes aren't generally seen in the procedural world: she's bored with her job and simply wants to do something more with her life; he's a hapless technician who sees himself as a cop show hero. They're a nice counterbalance to the usual bland, tortured souls we've come to expect from the genre: Alex can't get over his missing daughter while Linda's trying to make up for her husband's sins.
What doesn't: As if it isn't obvious already, the Identity Network proves to be far more capable than it's amateur/volunteer tag would indicate. They, plus or minus a few quirks, operate like your typical TV detectives. Sure we see them get a few things wrong, but not in a way that isn't consistent with the usual process of eliminating suspects and gathering evidence you see on other cop shows. And, much like in "CSI," they actually prove to be more efficient than their badged counterparts (Tyler for instance mentions he's never done facial reconstruction before and yet he spits out something worthy of Madame Tussauds on the first try). Sure, we're told the reason the cops haven't cleared cases like Jane's is they're overwhelmed by their workload, but somehow Russell and company are always there to take the ball the final 10 yards when the Identity Network took them the first 90. As for the show's more unique elements, having the victim narrate the show from the great beyond gets heavy handed rather quickly, ultimately enveloping the show in a dreariness that nearly washes out any fun being had. That being said, somewhere in here is the potential for a very distinct take on the cop procedural format. Until those elements are fostered though...
The bottom line: ...you have exactly the kind of procedural you've come to expect from the Bruckheimer machine.