CBS has carved out a niche as the network of ultra-advanced professional crime fighters. From "NCIS" to "CSI" to "Criminal Minds," CBS investigators are highly trained and have excess to the best technology legitimate agencies can provide.
It's too early for it actually to be a trend yet, but ABC may find its mission as the home of amateur crimefighters, of scrappy volunteer autodidactics, minds not yet jaded by years of bureaucracy and legal loopholes.
Who you gonna trust?
ABC has a qualified success (i.e. it can't sustain an audience without "Dancing with the Stars," but lots of people like it) in "Castle," featuring Nathan Fillion as an author who proves to NYPD's Finest that all of their honed methods and experience can't compare to his imagination and snark.
Up next, and bringing ABC within one of a full-blown trend, is "The Forgotten." Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Danny Cannon ("CSI: Nearly All of 'Em"), "The Forgotten" focuses on the men and women of The Forgotten Network, a citizen-run victims' rights organization that works to identify John and Jane Does, giving names and therefore dignity to unfortunate souls who would otherwise be... you guessed it... forgotten.
As a follow-up series, I look forward to ABC doing a drama focusing on defense attorneys who file appeals to free clients incarcerated due to less-than-Kosher legwork by all of these amateur grunts.
So how well does "The Forgotten" work? Is it another Bruckheimer hit, or does he save his good stuff for CBS?
Review after the break...
"The Forgotten" doesn't have the smoothest and most easily explained of premises. When the cops spend a certain amount of time trying to ID a victim and they just can't be bothered to try anymore (or they lack the time and resources), they turn to The Forgotten Network. The Chicago cell of The Forgotten Network is led by Christian Slater's Alex Donovan, a former cop with a recent tragedy of his own. His team includes an elementary school teacher (Heather Stephens), a cubicle rat (Michelle Borth), an over-zealous phone company employee (Bob Stephenson) and newcomer Tyler (Anthony Carrigan), a medical school dropout forced to do community service for vandalism.
Why do the cops turn to this group? Well, they may not be qualified, but they're driven, with several tragic secrets and several existential crises driving our heros forward. One thing the pilot can't actually do is make a compelling case for what insight they're providing or why the Chicago PD was so inept in their handling of the initial case, involving a beaten Jane Doe. Also, Detective Grace Russell (Rochelle Aytes) and several other officers spend so much time helping The Forgotten Network that the freelancers may be cheap (free), but they aren't really reducing department manpower.
This is where Mark Friedman's pilot script fails. "The Forgotten" can only work if you emphasize that what makes these people unique is that they're not professionals, that they all have day jobs and that this is something they do because they're compelled in some way. Instead, after introducing all of the main characters at their day jobs, we never return to a single one of their actual lives. That's damning. Only Stephenson's character is blatantly unprofessional, or clearly in over his head, while the others don't distinguish themselves from the procedural norm in any way. They don't have badges, but this could just as easily be any team of attractive Jerry Bruckheimer detectives. And once that's the case, why watch "The Forgotten" as opposed to any other crime show?
ABC attempted to answer part of that question by replacing original pilot star Rupert Penry-Jones with the far-more-recognizable Slater, whose star power wasn't enough to bring even curiosity eyeballs to NBC's "My Own Worst Enemy." Having never seen Penry-Jones' incarnation, I can't say what Slater changed in the character, nor can I say what he adds. At least in "My Own Worst Enemy," Slater got to use his arched-eyebrow-Devil-may-care Nicholson impression. In "The Forgotten," he's just scruffy and a bit dejected, though we don't learn the cause for his funk until the very end of the pilot.
As for the rest of the cast, everybody is so underwritten that you just have to go with previous roles. So if you're a "Jericho" fan, you'll probably remember Stephenson. If you liked "Tell Me You Love Me," you'll be very happy to see Borth. And since Carrigan looks like an emo cross between Logan Marshall Green and John Patrick Amedori, I suspect he'll have some fans. But after the pilot, nobody's going to make you go "So-and-So is doing some great work in 'The Forgotten.'"
The person most likely to attract notice to himself coming out of "The Forgotten" is Cannon.
Some of TV's finest directors haven't necessarily imprinted their own visual styles in the same ways that a feature director might. David Nutter may be the King of the Pilot, but I couldn't watch a pilot blind and tell you that it had David Nutter's signature. That's not the case with Danny Cannon. I know what Danny Cannon's lighting and camera-movement fingerprints look like from a mile away. I know how Danny Cannon makes a city look. And it's possible that Danny Cannon may want to ration himself to only one pilot every year or two. After subjecting myself to several episodes of TNT's "Dark Blue" and moving on to "The Forgotten," I feel like fatigue has set in. His cityscapes are all moody and evocative and essentially sterile, stripped of any warmth or humanity and what he did to Los Angeles in "Dark Blue," he does to Chicago in "The Forgotten."
In addition to his usual tricks, Cannon has added some new affectations including a stylistic choice in which the Forgotten Victim narrates and appears in over-exposed flashbacks or fantasies. In some cases, the flashbacks are triggered when our detectives are on the right track, but they sometimes just seem random.
When it comes to my ABC Amateur Gumshoes, I'm going to continue to opt for Fillion's smirk and panache on "Castle" to Slater's grimace and stubble on "The Forgotten." But maybe I'll give the new show a second episode just to see if the writers find a way to humanize the heroes and demonstrate why they're special.
"The Forgotten" premieres on Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 10 p.m. on ABC.