“My name is Henry Morgan. My story is a long one. It might sound a bit implausible. In fact, you probably won’t believe it, but I’ll tell you anyway, because beyond all else I have lots, lots of time.”
Unfortunately for the cast and crew of Forever and their fans, time was something this show wouldn’t have much of at all. Created by Matthew Miller, Forever combines the deductive crime solving of Sherlock Holmes with the genre twist of immortality. There’s quite a bit of potential here that just doesn’t ever live up to the promise. It couldn’t conquer the ratings, and now fans will have to be content with this Warner Archive Collection release of the entire first season… the entire series.
Dr. Henry Morgan (Gruffudd) was shot in the 18th century defending the life of a slave aboard a slave ship owned by his family. Instead of eternal oblivion, he found himself reborn in the ocean waters. Now every time he is killed he disappears, only to pop back up in the nearest body of water, healed and very much alive. In his quest to discover what has happened, he studies death. What better place to study death than at the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office. There he works not only to solve his own mysterious life, but he helps the police department solve murders with his 200 years of life experience. The only one who knows his secret is Abe (Hirsch), who is a surrogate son he rescued as an infant from the Nazi death camps. Together they also run an antique shop where Abe tries to sell some of the many items Henry’s accumulated over the centuries. They also search to discover the fate of Henry’s wife Abigail (Mauzy), who left years ago.
The episodes spend time with the weekly crime which often brings back a specific memory from Morgan’s past. We see these moments in flashback, much as used to be the formula on the vampire cop show Forever Knight.
Forever shares something in common with Gruffudd’s role of Reed Richards in the first two Fantastic Four films. You see, both are a stretch. Mr. Fantastic uses that ability to fight villains, and the plot is the stretch in Forever that could be easily overcome by a dynamic actor. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t use that term to describe Ioan Gruffudd. He delivers lines as if he were reading them from a book, and every expression he delivers appears as if someone manipulated the lines of a mannequin. Come to think of it, in fact I’ve seen far more expressive mannequins. The deficiency is even more pronounced when demonstrated next to the considerable talents of Judd Hirsch. Hirsch has been making his mark since Taxi and has a wonderful range in both drama and comedy. Abe is no exception. He’s the only reason to really watch the show. Abe is a warm and comfortable character, and Hirsch wears the skin with ease.
The supporting cast is mostly a solid one. Joel David Moore is Lucas, Morgan’s faithful medical examiner’s assistant. It’s not Moore’s fault that the character is cut from a rather annoying staple. He’s typically geeky and idolizes Morgan. He doesn’t appear to have quite the book smarts for the job. Better is Alans De La Garza as Detective Jo Martinez. She ends up working a lot with Morgan, calling him her partner, which must be a total disregard for her actual partner, Hansen (Keshawarz). He’s a fine detective but gets no respect here. And that’s the first real problem I have with the show. Characters don’t appear to be thought out very well, and the writers don’t pay a lot of attention to characters like Hanson who appear to fill space that no one is quite sure what to do with. I feel bad for the actors. Is it any wonder that the show never really appears to find its footing? Cuba Gooding, Jr. joins as a rich love interest for Jo but is quickly discarded and most of his scenes cut. Gooding is a fine actor and another one treated poorly by the series.
Then there’s the nemesis that is never truly developed, Adam, played by Burn Gorman. He is on Morgan’s trail. He knows the secret because he has the same ability. But Adam has had it not for 200 years, but 2000. He has the right kind of potential, but bad writing and a failure to commit one way or the other leaves yet another character without direction most of the time. He becomes the focus of a hastily assembled finale likely created once the writing was on the wall about the show’s future.
I think the show suffered from a fatal dilemma that it likely could not have solved. Take away the rather flat performance of Gruffudd and you’re left with an unusual premise that carries with it the danger of getting tedious. With the first handful of episodes it was beginning to look like each week would feature the latest death by Henry Morgan. Since it’s the show’s “gimmick”, I expected him to die pretty much all the time. That got old extremely fast. It’s obvious that someone on the show figured that out quickly. Before long Henry pretty much stopped dying on a regular basis. That was a good idea; however, the expectation had been set, and there were going to be fans who tuned in just for the “gimmick”. Now you’ve improved the show but alienated the core base. You’re also giving up the one thing that makes the show unique. Sure, they talk about it, and you still have the flashbacks, but boiled down the show is basically Sherlock Holmes, a successful format of late, but that takes us down to the dull delivery by Gruffudd. It seems to me the show was doomed from the start. I never could really imagine this show ever quite catching on. And “I have a very vivid imagination.”