After several years of mostly miserably failed attempts to ride the wave of crime dramas most of the other TV networks were successfully navigating, ABC has turned to the TV and cinematic crime drama maestro Jerry Bruckheimer for help. The resulting series, The Forgotten
(Tuesdays, 10 p.m. EDT), is a solid crime drama and stands for some very appealing values.
The visual style of the show is familiar from Bruckheimer's many other policiers, such as the CSI
series. It has the same tendency toward dingy, low-level lighting, moving camera shots, eccentric framing, and the like, though in The Forgotten
it's not as frenetic and flashy as in most of Bruckheimer's shows. That's a good thing.
The stories and performances reflect the earnestness of Bruckheimer’s TV productions, while avoiding the sensationalism the other shows tend to indulge in. Christian Slater is Alex, an ex-cop who leads the Forgotten Network, a team of private citizens in Chicago who investigate cases in which the police have run out of leads and can't afford to devote additional resources.
Avoiding both cynicism and romanticism, the program makes a point of showing how many people around the nation are willing to volunteer their help. It also shows people who refuse to help, thus making each such instance a test of a person's character.
Alex's daughter was the victim of a crime and is gone; each member of the team has experienced such a victimization or some past relationship with a criminal. These experiences give each of them a superpower, as they jokingly call it, such as a special ability to spot lies.
Thus instead of being crippled by their personal trials and tragedies, they overcome them and use their hard-won wisdom to help others in trouble.
Slater is very effective in his role as the group's leader—it’s easily the best role he's had in years, even better than his dual role in NBC' short-lived series My Own Worst Enemy.
And he makes the most of it, infusing the character with a surprising amount of charisma. Just watching his character listen to people is interesting, as Slater conveys the character’s judgments and reactions entirely through subtle cues in his posture and facial expressions.
Also refreshing is the openly judgmental nature of the show's protagonist. Alex is no moral relativist--he has no hesitation about rebuking people who do wrong, yet he never seems priggish or smug. On the contrary, his concern is always directed toward the team's mission, not any personal, ego-driven agendas.
A gimmick the show uses effectively is to have the dead person talk in voice-over occasionally throughout each episode, explaining things about their former life, especially as they bear on what might have led to their death. These voice-over narration passages also make clear why these persons' lives had meaning and they should not be forgotten. They also lead to some rather tender, moving moments at an episode's climax.
The back story that led up to the murder at the center of each episode is explained by various characters who may have been involved. That's rather standard for mysteries, but what The Forgotten
does particularly well is show interesting relationships among the suspects which afford some nice insights into the choices they make and why.
Also important is the fact that the murders aren't committed by investment bankers, fashion magnates, and the like, who of course almost never commit murder in real life. Instead, the murders in The Forgotten
are typically committed by people of lower social status and economic means, as is the case in the real world.
That's another thing that makes The Forgotten
at least a little bit more than just a formula mystery. It's not Tolstoy, of course, or even Agatha Christie, but it's a serious attempt at meaningful storytelling, and that can make for memorable television.