October 02, 2009 at 09:31 PM EDT

Is it just me, or does it seem like The Forgotten kind of snuck onto the fall TV schedule? Like it picked a quiet little corner opposite the much-more hyped (and deservedly so) The Good Wife, and Jay Leno doing all he can to keep a network afloat? I point out the oddity of it because Christian Slater is in the lead role. Of course, the last time he tried this network TV thing it didn’t work out so well.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked My Own Worst Enemy, his NBC show about a suburban dad who doesn’t know he’s also a kick-ass secret operative. It was an inventive premise, gave Slater room to stretch in both identities, and was a revelation for Mike O’Malley, who got to transform from doofus to badass. Sadly, Enemy got the bullet from NBC after a mere nine episodes, and these days we don’t call that a success.

But I think I might know why The Forgotten is being so low-key: It’s neither good enough nor bad enough to warrant much attention. In the new show, Slater plays Alex Donovan, a former cop whose daughter is missing, coping with his grief by working with a volunteer group that gives Jane and John Does back their identities. It’s basically Without a Trace for the dead, and therein lies the problem: It’s too much like Trace. The lighting and tone feel deeply familiar, as does one other element: the victim’s voiceover. While Trace showed viewers parts of the victim’s life before and during their crisis, The Forgotten has the dead speaking for themselves, a la The Lovely Bones, narrating the story from their perspective. It’s not as effective, and frankly, seems a bit cloying. I wouldn’t be surprised if that element quietly disappeared.

The Forgotten also doesn’t give Slater much to do as an actor, besides look hurried and aggrieved. But I tell you what, that Bob Stephenson has potential to save this show from utter misery. Every procedural needs comic relief, or the stuff just gets too heavy. Tony and McGee on NCIS, Garcia and Morgan on Criminal Minds, the Mentalist, himself—they all need beats of levity, otherwise all that blood and death gets to be…a whole lot of blood and death. Heck, murder with a cherry on top is Bones and Castle‘s whole modus operandi. Stephenson, as phone company employee Walter Bailey, is very gingerly stepping into the fun zone, and Lord, let’s hope he boldly strides there, otherwise this show’s going to be a downer every week. Yes, episode 2 was better, what with the wicked, murderous stepmother—definitely liked that. But this show needs a little more snap, or else that title’s going to end up being cruelly literally.

But what do you think about The Forgotten, Coppers? Are you interested? Do you think it’s going to last? And what about the rest of the week? (Sorry this column’s a tad shorter and narrower in scope than usual, but family issues call me away, so feel free to consider this an open procedural forum.) Are we envisioning Criminal Minds‘ Hotch losing it around November sweeps? Is a jokey/jovial House doing it for ya? (And I know I’m not the only one secretly hoping Taub and 13 stay gone.) Wasn’t the bet on Castle fun? How they managed to cast a show in which everyone has chemistry, I don’t know—but they should loan whoever did to NCIS: Los Angeles. That crew’s feeling a tad…stiff.

See you back here Monday, Beatniks. And, hey—let’s be careful out there.

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