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'Forever', a mashup of similar shows, premieres on ABC

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Forever
K.C. Bailey/ABC

A handsome man boards the subway, choosing a seat next to a beautiful woman. They make eye contact, then look away. He says “good day” to her (in Russian), she responds in kind—and then the onslaught begins:

Woman: “How did you know I was Russian?”

Man: “Korovka. Russian chocolate. You have a smudge.”

[Woman wipes her face. There’s a pause.]

Man: “Good luck at the performance tonight.”

[She looks at him quizzically.]

Man: “Sorry. I noticed the indentations on your fingers. At first I thought violin, but the spacings are a bit too wide, and there’s no markings under your chin. So, cello.”

[Another pause.]

Woman: “How did you know I have a performance?”

Man: “Your collar has a bit of moisture. Freshly showered. So I assumed you’re either headed to work or going out on a date, and with all due respect, it would be unusual for a woman as beautiful as you to be taking the subway to a date.”

And so on. Welcome to Forever, yet another example of TV’s favorite procedural subgenre: the Deductive Genius show.

Sometimes the men (they’re always men) at the center of these shows are detectives by trade (Monk); more often, though, they’re consultants for the local police force, which allows them to help solve mysteries while remaining mysterious, roguish outsiders (CastleThe MentalistPsychSleepy Hollow). In a few cases, they’re literally named Sherlock Holmes (Elementary, and, of course, Sherlock, which may have ignited the trend’s recent resurgence); in all cases, they’re modeled on that original Deductive Genius. (And, to a slightly lesser extent, Columbo.) Basically, every time they meet somebody new, this happens.

Watch the first two episodes of ABC’s Forever—the premiere airs tonight at 10 p.m. ET, while episode 2 airs Tuesday—and keep track of how many times somebody asks our star, immortal medical examiner Henry Morgan, “How did you know…?” (Don’t try to do this as a drinking game—you’ll be out before the 10 o’clock news.) Spoiler alert: Characters say those words a lot.

Usually, the Deductive Genius’s powers are accredited to an eidetic memory. In Forever‘s case, the story is a bit more complicated: Henry is a genius because he’s actually 200-plus-years-old, an old-timey immigrant to New York who’s still kicking thanks to a spell cast by his wife, a witch. Wait, that’s Sleepy Hollow again. No, Henry’s still alive because he saved the life of a Native American girl in 1642, who rewarded him with eternal life (until the day he meets his soul mate). Oops, sorry, still wrong; I just described the premise of Fox’s short-lived 2008 drama New Amsterdam. Maybe he’s a vampire? My bad, that’s Alex O’Loughlin in Moonlight.

So yeah: A better title for this series may be Derivative. Morgan can be killed but is always subsequently reborn, naked, in a body of water (unfortunately in NYC that means the East River); he reads rooms like Dr. Gregory House and dead bodies like Dexter Morgan (can the name be a coincidence?). His soon-to-be partner, Jo Martinez, is a level-headed detective straight out of the Abbie Mills/Kate Beckett/Joan Watson School of No-Nonsense Sidekickery. His nemesis, who murders an entire subway car full of people just to prove that Henry can’t die, is nothing but a voice on the phone, a stranger convinced that he and Henry have a special connection; just call him Moriarty Red John Ice Truck Killer.

And yet Forever isn’t a bad show. Far from it, in fact; it’s breezy and entertaining and reasonably clever, at least when its Sherlock Scanning isn’t out of control. Much of the credit for this belongs to its three leads. Alana de la Garza’s Jo is grounded and warily curious, while Judd Hirsch’s Abe (Henry’s one companion and confidant) is charmingly avuncular. But most of all, there’s Ioan Gruffudd, who can speak volumes with the wry smirk that’s always playing around Henry’s lips. Forever is certainly a Deductive Genius show, but it also belongs to the school of series that would never work if they didn’t center on a charismatic Brit—and luckily, creator Matthew Miller managed to find the right man for the job. Miller himself also deserves some praise; it’s one thing to make a formulaic show, but it’s significantly more difficult to make one that does that formula well.

If the unpredictable success of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has proven anything, it’s that any show is capable of developing its own rabid fan base. So as the TV season wears on, there may be armies of passionate Jo/Henry shippers. It seems more likely that Forever will develop into a solid B show, the sort you tune into every so often, maybe while folding laundry or making dinner. There’s nothing wrong with that; even a Deductive Genius would have to agree that it’s nice to turn your brain off every once in awhile. Plus, pay any closer attention, and you may find yourself maddened by the issues prompted by the show’s premise. Such as: Henry seems to die in public a lot. So how has nobody ever seen his body disappear before their eyes? And why would an immortal man bother taking a reasonably high-profile government job; wouldn’t it be more prudent to lay low and try not to attract attention? And also, wait—why does being old give him superpowers of deduction in the first place?

Maybe I could deduce the answers if I, too, were created in Sherlock Holmes’ image. As it is, perhaps it’d be more prudent just to sit back and enjoy the ride.