Although crime dramas don’t usually compete for Emmys, the sheer number of them on television today attests to the popularity of their genre. Some police procedurals like “Law & Order” have been around since the early ’90s and even spawned their own spin-offs.
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And it’s no secret why these shows have had so much success. The format — each week an hour-long search for a criminal inevitably ends successfully — allows new viewers to hop in and watch any episode in a given series, while slow but important character development keeps long-time fans hooked.
ABC has decided once more to give this lucrative genre a shot and they turned to one of the most prolific men in the business: producer Jerry Bruckheimer (“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”).
In “The Forgotten,” a group of volunteers known as the Identity Network attempt to identify murder victims who weren’t identified by the police. A passionate ex-policeman, Alex (Christian Slater, “My Own Worst Enemy”) is the team’s leader. He’s joined by civilians from very different walks of life: a graffiti artist (newcomer Anthony Carrigan), a repairman (Bob Stephenson, “Jericho”) and a school teacher (Heather Stephens, “Saved”).
“The Forgotten” adheres to the same basic crime drama formula introduced by the first incarnation of “Law & Order” in 1990. So, naturally, it suffers from many of the regular shortcomings. In order to serve justice in 60 minutes (minus commercial time), the protagonists always seem to be in exactly the right place at precisely the right time and catch all the right clues. However, these unbelievable coincidences and unbelievably clever sleuths can be forgiven because “The Forgotten” has several things going for it that other crime dramas don’t.
The most obvious redeeming quality is the show’s premise. The Identity Network is comprised of civilians, not professionals, so the characters are much more diverse than one expects in a police station or a criminology lab. And each has a different motive for volunteering that can be revealed over the course of the series.
Also, since each episode begins with a mysterious murder, there won’t be any fluff cases for the team to tackle. With such grim assignments, there shouldn’t be any lame attempts at humor that are often unnecessary and out of place in similar shows.
But what really sets the show apart is its cast. Christian Slater brings more obsessive enthusiasm and angst than any member of “Law & Order” or “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” could muster. And his team, though possibly not quite as passionate as their ringleader, is made up of distinct, compelling characters played by competent actors — an exceptional feat in the world of police procedurals.
Alex and friends will probably always be in the right place at the right time to connect all the right dots and identify those who the police could not. But if the creators “The Forgotten” had set aside enough time each episode to showcase its capable cast by developing each character, ABC might have found something better than the average crime drama. Still, the show doesn’t fail completely.