Aside from its gimmicks, “Unforgettable” might seem like any other crime drama. Where it differs most clearly is its attempt to construct a large plot that the viewers are supposed to care about — but we still don’t.

Unforgettable

Pilot
Tuesdays at 10 p.m.
CBS


The problem in “Unforgettable” is its refusal to simply do away with murders that can be solved in only a single episode. It does not, as its official summary might suggest, explore its main protagonist Carrie Wells, a saucy former homicide detective from Syracuse played by Poppy Montgomery (“Without a Trace”).

To explain, Wells has been diagnosed with a rare medical condition called hyperthymesia that gives her an incredible autobiographical memory. When used properly, this condition can help her solve crimes — but she couldn’t manage to use it to solve the murder of her beloved sister, and this haunts her.

This tortured heroine’s story rarely resonates with the viewer. Her hyperthymesia is a gimmick, and a gimmick will remain a gimmick no matter how well it has been dressed, even with stilettos and low-cut dresses.

As a matter of fact, the interest that should be generated by the sister’s-murder story — which should be the driving force behind the show — is placed in a very different murder: One lonely night when Wells is about to go to sleep, she is awoken by the screams and struggles of her neighbor as she is being stabbed to death. Who else should conveniently come along to investigate the murder than her ex-boyfriend, Al Burns (Dyal Walsh “Nip/Tuck”), the same person who tried to help her solve her sister’s murder.

Wells agrees to help with the case, setting up a whole slew of different — albeit clichéd — possibilities for the plot. Regrettably, these possibilities arrive with a batch of bad jokes the writers couldn’t simply scrap. Seriously, as Wells digs through a drain for the murder weapon, one of the detectives decides to make an off-color joke: “If there’s a Derek Jeter rookie card, it’s mine,” she says as she pulls out a bloody knife. That’s … hilarious?

Maybe the writers should reconsider their occupation as comedians. Maybe they shouldn’t make jokes again. Ever.

Really, the gimmicks should be dropped altogether and transformed. It could be argued that Wells’s hyperthymesia is what will draw viewers — perhaps. But for now, “Unforgettable” makes the viewer feel more ignorant of the condition. Its shallow character development reveals the show’s unwillingness to explore the condition as anything more than a convenient device used to solve murders.

As of now, the overarching plot consists of Wells working as a detective in order to recapture and discover new details within the one memory she has forgotten: her sister’s murder. With each murder, she is inexplicably given another piece of that memory, which will hopefully lead to her sister’s murderer. So in essence, it becomes a show about murders, not her sister’s murder — its original intent. That particular murder becomes a sidenote that will undoubtedly be used to bring all these other murders under a single umbrella, so that the creators can call this mess a single story.

Why should anyone be willing to sit through a season of this procedural crime show?

Believe it or not, the lead actors turn in a couple of solid performances. While their characters hardly deserve any attention, Wells and Burns do have some decent chemistry. Somehow, Montgomery and Walsh managed to take these two very bland characters and turn them into two amiable human beings. Not to mention, this episode’s murder mystery — not the overarching story — moves forward efficiently, cleverly dropping the requisite clues here and there to lead the viewer on.

In short, it’s decent entertainment. It may not demand the commitment other shows require, but so long as a clear direction is made, it has potential to draw die-hard fans. But should it be only another crime show with a clever gimmick, or should it explore this gimmick, its characters’ sorrows and the murder that has remained unsolved for so long? If it hopes to continue long enough to tie together its “captivating” loose ends, “Unforgettable” should choose the latter.

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