The next couple weeks are going to be insane. There are so many new series debuting and unfortunately, there is only so much time in the day for me to write about television while balancing my “real” life. You know, the one I spend on Twitter. ANYWAY, I’m going to try to touch on each new series once it airs a pilot, but these posts probably won’t be too long or too in-depth unless they really need to be. And if certain things debut together, I’ll probably talk about them together.
I don’t have a problem with procedurals. My parents love them and growing up, I can fondly remember watching Law & Order, JAG and The Practice with them when I probably should have been sleeping or watching something on the WB. Procedurals, especially ones on CBS, bring out a certain reaction in people who like to talk about television on the internet and while I understand the basic logic behind disliking a procedural — they’re simplistic, repetitive and lack character development, complexity, etc. — I think we tend to hate a little too much. The Mentalist isn’t the reason Firefly or Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles got canceled, nerds.
Anyway, as you know, CBS has a knack for middle-of-the-road, crime solving entertainment that upholds the big cultural beliefs of our society. Justice! Teamwork! Science! Sexism! CBS knows what they’re doing: Simplicity rules. Criminal Minds is horribly violent and bleak and the CSI: spin-offs might be dreadful, but the original version used to be relatively enjoyable and I have absolutely nothing negative to say about NCIS, The Mentalist or the Hawaii Five-O reboot. They’re entertaining enough, feature at least one solid performance each and can usually pull together a really good episode or a two per season. . And no matter how similar the formula seems, things like The Mentalist are different enough from the CSI:s of the world. The Eyeball needs to branch out every once and awhile.
Unfortunately, Unforgettable is almost too concept-heavy for my tastes. Remember a few years ago when there all kinds of new series like The Mentalist that saw people with stupid abilities or skills solving crimes? Things like The Listener? Cases like that try to gussy up the general procedural rhythms so much that it becomes entirely unbelievable, stupid, boring or a combination of all three. Unforgettable is one of those series. Poppy Montgomery’s Carrie Wells has hyperthymesia, a condition that allows her remember “everything.” Carrie’s skills are helpful when she wants to make some money playing blackjack, but that’s only because she’s walked away from being a police officer when the gift started becoming a curse. You see, though Carrie can recall every moment of her life on any random day, she cannot remember what happened the day her sister died and when she gets hung up on those blank spots, then she can’t remember ANYTHING.
This is a terribly wonky premise conceptually, but worst of all is how Unforgettable actually visualizes and portrays Carrie’s recall. When she’s trying to remember certain little details and moments, we’re bombarded with multiple Carries in one scene, oftentimes with them looking at the exact same spot (you know, as to emphasize that past her did see this thing that she’s recalling now). In certain spots, there is also poor filtering and some nondescript slow-motion-like movements as well. It kind of feels like those overly-elaborate camera gimmicks sports broadcasts are using such as ESPN AXIS to show more intricacies. Trying to visualize an ability that REMEMBERING EVERYTHING OF ALL-TIME, EVER is definitely a challenge and having Montgomery just stare off into the distance blankly would probably be worse, but that’s essentially what she’s doing here, Niels Arden Oplev just adds some bells and whistles to distract the audience from said blankness. And really, if you can’t come up with a better way to show the audience how this is happening, maybe don’t make the pilot to begin with.
What is also troubling is how the series is going to work moving forward. The crux of tonight’s case involves Carrie’s past (albeit short) relationship with the murder victim. She’s able to recall certain tidbits of information and evidence because she lived in the same building as the deceased. That makes sense. But in the future, how is this really going to work? Carrie might be able to remember everything that happened to her, but she cannot remember the lives of people who she has never met before. Is every case going to be about someone who Carrie knows personally? That’s a grim outcome. Or will every case involve her randomly stumbling into a crime in the teaser and then subsequently tracing back her steps with the slow-motion 360-degree camera looking on? This seems like a big problem to me.
Otherwise, Unforgettable is standard procedural. Supporting characters stumble upon evidence and look shocked when the lead character uses her skills to solve the case faster than they can. Michael Gaston feels right at home on a series like this and I like Kevin Rankin, but Dylan Walsh feels like an odd fit. He lacks the charisma or personality it would take to make his character compelling and he and Montgomery, who is likable TV performer, don’t have the best chemistry. I’m sure that my parents and lots of people their age will love Unforgettable and that’s fine. I just hope for their sake that it improves just enough to become a standardized replica of something like The Mentalist and they figure out a better way to make hyperthymesia look like a cool TV skill.