For some reason, TV has a bad habit of squandering immortality in the context of pedestrian police procedurals. Fox did as much in “New Amsterdam,” and ABC apes the formula in “Forever,” an oddly uninvolving drama that forces one to contemplate what “Castle” might look like if the lead character couldn’t die. Star Ioan Gruffudd is likable enough, but the rules of the show — poorly explained though they might be — tend to blunt any emotional attachment. Given ABC’s trio of strikeouts in the timeslot last year, the title seems overly ambitious; for starters, “November” sounds like a more reasonable goal.
Gruffudd’s Henry is working as a medical examiner in New York City, where his secret is known only to his blustery sidekick Abe (Judd Hirsch). More than 200 years ago Henry was struck by lightning, resulting in a condition where no matter how he dies, he immediately comes back — naked, and in water.
Aside from the parallels to the birthing process, this creates some peculiar opportunities, as well as considerable awkwardness when he’s on a subway car that crashes, resulting in multiple fatalities. Working the case brings him into contact with a detective, Jo Martinez (“Law & Order” alumna Alana De La Garza), who is suspicious of Henry, but can only fritter around the edges of what might be weird about him.
Yet once series creator Matt Miller has established the basic premise, Henry’s predicament raises more questions than it answers — starting with why anyone should become invested in his fate when those circumstances allow him to be utterly fearless. As a second episode makes clear, the producers do intend to have some fun with Henry’s rather morbid familiarity with different ways to die, given as he is to cavalierly comparing one to another.
Nor do the threads of an underlying mystery and threat — signaling a deeper mythology — add much zest to Henry’s backstory, beyond offering some hope that this won’t just be a cop drama where the hero periodically gets recycled.
There is, inevitably, the promise of chemistry developing between the central duo, but even that only makes the series feel more mundane than its concept. (Lorraine Touissant does join the show as Martinez’s boss in the second episode — as the show shifts to a regular Tuesday slot in which we scarcely had time to get to know “Lucky 7,” “Killer Women” and “Mind Games” — after a Monday preview.)
Granted, Fox has garnered a fair amount of mileage out of another pairing of a female cop and anachronistic male hero on “Sleepy Hollow” — a series with its own twist on returning after death. But even with that precedent, “Forever” just doesn’t feel built to last.