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TELEVISION REVIEW

'The Forgotten'

Starring Christian Slater, the ABC drama about volunteers who help police identify nameless murder victims looms as less than memorable.

September 22, 2009|MARY McNAMARA | TELEVISION CRITIC

Pity "The Forgotten," the ABC drama that premieres tonight against "The Good Wife" on CBS. In an eerie Lincoln/Kennedy kind of way, the two shows share many traits: Both are second go-rounds for their famous leads, both are criminal procedurals with a lot of emotional back story, both have potentially uplifting uber-narratives. Unfortunately, while "The Good Wife" is terrific, "The Forgotten" is not.

It's billed as "an inspiring new series" (never a good sign for a crime show), but there are so many things wrong with "The Forgotten" that it's hard to know where to begin. Originally cast with British heartthrob Rupert Penry-Jones ("Whitechapel"), it now stars Christian Slater. (Reiko Aylesworth, late of "24," was also dropped from the original casting.) While a few of us (very few) actually liked Slater in last year's short-lived "My Own Worst Enemy," here he seems so preoccupied with things other than this show that he can't even keep his hair continuity straight. During his introductory scene, his locks are flopping in his eyes during the full-on shots and slicked back during the side angles.

Slater plays Alex Donovan, a former cop who, undone by the abduction of his daughter, has formed a group of citizen volunteers (part of a network, we are told repeatedly, like it's a threat, that is spread across the country) who help the Chicago police identify nameless murder victims.

"The Forgotten," produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and written by Mark Friedman, seems to want to promote such volunteer work in the same way medical dramas push organ donation. But becoming a suburban super-sleuth is not as easy, or advisable, as filling out a donor card.

Especially not with this show as a model. In between a regrettable "The Lovely Bones"-like voice-over from the victim, dialogue that is laughably self-important ("This is where it ended for her, and where it begins for us," Donovan intones at one point) and ghostly glimpses of the dead, an only barely believable murder mystery emerges.

It is solved mostly by plot contrivance and happenstance; members of the Forgotten Network were apparently chosen for reasons other than intelligence. In the first episode, Candace ("Tell Me You Love Me's" Michelle Borth) offers to track down the exact hue of the victim's black nail polish. It then takes her at least two days to make the "leap" that a girl with black nails and an asymmetrical haircut might hang out at goth clubs.

On the other hand, there's Tyler (Anthony Carrigan), the new guy, assigned to the group as community service for graffiti infractions. A former medical student and artist, he can take a few crime-scene photographs and, in a matter of hours, produce a perfectly lifelike latex model, complete with accusatory eyeballs.

In the pilot, he's mostly there to point out that, no matter what the Network accomplishes, these poor people are still dead and the news of their death will not bring anything like joy to their families. Ah, says Donovan, tragically speaking from experience, but it's better to know than not know.

Perhaps, but it's hard to imagine that relief is the first reaction, as it is here, or to stomach the obscene gratitude the family of the show's first victim is forced to shower upon Donovan to prove how great and noble Donovan and his volunteers truly are. That is an image that really is better off forgotten.

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mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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'The Forgotten'

Where: ABC

When: 10 tonight

Rating: TV-14-V (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with an advisory for violence)

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