foreverOne of the joys of watching an awful lot of television is that every now and again you get blindsided by a show that you have no expectations for and yet is thoroughly entertaining. Such is the case with Forever, the new ABC drama that stars Ioan Gruffudd, Alana de la Garza and Judd Hirsch and tells the story of Dr. Henry Morgan (Gruffudd), a man searching for the reason that he is unable to die. The show debuts on September 23rd, but the pilot is currently available to watch via Hulu Plus or the ABC website.

Gruffudd sets up the basic premise in a nice voice over to start the episode. It’s well done, imparts all of the necessary data and really draws the viewer into the show. Forever is proof that you can take an old premise and breathe life into it just by executing well. Regular viewers of the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood will no doubt draw comparisons to Captain Jack Harkness, a character who of course shows more than a passing resemblance to the venerable Captain Scarlet, one of Gerry Anderson’s classic supermarionation creations of the 60’s.

Now 40 years of age, Gruffudd first came to widespread attention as the title character Horatio Hornblower in the series shown on A&E. Based on the books by C.S. Forester, Hornblower was an international hit and it was something of a surprise when the actor’s career arc didn’t continue to accelerate. Certainly there were interesting parts in substantial movies such as Black Hawk Down and King Arthur but the Welshman seemed horribly miscast as Reed Richards in the Fantastic Four and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. It wasn’t that Gruffudd was bad, although his performance was a matter of debate by fans, but rather the actor seemed completely at odds with the portrayal of the character in the comics.

With Henry Morgan being a man of mystery and keen observation, the good doctor needs a modern foil to help form a partnership. Enter Alana de la Garza as Detective Jo Martinez. Best known as Assistant District Attorney Connie Rubirosa on NBC’s Law & Order show de la Garza also had a memorable role as Marisol Caine on CSI Miami. I loved that the show introduced the character with the background song of Do I Wanna Know by the Arctic Monkeys, one of my favorite alternative music tracks of the past year.

Fans of ABC’s Castle will notice an immediate attempt to foster the same kind of woman detective/regular guy chemistry that has made that show a huge ratings hit. That’s a tall order as Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic probably have the best on-screen chemistry of any duo currently on television. Still there were flashes in the opening episode that said such a relationship is not out of the question for Gruffudd and de la Garza.

Veteran actor Judd Hirsch is Abe, the only person that knows Morgan’s secret and the former Taxi and Numb3rs actor adds a layer of class with those knowing nods, smiles and looks.

From the opening scene I was intrigued and charmed by a show that did not flag once over the 43 minutes. The first surprise of the new television season, and a highly positive one at that, Forever has a chance to be another success for ABC.

– Wallace Poulter