It’s Live, Die, Repeat for Ioan Gruffudd in ABC’s Forever

Photo: Patrick Harbron/ABC

It's risky to base an entire TV show around the charisma of your lead actor, but if you insist on doing so, you could do a lot worse than hire Ioan Gruffudd, who's in every scene of the fantasy drama Forever and narrates it as well. The Welsh actor plays Henry, a New York City medical examiner who happens to be immortal. He just keeps getting killed again and again and again throughout history, only to be "reborn" in a body of water (in this case, the Hudson River) and emerge naked onto the shore to start over. Live, die, repeat, as the taglines for Edge of Tomorrow promised. 

That's an amusing premise for a series (though perhaps too thematically similar to all the vampire and other supernatural monster series on the air right now), and Gruffudd plays it just right. Henry seems to concentrate the bulk of his feelings in memory (particularly when he's flashing back to the great love of his life) while treating the day-to-day details of current existence as something to be endured rather than savored. If vampire stories have taught us anything, it's that immortality is more curse than blessing. This is particularly true in Henry's case because he's a good man. His first death occurred hundreds of years ago, when he protected a slave against waterborne lynching on a Middle Passage trip. The flashbacks, of which there are many, suggest that Henry perhaps represents the progressive impulse that's constantly being stepped on by reactionary elements in societies throughout history.

There's a present-tense story here, of course: A horrible, brilliant, thus-far-anonymous terrorist has figured out Henry's secret and seems to be taunting him, or trying to flush him out of hiding. Henry tries to solve the riddle of the killer's identity with help from a hard-living, recently widowed cop (Alana De La Garza) and an older friend/mentor (Judd Hirsch, in twinkly-eyed mode) who owns an antique store; the latter character has a secret which, when revealed, will prompt either sighs or eye-rolls, depending on the viewer. The pilot episode of Forever struck me as the first half of a pretty-good-but-not-great movie; whether it can sustain itself as a TV series remains to be seen.