The Forgotten -- TV Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

Every week, you can watch hot murder cases or cold ones. You can see murders solved by ghosts, extrasensory perception, forensics, advanced mathematics, undercover disguises or mental deduction. You can learn about real cases and fictional ones.

And that's just on CBS.

Throw in all the crime shows on all the other outlets, and it's not easy to find new ways to catch killers. ABC might have done it, though. With help from creator Mark Friedman and crime TV boss Jerry Bruckheimer comes "The Forgotten," in which murders are solved by -- get ready -- volunteers. Chicago ex-cop Alex Donovan (Christian Slater) leads a five-member group of amateur sleuths. After their day jobs, they work on cases that real cops gave up on.

To be sure, this lost-and-found committee is not tasked with finding murderers; the official goal is to identify nameless victims. But if the pilot is any indication, once they get on a roll, there is no stopping them.

The others on the team are Lindsey (Heather Stephens), a high school teacher; Candace (Michelle Borth), a bored office worker; Walter (Bob Stephenson), a telephone repairman; and Tyler (Anthony Carrigan), a med school dropout and on-probation tagger. Yes, I know it's a highly improbable combination of skills, but it's just what the series needs.

Besides, if credibility were an issue, this series would have died before the end of the pitch session. How else to explain that even when the detective wannabes come up with both a likely picture of the Jane Doe and a name, no one thinks to run it through a list of missing persons to find a match? Instead, the information is treated as another step on the path to finding the killer.

If you try, you might be able to ignore these flaws. Slater has TV charisma, and the rest of the cast is energetic and earnest. But even if you put the reasoning part of your brain on autopilot, you still can't avoid the sloppy melodrama that washes over this show like an oil spill on a coastline.

Some of this comes from hokey dialogue, but even more of it is the result of frequent voice-overs and grainy black-and-white images of the nameless victim. "All I can do is wait and hope the police will do all they can," she muses. "I'm not waiting to be saved. It's too late for that. I'm waiting to be found." Clearly, she is a stranger to the concept of suffering in silence.

NBC's deployment of Jay Leno creates an ideal opening for others to air scripted drama at 10 p.m. weeknights. It's hard to believe ABC couldn't take better advantage of the situation on Tuesdays.

Airdate: 10-11 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22 (ABC)
Production: Bonanza Prods. in association with Jerry Bruckheimer Television and Warner Bros. Television
Cast: Christian Slater, Michelle Borth, Heather Stephens, Bob Stephenson, Anthony Carrigan, Rochelle Aytes, Rebekah Brandes, Devon Gummersall, John Charles Meyer
Executive producers: Mark Friedman, Jerry Bruckheimer, Jonathan Littman, Lukas Reiter, Danny Cannon
Co-executive producer: KristieAnne Reed
Producer: Matthew Carlisle
Director: Danny Cannon
Writer-creator: Mark Friedman
Director of photography: David Stockton
Production designer: Doug Kraner
Editor: Mark C. Baldwin
Music: Graeme Revell
Casting: April Webster, Lonnie Hamerman