Wednesday, September 18, 2013

She's Baaack!

Well, it's been a very long time since I posted anything here so my apologies to anyone who is still here reading my ramblings and may have been waiting with bated breath for the next update. (I knew it had been a while but when I finally looked back today and saw the last post was in February, I realized how badly a new post is overdue!) But if you thought the titular "she" in today's blog post was me, you'd be mistaken (or at least, missing one of the two meanings to the title). No, today's blog post is going to be about the indomitable Carrie Wells.

Poppy Montgomery as Carrie
Poppy Montgomery as Carrie Wells, courtesy of CBS

As some of you may recall, I wrote about new fall shows two years ago and noted than I was keeping an interested eye on CBS's procedural drama Unforgettable, although I was only cautiously optimistic about its enduring appeal. Sure enough, after just one season, Unforgettable was canceled, and I was bummed - but not overly so. However, in a strange move, the show was uncanceled and came back on air this July. After having watched a the first seven episodes of the new season and letting it settle in, I'm finally here to write some comments about it and my thoughts so far.

To recap, Unforgettable centers around police detective Carrie Wells, a woman with hyperthymesia (the ability to remember everything) but can't recall the details of her sister's murder when they were children, a mystery which still haunts her and begs to be solved. In season one, Carrie and her ex-boyfriend/current supervisor Al were working out of a police precinct in Queens. In the pilot episode to season two, they are called on to help out a case worked through the Major Crimes unit in Manhattan. Predictably, by the end of the episode, they are offered new jobs at this unit and make the move into the city proper and out of the boroughs.

As such, the old cast is nearly all gone, making way for new characters. For the most part, this isn't a huge deal given that the old cast was peopled with characters who were mostly forgettable, as I wrote about in my initial thoughts about the show. Unfortunately, Mike, Nina, and Roe were never really fleshed out, even with the occasional episode thrown to shed a little more light on each one's life -- a bone thrown to people like me who love character-driven stories -- but never something substantive enough to actually make you feel like you've learned something deeper about this character and his/her personality, motivations, etc. The addition of Tanya as a tech expert brought a little bit more a CSI vibe to the show but also introduced some minor sexual tension between her and Roe that was a welcome - if ever so brief - effort at adding some personality into the otherwise purely procedural show. Bringing Jane Curtin into the cast as Dr. Webster during season one was viewed by many critics as an attempt to bump up ratings although her character never did all that much for me. Perhaps predictably then (given my luck), she is the only character besides Carrie and Al to remain in the rebooted second season. Her character seems to have gotten more bizarre and even hostile at times since then, and I find I am disliking her more each week. Even Carrie's mother, an Alzheimer's patient and thus a nice foil to Carrie and her inability to forget, hasn't reappeared in the new season, which I find to be a very disappointing development.

Meanwhile, I feel like the show is falling into the same old pitfalls as before. Yes, we have a new cast but once again, there is very little information given about them and few opportunities to see anything of their personality or life outside of work. Carrie and Al's new boss Eliot is a pushover who wants to be in good with the mayor's office and other top officials but who always ends up bending to allow Carrie and Al to get their way in an investigation. He's a bit of annoying character actually (although I can't quite figure out exactly which part of his smarmy conveyance that I dislike the most) but there have been hints about a rocky past regarding him and Dr. Webster, which could be the only potentially interesting thing about the new cast. Carrie and Al's new daily colleagues in arms are Murray and Jay. Murray, whose name I actually had to look up because that's how forgettable she is, has very little background or notable qualities as of now. Jay is a tech whiz and can be funny, as seen in the banter between him and Al in a recent episode ("Line Up or Shut Up"). Because of this, I like him better than some of the previous (and current) cast, but we still have basically no background on him and he seems as replaceable as anyone else in the show besides Carrie and Al.

Another thing I found increasingly annoying in the first season of Unforgettable was the more frequent use of beginning each episode with a murdered corpse being found by a random bystander, which I noted felt like a rip-off of shows like Bones and NCIS -- and so completely unnecessary! I'm not a huge fan of those shows opening like that either and it's even more frustrating to see this in a show that has a uniquely interesting main character, a great dynamism between the two leads, and side characters that need more fleshing out. If the writers really feel that they need to fill some time, giving us some more insight into the characters or allowing us to simply see them interacting in a non-work setting would be ideal. The few times that they have given us that, they've done it in a completely non-interesting way. One episode opened in what was meant to be an amazing feat of Carrie's memory where she helps a flustered barista by reciting the orders of roughly a dozen patrons on line at the coffee hut -- a very silly construct because no single barista would take that many orders at once when her pen wasn't working and she also had to make all those coffees! A much better highlighting of Carrie's amazing abilities came in the episode "Memory Kings," in which we learn about Carrie's past as part of a group being studied because of their amazing memories. When it appears that everyone from the group is being targeted and an essential recording of a group meet is found missing, Carrie sits down and recites what every single person said during the session. Wow. Now that's what I'm talking about, Unforgettable!

We see little of Carrie's life outside of work in the opening scenes - or elsewhere throughout each episode - and it's unclear whether she's reformed from some of her "bad girl" tendencies like visiting underground poker games. Meanwhile, the sexual tension between Carrie and Al is consistently underplayed, with the two of them occasionally making reference to their shared past and others making jabs about why they aren't together (a good question since season one ended with them looking cozier than usual), but nothing much every really happening. For some unexplained reason that changed between season one and season two, the entirety of New York City seems to be aware of Carrie's abilities now, with awareness about her super-memory pre-dating her entry to the Major Crimes unit. Unlike in the past where her co-workers (besides Al) and superiors were unaware of her astounding recall, everyone is now aware of her hyperthymesia and Jay has even tried to test her memory on at least occasion just for the fun of it. For the most part, I like this more transparent version of Carrie at work, but the previous version of Carrie where she kept this ability under wraps also made for some interesting tense moments, especially when supervisors were curious about how certain cases were solved.

The very first long-term mystery introduced on Unforgettable was the murder of Carrie's sister Rachel when they were children. Since the reboot, Rachel's murder has been alluded to in passing here and there, but we've seen nothing of Carrie's former obsession with tracking down new leads and clues on this cold case. This is disappointing, given that this mystery has always been one of the things most in Unforgettable's favor in my opinion. It also seems out of character with the Carrie we introduced to in season one (although perhaps that was an intentional decision in terms of reframing the show). In addition, the new season - although short so far, to be fair - has not introduced much by the way of ongoing mysteries. We did see one "bad guy" who got away in "The Day of the Jackie" so it's arguable that we will see more of this elusive character in the future. Still, the seven episodes that have been aired so far have mostly been fairly mundane in the world of detective shows. Even in the final episode before the fall break seemed rather anti-climatic and didn't leave any hooks to draw viewers back in three months time. In fact, I had to double-check that I heard correctly that it was summer season finale because the last episode was so blasé.

The character of Carrie Wells, her relationship with Al, and her ability to walk through her memories to help close a case remain highlights of this show. I will mostly likely continue watching it when it returns in December for those reasons, but I really feel like it needs to shape up before this show changes from something I turn on for some light escapism to one that I can rave about and recommend to others as un-miss-able.

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