Third-episode verdict: Forever (US: ABC; UK: Sky 1)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, ABC
In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, Sky 1. Starts October 2

Sometimes, it can take a while for a show to get a handle on itself. A pilot can quite often throw a whole slew of ideas at a screen in the hope that something will stick and appeal to the audience. Often, writers won’t even know what works until they’ve seen the pilot for themselves and brought others on board.

And so it is to a reasonable extent with Forever, which stars Ioan Gruffudd as an immortal doctor looking for a cure for his condition by working among the dead at the NYPD mortuary, helping to solve cases.

From the pilot, it was pretty clear that the writers weren’t quite sure what they had on their hands and they knew that it wasn’t exactly a novel show: with Gruffudd also using his centuries of experience and observation to become a veritable Sherlock Holmes, the show effectively was one part Castle, one part Elementary, with just a hint of New Amsterdam.

Even more so, it was “Highlander without sword fights”, with Gruffudd pining over his dead wife, while living in an antique shop with a mortal he adopted during the Second World War who’s aged while he hasn’t (Judd Hirsch), seeing the beginnings of a possible romance with an NYPD cop (Alana De La Garza), having flashbacks to his considerable past and discovering that he has a possible, equally immortal nemesis to deal with in New York. The producers were so aware of what they were doing, they even had an epic Highlander reference at the end of the episode, just to make it clear.

However, time marches on and since then, the show has been scrabbling to find a new place for itself in the world. While not tinkering much with the overall format, the second episode did tighten up on the laughably poor procedural side, with Gruffudd now embarrassingly regularly out-doing Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Holmes when it comes to deductions. And rather than simply gloss over the McGuffin of the piece, the show drops a big hint that perhaps his arch-nemesis might even be someone significant.

Episode three, on the other hand, took the show in a slightly novel direction, making it somewhat the inheritor of the mantel of its ABC predecessor Pushing Daisies. Streamlining the show away from the constant pining, the “how will he get killed and resurrect this time?” trope and the arch nemesis, the show plumped more for the macabre, allowing the show to develop a new foundation as a meditation on death and life, as Gruffudd and De La Garza investigate people who are trying to stay young forever by taking dodgy supplements.

Gruffudd’s relationship with Hirsch becomes more interesting as Gruffudd fears for Hirsch’s life while wanting his own death, Hirsch getting tired of ageing and wanting to live forever. Gruffudd may say in voiceover the traditional platitudes about life only having value if there is death, but the show undermines that by showing that life has value even without death, provided one continues to try to enjoy it, something even immortals can do if they just bother to interact.

The show also tries to steer clear of a romance between De La Garza and Gruffudd, by giving Gruffudd asexual lines and amping up the fact that De La Garza is a widow and already feels like she’s met her one true love – they’re both alive but they’re equally dead because they’re too occupied with the deaths of those they’ve loved. Maybe if they looked to the future instead of the past, they’d both learn to live again.

If this sounds a bit maudlin, it’s not because the show has a great deal of charm, mainly due to Gruffudd but also because of Hirsch, and it also has quite a dark sense of humour – episode three is effectively about those other immortals, zombies, right down to the brain eating. And it’s always willing to poke a little fun at its own mythos and foundations.

The show isn’t brilliant yet and there’s no big draw for the audience, but it’s enjoyable and pleasant. It’s Castle with a bit more edge, a lot more potential and a little less swagger. Give it a try for Gruffudd, at least, because he deserves some success.

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: Touch and go as to whether it’ll last a season, let alone more, but could still make it.