In “Unforgettable” (10 p.m., CBS), Poppy Montgomery plays Carrie Wells, a woman with an extremely rare condition that allows her to recall ever moment of her life in perfect, vivid detail. The condition, which a handful of Americans have in real life, was the subject of a “60 Minutes” feature last year, in which it was discovered that one of the people who has it is former “Taxi” star Marilu Henner. In a bit of corporate synergy, CBS’ entertainment division decided to turn the feature into a weekly drama series – with Henner on board as a consultant – and gave Henner’s super power to Carrie, a former Syracuse cop who winds up helping out the NYPD.
I can see why the job change was made. CBS’ initials these days might as well stand for Crime Busters Service, given how many cop/FBI/vigilante dramas the network airs. But the way Carrie’s gifts are presented in the “Unforgettable” pilot, she’s mainly helpful to the local cops because she was the murder victim’s neighbor, had been inside her apartment and then at the crime scene seconds after the killer fled. (And it’s suggested that her amazing memory comes with a bonus feature of incredible peripheral vision, allowing her to remember things that appeared in the corner of her eye – and sometimes around the back of her head – in a full HD picture.)
The pilot, at least, doesn’t do a good job of selling how she’ll be quite so helpful when she works a case involving a stranger. And because the execution is so dull – the most notable thing in the pilot is hearing the Australian-born Montgomery, who did an acceptable American accent on “Without a Trace,” struggle to perform her version of what a woman from Syracuse should sound like – I began wondering if creators Ed Redlich and John Bellucci might have been better off giving a woman with total recall a different job.
For starters, it seems like the other two prongs of TV’s Holy Trinity of Jobs – cops, lawyers and doctors – would have more obvious use for her talents. Her condition isn’t exactly photographic memory (though the pilot does a poor job of distinguishing the two), but surely she’d remember a whole lot of obscure case law or rare diagnoses. (Greg House would love having her on his team.)
But since the actual version of “Unforgettable” is so plodding and serious – down to the way it establishes the professional irony that the one thing Carrie can’t remember is the murder of her sister when they were kids – I kept amusing myself during the leaden proceedings by imagining that Carrie had an entirely different profession, with a different ironic wrinkle:
“Carrie Wells is a waitress who can remember every order – and every tip she was stiffed on – except her own!“
“Carrie Wells is a gossip columnist who remembers everyone else’s indiscretions – but has no idea who she went to bed with last night!”
“Carrie Wells is a librarian who knows every quirk of the Dewey Decimal System – except where to shelve her favorite book!“
“Carrie Wells is a story editor for ‘The Simpsons’ who can keep the show from repeating the same stories over and over again – but can’t stop making the same mistakes in her own life!“
For that matter, I’m surprised they didn’t just stick closer to the actual Marilu Henner story and make her a sitcom actress who remembers everyone else’s lines, but always stumbles over her own.
Instead, the applied her skills to the exact genre you’d expect from CBS, executed in the exact way you’d expect from CBS (the producers could at least have had some fun with visualizing how her memory works, but it’s as uninspired as everything else). That may make it a success airing after the “NCIS” double-header, the one thing it won’t do is live up to its title.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org