Women in television, Unforgettable

(continuing the discussion of women in television, aka, I watched another procedural…)

Recently, I binge watched the first season of the series Unforgettable. The premise of the story is that Carrie Wells (Poppy Montgomery) has hyperthymesia, a condition of an extremely detailed autobiographical memory, and she uses her memory to solve crime. Using her memory, if Carrie misses something the first time she sees a crime scene, she can go back and look at it again for more clues. The series was based upon a short story by J. Robert Lennon, the Rememberer. The series took it one step further and had as a consultant the actress, Marilu Henner, (of Taxi) who has hyperthymesia, as a consultant.

I’d seen promos for this series a few years ago and liked the premise of it. Like, the premise of the Finder, it had the value of being somewhat different rather than another forensic science or behavior analyzation type of show. Plus, the main character was female and that always interests me.

In general, the show didn’t let me down. Carrie, the character, was interesting. She was brash, straightforward and rather unorthodox in her methods. Which means, that this wasn’t rooted in any sort of real life police methodology here. (Case in point, given her sister’s unsolved murder, Carrie wouldn’t be allowed near homicide.) She’s the type of character that people watching cop shows want to see. They want the cop to face down the bad guys and get in their face and tell them that they’re going down. She has had a streak of mischief in her that led to some funny moments. In short, her flaws were made to work for her with reminders that in the real world she wouldn’t be getting away with any of it despite her closing record as she was being investigated from multiple angles by organized crime and internal affairs.

Midway through the season, they finally managed to hit a good chemistry between a trio of three female characters. Carrie, the detective, Tanya, the tech girl, and Joanne, the ME. The three were funny, worked well together and most importantly, seemed to respect each other’s abilities. Joanne was the eccentric older mentor type. Tanya was a obviously some sort of tech geek but wasn’t ever fully explored as a character. This threesome could have been a foursome if one of the junior detectives, Nina, had been given a stronger role and personality. Nina being the skeptic of the women in the show. These four were likeable characters. If these four had been the focus of the show, then, I could have stuck with it and continued on to season 2. (However, Season 2 changes location and loses half the cast, so, not sticking with it because of that anyways.)

The other main character of the show was Detective Al Burns, a former love interest and partner of Carrie’s from Syracuse. (As a point of interest, Syracuse looks nothing like they portrayed it on the show. There is a huge four lane highway running straight through it. You don’t leave the airport and get on a two lane wooded road. Why they want to portray Syracuse as this provincial small town, I don’t know. Sure, it’s small compared to New York City, but it’s not the rural, two stop light town either. Sorry. Mini-rant.) If this backstory sounds like a recipe for disaster to you, then you aren’t wrong. I get the feeling we’re supposed to like Al. He’s supposedly a good cop and a good guy who looks after his people. However, my first issue with Al happens in the very first episode. You see, Carrie had voluntarily left the force in Syracuse when dealing with murders and unable to solve her sister’s murder got to her. She put herself into a better place mentally and emotionally without Al and without solving crimes using her ability. Some of her life choices are suspect, illegal gambling for one, but overall she’s in a better place. And Al comes in and pulls her back into the force and into solving murders again because he thinks that is where she belongs. He dangles in front of her that he’ll help her solve her sister’s murder and it is implied she owes him. This is outright emotional manipulation.

Well, supposedly Al has also moved on from Carrie. It’s very clear that Carrie has moved on emotionally from him. She’s no longer in love with him. And Al has a girlfriend, who is also a psychiatrist. Well, the psychiatrist doesn’t trust Carrie, despite the fact it was Al who decided that they needed to become partners again. The psychiatrist doesn’t trust Carrie so much that it interferes with Carrie doing her job. Al also seems to think that his support of Carrie’s abilities is what keeps Carrie stable and that Carrie needs him. (Newsflash: She doesn’t.) And when Carrie gets a boyfriend, who admittedly has family ties to the mob but is himself clean, Al does everything in his power to try to get Carrie to not trust him and in the end breaks them up and gloats about it. As Al doesn’t seem to want Carrie to have a new boyfriend no matter who that boyfriend is.

Let me put it this way. Al is portrayed as a sexist jerk. The fact that the end of the series had the psychiatrist breaking up with him and Al looking at Carrie like they were going to get back together made me set this series down and go “no.” Al simply isn’t likeable in a television show where it is obvious that he is supposed to be likeable.

Main characters in shows like this are supposed to be characters you get behind and root for. I couldn’t get behind or root for Al. As much as I liked Carrie, I didn’t want to continue to watch a show with him in it, because I think he’s a bad influence for her and well, a sexist jerk. It is important that main characters be someone people want to watch instead of people that make people acutely uncomfortable due to mixed messages. In shows like Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy or Game of Thrones, not liking the characters is part of the point and part of the fascination. This was not that type of show.

So, while the premise was good, the execution was clunky. This show would have been a whole lot better without the murdered sister plotline and Al. Carrie’s behaviors could have gotten her kicked off the force in Syracuse and sent her roaming the United States for a while until she landed in New York City to help her mother in the nursing home. From there, Detective Nina could have brought her in as a consultant on a murder case and the show could have developed from there with the mostly female cast (Roe can stay, he was cute and awkward).

For me this show was rather disappointing, but for the rare reason of because of a male character rather than a female character.

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