Late last year “60 Minutes” aired a really interesting piece about the handful of people in the world who have hyperthymesia, or superior autobiographical memory — a condition in which they can remember literally almost everything they’ve ever experienced.
The story offered both a look at the blessing/curse of not being able to forget anything and how it affects these people’s lives and some insight into research studying those with such prodigious memories. One of the people interviewed was actress Marilu Henner.
Indirectly or directly, that “60 Minutes” piece may have helped CBS’ new crime drama “Unforgettable,” which premieres at 10 p.m. ET Tuesday (Sept. 20), get on the air. (Henner is working as a consultant on the show, in fact.) But while the notion of not being able to forget anything remains fascinating to us, the show built around it is not. It’s a fairly standard crime procedural whose hook doesn’t really add much — and actually seems like it could be an obstacle further down the road.
The series stars Poppy Montgomery (“Without a Trace”) as Carrie Wells, a former Syracuse homicide detective who left the force nine years ago when her memory became more burden than useful tool. She now lives in Queens, makes money counting cards at underground casinos and volunteers at a local nursing home (three guesses as to who the woman she spends time with in the pilot is).
That changes when a neighbor in her apartment building is murdered, and she’s the first person to see the body, bringing her back into the orbit of the police force — and, as it happens, her ex, Al Burns (Dylan Walsh, “Nip/Tuck”), who’s also in Queens and is the lead detective on the case. Walsh and Montgomery make for believable exes, both personally and professionally, and their interaction — sometimes comfortable, sometimes prickly — is one of the better aspects of “Unforgettable.”
But the piling up of coincidences in Carrie’s life puts a strain on credulity — as does the fact that despite her gift, the one thing Carrie can’t remember is how her sister was murdered when they were kids (it’s her Dark Secret, and a big reason why she left Syracuse). The series also stars Michael Gaston (“Jericho”), Daya Vaidya and Kevin Rankin (“Friday Night Lights”) as Al’s fellow detectives.
As for the case itself, the show’s creators, “Without a Trace” veterans Ed Redlich and Jim Bellucci, chose wisely in making the opener about someone Carrie knew (at least a little bit). The notion that she would remember small details from the victim’s apartment, say, is pretty easy for a viewer to accept.
That may not be so easy to do in the future, though. Carrie can’t have a personal connection to every victim in Queens (population 2.3 million), so the writers will have to find other ways to use her gift. Redlich and Bellucci have spoken about a possible story where a crime scene is wiped out soon after Carrie sees it, and the other detectives have to rely on her memory — but that sounds like something “The Mentalist” or Shawn Spencer from “Psych” could do, and they’re just really observant.
“Unforgettable” has come up with a pretty interesting visual hook to represent Carrie’s memories. Rather than just watch her squint into the distance as she recalls something, we get to see her walking around inside her recollection, poking around for the detail she needs. Once she steps out of her head, though, she’s back in just another product from the CBS crime-show assembly line. There’s a baseline of quality to pretty much all of the network’s dramas, but “Unforgettable” doesn’t rise far enough above that to be actually memorable.