So here’s a refreshing change-of-pace in the middle of a spate of dark and serpentine new shows. A sunny, serio-comic crime show with a quirky, damaged hero, his level-headed partner, the totally-expected hot U.S. Marshall and the troubled girl they take in and try to help. Set the whole thing in The Everglades and you basically have Elmore Leonard light, or something tailor-made for the USA Network (White Collar, Burn Notice, Psych).
The series was actually created by Hart Hanson, who also created Bones. I’ve never seen Bones, but from idly picking up the tone from commercials, I see the resemblance. I believe The Finder is, in fact a spinoff (the characters were introduced in an episode of Bones last season).
Here’s what I find particularly refreshing: the whole series, from how it is conceived (from a series of books by Richard Greener), introduced (classic spinoff move: launch the characters in an episode of an established show), and executed (mystery-of-the-week, advancing but casually-followable character backstory) reminds me of the big Network shows of the eighties (Simon and Simon, Spencer for Hire, Remington Steele, Magnum P.I.). They’ve tried this kind of show in the past ten years–usually as vehicles for older stars on the wane–with varying degrees of success (Nash Bridges, Castle, Murphy’s Law), but for the most part this kind of show has been the bread-and-butter of basic cable, with successes like the USA shows I mentioned above, Monk, and The Closer.
And that’s too bad, because the P.I. show is perfect for network television. It provides an excellent launching pad for writers and actors, usually uses location better than most other shows, and gives the kind of mac-and-cheese a lot of people not as pathetically devoted to television as myself a chance to follow a show on-and-off without working too hard.
Also, it provides a counterpoint to the current independent-episode-driven show that is currently on the air–CSI, NCIS, Lie to Me, Criminal Minds, and House–which are more about mood and evidence-analysis techniques. You feel, with The Finder, that you can help solve the mystery without a PhD in criminal forensics, which is what shows from the golden age of mystery-of-the-week television (Matlock, Columbo) excelled at, all the while seeming tailor-made for syndication.
The hero, Walter, played by Geoff Stultz, suffered an I.E.D. blast in Iraq and a two-month coma, only to emerge with an almost extra-sensory ability to locate things, as well as a possibly psychotic drive to do so. His partner and caretaker, Leo, played my Michael Clarke Duncan, lost his family to tainted, E. coli infected meat, basically serves as muscle and as a translator for Walter’s more out-there proposals. The U.S. Marshall is beautiful, but so far pretty thinly drawn. The orphan they take in is on probation, was apparently raised by Gypsies (Fellow Travelers to those of us in the know…) and consumes with mixed feelings about her current living arrangements.
The mysteries are pretty satisfying. The one that involved finding a bullet shot twenty years before in a swamp that has been paved over to make room for a storage facility and paid overt homage to the 1980’s television The Finder hopes to replicate with two boobs who look just like Crockett and Tubbs was especially good and snapped together like well-engineered home furniture. However, the back-stories are a definite weak point.
I understand the need to provide a reason for these four people to hang out together, but I just don’t buy it. The IED and Walter’s subsequent talents are a little too far-fetched, and Leo’s tragedy, while obviously a ploy to connect with every Joe Lunchbox who hates the one-percenters, is really kind of dumb. I wouldn’t mind so much except every time the characters need to reveal a little of themselves, it throws the whole tone of the show into a spin.
Take the big reveal of Leo’s tragedy, which is heinous and would make anyone pretty angry, I imagine. However, Michael Clarke Duncan, who’s always impressed me with the way he uses his ginormous bulk and Buddha-like calm to excellent effect, simply doesn’t strike me as all that haunted. He’s far too pleasant, and though I know the role calls for that serenity, and we need to feel that though he’s to an extent broken but still trying, it becomes a little disorienting. The orphan gypsy girl is a major problem. Her reactions to situations are so confused, a blend of innocent and violent, that you can’t get a read on her. She’s far too smart and cunning to misunderstand humans as much as she does.
In the second episode, she finds out about Leo’s tragedy and, in an effort to make amends for a prior mishap, tries to set things right by kneecapping the CEO of the company that sold the tainted food to Leo’s family. Now, I hate me a CEO, and this guy looked pretty rancid, but taking a ball bat to him in a parking garage seemed such an overblown reaction that it was almost offensive. It’s at points like this that the characters or less organic creations than marionettes, performing their duties based on plot contrivance rather than their own innate capabilities and weaknesses.
I certainly hope that the show moves away from the back-stories and concentrates on the mysteries, because that’s where it shines. The show is quick, fun, and smart. I just hope it ends up more like Columbo and less like Murphy’s Law.