2 out of 5

Created by: Stephen M. Irwin, Leigh McGrath

covers season 1

liked Fantastic Four, the Tim Story version, or at least I liked some aspects of it enough to make it something I enjoy watching.  At the top of that list of aspects are Chris Evans – his acting in the movie suggesting to me that he was more than a bod and giving me faith in his career-to-come – and Ioan Gruffudd, whom I respected first and foremost for not Hollywood-izing that awesome name, and for being a good casting decision for Reed Richards (perhaps counter-balancing the whole Jessica Alba part of the flick…).  Along with that dedication to livin’ la via Welsch, Ioan not being a “typical” leading man for a comic book flick (e.g. Chris Evans) really worked for me, and I dug that he seemed to grasp the role, acting out both the hero and scientist aspect of the character believably and with gusto.

My affinity was earned.

So I’ve been happy to see him get a nice churn of TV roles, and he continues to please in a similar fashion, throwing himself into characters with backgrounds wacky or evil or, with Harrow, downright distracting.  Which is why I’ve started this review far away from the show, to grumble over how Ioan seems to be nabbing interesting parts in imperfect series.  With Forever, we had a fun and kooky detective procedural that tripped itself the fuck up over its own stupid mythology; with Liar we have a potentially penetrating (no pun intended) discussion on gender roles hampered by a woefully self-defeating structure; and now with Harrow we have another fun – and much better written than Forever – procedural, with Gruffudd playing a pathologist with a knack for sussing out the nuances of his subject’s lives to cast light on the events leading to their deaths, which tramps all over its setup with an over-arching story of Gruffud’s character being implicated in the death of his ex-wife’s hubby.  The two separate parts of the show are well done, and though at odds with each other in terms of focus, Gruffud again does an excellent job of running the gamut of emotions required, making the various sides of his titular character all appear cohesive, it’s just that it’s damned hard to focus on enjoying the lighter, crime-solving fare when we know that Harrow is guilty of murder – not a spoiler, as his involvement is explicitly shown to us at the end of episode one, and then further and further confirmed as the eps tick by.  Okay, sure, the show plays a bit with hinting that there are reasons for his actions that will likely relatively justify things, but this just further leans into the show’s madly distracting divide, as those hints are very much of the “withheld info” variety that’s a cheap man’s play at creating tension.  In other words, several characters seem to know what’s up – or at least more than we know – and fake drama is created by dropping little flashes of their knowledge here and there.  Aaand then back to the buddy cop procedural!

Now, I did say that both parts of the show are well done, and I suppose I mean that the murder aspect is a good story, and nothing about it felt like it suddenly conflicted with anything we’d seen or learned before, which is certainly a sign of a well thought-out mystery, but the flip-flopping between styles is what highlights the mystery genre’s more troublesome tropes, and also serves to really, really, really kill the momentum built up going in either direction.

What’s troubling is that this is all sorta resolved at the end of season one, and there will be a season two.  Which I’m happy about! because more Gruffudd, and now maybe we won’t have our attentions split.  But in a way, it’s the jumping the shark problem: when you weight your narrative with some particular plot point – even if it’s not a wise plot point to use for such a purpose – and then remove that weight, you’re adrift.  And it’s impossible to predict if drifting will (to goddamned extend this metaphor…) bring you to shore or end in a wreck, leading to the possibility of hastily re-inserting a replacement weight…


We’ll always have Fantastic Four, Ioan.