Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Following "The Finder"

I'm not a regular watcher of "Bones," but my significant other is a fan, and has latched on to its new spinoff, "The Finder," which "Bones" aired a backdoor pilot for last year. The shows have absolutely nothing in common, so I don't know if it really counts as a spinoff. Anyway, I've watched the first couple of episodes, of "The Finder," which bills itself as a laid-back, lighthearted, high energy detective procedural set in Florida. I was hoping for another "Burn Notice," but so far I'm getting more of a "Psych" vibe with a warmer weather wardrobe.

Geoff Stults stars as Walter Sherman, a former soldier who is in the business of finding things for other people since an IED left him with oddly beneficial brain damage. His business partner is ex-lawyer Leo Knox (Michael Clarke Duncan), who owns the Ends of the Earth bar, which also serves as their de facto office. Helping them mind the place is Willa Monday (Maddie Hasson), a teenage reprobate who is serving out her probation under Walter and Leo's care. And because she's too young to be a love interest and the situation would be a little skeevy otherwise, Deputy U.S. Marshal Isabel Zambada (Mercedes Masöhn) maintains a constant presence, lending the tacit approval of the local law enforcement to the little gang's adventures, and some extra firepower when necessary.

In other words, we've got a pretty standard case-of-the-week light action show here, following a very, very familiar formula. You've got your zany eccentric, in this case Walter, who solves people's problems in every episode through extraordinary skills that don't stand up to any real scrutiny. Walter is on the cuddly end of the eccentric scale, very personable, very friendly, and very altruistic, but he acts out in some wild and crazy ways. Geoff Stults is a perfectly serviceable lead actor, but I don't buy Walter yet. His traumas are a little too submerged, and every time he does something especially ridiculous, it feels like he's putting on an act for the benefit of the audience. The tics don't feel ingrained into the character, like they do with Dr. House or Adrian Monk.

Fortunately Walter does have some good support from the rest of the cast. Michael Clarke Duncan is as lovable as always, and I'm glad he's found himself a nice, regular television gig after too many years MIA from the movies. I like Maddie Hasson, who is doing her best at playing a really contrived character – Willa is a member of a band of gypsies, though whether Romani or Traveller I'm not clear on yet. The heart of the matter is that she's a thief from a family of thieves, and only staying with Walter and Leo in the hopes that she can figure out how to get into Leo's impregnable safe. Keeping her out of trouble and on the side of angels is a constant struggle. Mercedes Masöhn hasn't had a chance to do much yet, but it's only been three episodes, so I have no reason not to hope for the best.

It's a good thing I like the characters, because the Achilles' heel of "The Finder" is already pretty clear – it's not very smart. When it comes to the actual plotting of the mysteries, it relies on a lot of tricks to make characters sound sharper and better informed than they actually are. Also, it constantly lets the good guys bend the rules and be just shady enough to get what they want without losing the sympathies of the audience. Walter impulsively borrows someone's jet ski for a chase scene. Willa finds plenty of opportunities to use her skills at petty thievery and housebreaking. Isabel scolds them, but is perfectly happy to take the credit for nabbing any bad guys. I automatically found myself turning my brain off at the start of each episode, and that's never a good sign.

That's not to say "The Finder" doesn't have its good points. It already has the right tone and attitude. The banter between Walter and Leo is old hat, but like many old hats, it's comfortable and easy on the ears. I like the chemistry between the actors, who sell so many silly ideas so well. And though I rag on the writers, they do manage to land their share of fun one-liners. If the show maintains the same energy it has in the first episodes, I expect that it'll be good to stick around on the television schedule for a long time to come.

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