Fox's new Thursday-night addition, The Finder, is a lighthearted procedural with an extraordinary color palette, and while I wish that were enough to hook me on this Bones spin-off series, the pilot's heavy reliance on expository dialogue and narrative fluff left me lukewarm. Creator Hart Hanson has developed an interesting cast of characters who live in an idealistic world where the good guys are quirkily upbeat, the bad guys are bumbling caricatures, and the scenery is always stunning. But last night's debut gave us an easy-bake oven episode: Not a whole lot went into the execution, but if you fed it to a couple of six-year-olds, they'd still say thanks. To put it bluntly, The Finder's intentions are good, and it's enjoyable enough to watch if you've already got the TV on, but if you're serious about your television you probably recognized "An Orphan Walks Into a Bar" as suffering from a classic case of pilot-itis.
Walter Sherman (Geoff Stults) is an ex-military cop who was honorably discharged from service after an injury left him with excessive brain damage. It was a blessing and a curse, I guess, because he ended up with an extraordinary ability to find things. The brain damage also obstructed his personality, giving him the quirky, pseudo-sociopathic trait we call "lack of empathy," along with some acute paranoia that provokes him to ask offensive, outwardly extraneous questions when he's in search mode. (Gregory House, anyone?) He's got the makings of a great, if familiar, character.
The supporting cast is also promising: Walter's ex-con business partner, Leo Knox (Michael Clarke Duncan) owes Walter his life, literally and figuratively. U.S. Marshal Isabel Zambada (Mercedes Masohn) barters her top-secret federal knowledge for Walter's services. And Willa (Maddie Hasson) is a young gypsy-turned-juvenile-delinquent-on-parole-turned-moonlighting-gypsy-again who lives under Walter's supervision.
The Finder is clearly a character-driven show, as most procedurals are. Characters' personalities and traits often supersede the case of the week, because their behavior (in this case, Walter's obsession with—and methods for—finding stuff) are what drive every storyline forward. The Finder has a lot to play with here, but I didn't feel like it gave us a real glimpse at the show's potential; on screen, the characters fell flat because they weren't driven by action, they were driven by dialogue. "An Orphan Walks Into a Bar" was all tell and no show (a common pilot problem). It opened in the middle of a 'find': a nameless band manager approached Walter with an, "Is it true? Did you find it?" Walter's response: "Yeah, I always find what I'm looking for. It's a fact of nature, like the world turning, or internet porn." Immediately, we were blasted with expository dialogue. The following five minutes unfolded as follows: Walter chased an armed man with a guitar case through a series of hallways, distracted him with a zany robot wearing shoes, nabbed the case, dodged about a zillion poorly fired bullets while running down a very straight, not-so-narrow hallway, and lead the armed man directly into U.S. Marshal Isabel's eager hands. The scene may have been an earnest attempt to illustrate Walter's quirky on-the-job personality, but it didn't include any actual finding.
The rest of the pilot was mostly expository dialogue heavy. The plot—a young man in the Air Force was searching for the body of his father, an Air Force pilot, in order to give him a proper burial—felt weirdly unimportant. First Walter didn't want to help the young man, then he did, then he offended the kid (who called off the whole thing), then Walter had a dream about the kid's father, who basically told Walter through MORE dialogue where his dead body was, and then the kid got back on board and the whole team flew to some island off the coast of Florida and discovered a perfectly visible-from-the-air downed plane with the young man's dead father still inside. Walter just doesn't seem very driven; it was like he arbitrarily took the case without being at all motivated by the hunt. And the way he connected the dots lessened its importance even more. The case was so conveniently spelled out that it lost its appeal. I didn't have fun finding things with Walter, and isn't that the point?
When the characters weren't talking about clues, they were talking about each other. Leo yammered on about Walter's quirks to anyone who'd listen, which was too obvious an attempt to tell us about Walter's quirks. I didn't mind Isabel's descriptive explanation to Leo that Walter had brain damage, because it allowed Leo to express (somewhat naturally) that he didn't care: Walter saved his life and got him out of trouble and for that he's forever indebted. But when Willa's parole officer, who I swear would have fit in perfectly alongside Miss Hannigan in Annie's orphanage, showed up out of nowhere to talk to Leo and Walter about tossing Willa back in juvie for no apparent reason, I was sort of over the whole talky-talky thing.
I had no real problem with the bad guy caricatures, overall—the parole officer, the weird trumpet-bearing druglord lady on the yacht, etc.—because this show isn't trying to reach for realism, but when they didn't serve an obvious purpose, they just felt like filler. We know Willa steals; we don't need to see a parole officer hanging around to prove she's bad news. That said, the tension she has with her gypsy brother is a great story device because it's a way to set her up for future challenges that will expose the depth of her character.
If you think I'm being too hard on The Finder, I understand. At first, I thought I was being too hard on it, too. And in an effort to give it the benefit of the doubt, I revisited the Bones pilot. I figured, if Bones is such a great, long-running show, then maybe it also stumbled through a mediocre pilot only to blossom later into the fan-favorite series it's become. I wish I had better news: The Bones pilot was great! It was all about character development but didn't sacrifice on plot. Bones was held at the airport because her carry-on had a skull in it, but not before Angela flashed an airline employee to get information on her whereabouts. What better way to introduce those two? You could watch the TV with the sound off and still get the gist of who they are. (I really couldn't say that for The Finder.) After that, Booth showed up to flash his FBI badge and get Bones out of airport custody. She immediately called him out for setting up the entire thing just so she'd owe him a favor and help him on a case. That's when the whole push-pull, love-hate quarreling thing began. And as soon as she struck the deal that got her on the field with Booth, the opening credits started to roll. Yes, all of that happened within the first five minutes, which proves that characters can be developed through situational circumstance, not just self-referential dialogue.
If Walter is truly a 'finder' savant—if he's driven to find—then I want to see him live, breathe, and eat to find things. My impression of the guy so far is that he's kind of apathetic. He found what he was looking for, but he didn't really seem to care. What does Walter get out of all this? If The Finder can show me that, I might jump back on board. But if future episodes continue to favor fluffy dialogue over genuine exploits, I'll be likely to "find" myself another Thursday-night-at-9pm pasttime.
Did you like the pilot? Do you think The Finder has the potential to become the next Bones?