Ellen Gray: New tonight

'Unforgettable,' ' New Girl'

Posted: September 20, 2011

* NEW GIRL. 9 tonight, Fox29.

* UNFORGETTABLE. 10 tonight, CBS 3.

TWO ATTRACTIVE women join the TV lineup tonight, each bearing a special gift.

One uses her talent to solve major crimes.

The other's been the victim of a minor one.

In CBS' "Unforgettable," Poppy Montgomery ("Without a Trace"), plays Carrie Wells, a former homicide detective and a woman with hyperthymesia - or "superior biographical memory" - a condition that allows her to replay the events of her near and distant past in detail.

It's an ability so far verified in only a very few people, one of them actress Marilu Henner, who told her story last December on CBS' "60 Minutes" and now consults on "Unforgettable."

Executive producer Ed Redlich, who worked with Montgomery on "Without a Trace," calls the surfacing of Henner an "amazing, fortuitous great thing," because it helped establish a real basis for a story that was already in development.

Also "fortuitous"? Montgomery's now red hair, which looks an awful lot like Henner's. That's an "accident," according to Montgomery, who calls the hue "in the ballpark of my natural hair color."

It's a nice ballpark, and "Unforgettable," whose heroine's gift/curse lends itself to the kind of flashbacks crime dramas love, is a nice show for people who don't mind a dead body or two every week but would also like some ongoing mystery, even a little romance, with their detective series. The romance is likely to be supplied by Carrie's ex-boyfriend, Al Burns (Dylan Walsh), a detective who's moved from Syracuse to New York City, only to come across Carrie while investigating her neighbor's murder in Queens.

That's a lot of accidents in an hour, and they're not quite over: Carrie also has a murdered sister, whose death has been the only thing Carrie's ever blocked out.

It's undeniably formulaic, but it's a formula that's worked well for CBS on "The Mentalist." Whether it works here may simply depend on whether CBS viewers find Montgomery as easy to recall as Simon Baker.

Zooey Deschanel has a special power of her own: She makes people melt. There may be those who don't find her irresistible, but like people who dislike puppies, they tend to keep it to themselves.

Unfortunately for Deschanel, the writers of Fox's "New Girl" seem to have over-relied on the "(500) Days of Summer" actress' ability to make even a commercial for cotton seem like an indie classic.

So after her quirky character, Jess Day, walks in on her boyfriend with another woman, she moves in with three quirky guys who decide she needs de-quirking, a situation in which her quirks aren't just absurdly magnified but are forced to compete with the quirks of everyone around her.

Now that's a crime.

Send email to graye@phillynews.com.

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