Walter Sherman (Geoff Stults) is the hero of Fox's latest procedural with a twist, The Finder. As the title of the show implies, Walter has a special gift for finding things. As I wrote last month, The Finder originated as a backdoor pilot from showrunner Hart Hanson's Bones and was officially picked up on May 10, 2011 for a first season of thirteen episodes. If its first episode, "An Orphan Walks Into a Bar," is anything like the rest, The Finder will turn out to be a fun procedural with a kooky premise and strange, yet lovable characters.
Walter Sherman (formerly Major Sherman of the U.S. Army) owns a bar called The Ends of the Earth on Florida's Looking Glass Key, where he works and lives with his friend/legal adviser/bodyguard, Leo Knox (Michael Clarke Duncan) and his ward, juvenile delinquent/honest-to-God-gypsy, Willa Monday (Maddie Hasson). But Walter's talent for finding things brings more patrons to the bar than the food or drinks. "Orphan" features, not surprisingly, an orphaned boy named Cooper (Brett Davern), who hires Walter to find his missing and presumed dead father, Lt. Col. Nick Allison. Also not surprisingly -- because Walter tells him it's going to happen -- he finds more than the kid wanted to know.
The two things that Hart Hanson has always been best at (see Judging Amy, Bones) are atmosphere and characters, and both are in fine form in The Finder. "Orphan" has fun with the Florida locale -- actually, everyone looks like they're having fun -- and even more fun with these two goofy guys living and working in a bar. Leo and Walter are immediately likable (and suitably mysterious for future storyline purposes), and Walter's beautiful and bad-ass "friend," the U.S. Marshal Isabel Zambada (Mercedes Masöhn) is equal parts charmed and exasperated by Walter, which leads to some nice scenes between the two of them. And even though I think the character of Willa is problematic -- she is very clearly conceptualized as a rebel who needs to be tamed by caring and stability, and obviously she will be, despite the script's attempts to convince us she only stays with Walter and Leo in order to eventually rob them blind on behalf of her criminal gypsy family -- Maddie Hasson is charming and more than up to the task of playing her. I believe my mother would call her "fresh-faced."
The best thing about The Finder, though, is Geoff Stults. I think Hart Hanson may have been right about him. Hanson was quoted last April as saying: "He feels to me like if we don’t make him a star on 'Finder' somebody else is going to grab this guy and make him a star. It was akin to how they must have felt when they saw Tom Selleck walk in the first time: a big handsome guy who’s very funny and doesn’t seem to be at all vain about his looks." The comparison to Tom Selleck seemed a bit extreme to me at the time -- I mean, really? Look at this guy! you just can't replicate that -- but after having watched "Orphan," I can see what he means. Stults has an easy, goofy charm that is on display especially in moments where Walter is doing weird things without seeming to know he's doing anything weird at all. There's a lack of ego to the performance that makes Walter -- and Stults -- extremely likable.
So what does this series look like in the future? For one thing, lots of cameos, and not just from our friends over at Bones, if John Fogerty* showing up in the first five minutes to sing an elaborately shot version of "Fortunate Son"** is any indication. Other things we can expect? Lots of cars conveniently breaking down in front of The Ends of the Earth. A catchphrase from Walter (my money's on, "Shoot him, Isabel!" which he said twice in this episode alone). An answer to what's in Walter's vault, and whether or not Willa will break in. Constant reminders of Walter's paranoia (a paranoia which has been slightly tuned down from the backdoor pilot, if I'm not mistaken). And constant conflict between the sense of purpose Walter finds from his "Finder Power" and his refusal to admit he has brain damage (brain damage which Isabel worries is getting worse).
*Fogerty wrote the song that will play over The Finder's opening titles for forever and always -- it's called "Swamp Water," he wrote it just for the show, and I actually haven't heard it or seen the opening titles yet, as the screener I saw of the episode wasn't the final cut. So that's something to look forward to.
**This was probably the only part of the episode I disliked, and not because of Fogerty or the song, but because of the way director Daniel Sackheim kept making the camera zoom in and out on Fogerty at weird dutch angles, like it was a 90s rock concert music video instead of the pilot of a television show about a man who finds things. It's probably just a personal style preference, but it pulled me out of the story.
The show certainly isn’t perfect. Some scenes were a bit too talky, and the way Willa’s storyline is so obviously constructed is a bit twee, but I’m willing to forgive if she has some good (even if predictable) development down the road. Probably the thing that most needs improvement is Mercedes Masöhn’s portrayal of Isabel. Most of the time, she’s fine — good, not great — and she has good chemistry with Stults. But there were several scenes where I could see her acting. She’s not comfortable in Isabel’s skin yet, or comfortable as an actress (a quick perusal of IMDB quickly shows that The Finder will be the most high profile project she’s ever worked on). But the nice moments in the episode lend me to believe that this is probably something we won’t have to worry about for long.
So tune in to The Finder, if for no other reason than it is probably the goofiest show you'll see on television this year. Everything feels shabby and secondhand, like the whole show is a thrift shop beach bum, and characters do absurd things constantly. In this episode alone, Walter and Isabel attack people while wearing nothing but their underwear, there are men in RIDICULOUS yellow tracksuits, a robot is murdered with a gun, and a seriously cracked out Jaime Murray plays the trumpet. If all of that sounds weird to you -- and it should -- just remember it's even weirder in context.
The Finder premieres tonight on Fox at 8/9 Central, after Bones's mid-season finale.