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August 30, 2015

Life -- An early look - VIDEO

by Richard Keller, posted Sep 20th 2007 9:35AM

Sarah Shahi and Damian Lewis of NBC's Life

In today's crowded world of television, procedural crime dramas are a dime a dozen. Actually, make that a nickel a dozen, since there are so many of them. Each one is slightly different than the other, but they all have pretty much the same formula: a crime is committed (on or off screen), the police go in to investigate, clues are discovered, crack forensic and computer scientists discover even more clues, the wrong person is brought in for questioning, and the real culprit is finally brought to justice two minutes before the credits roll.

Because these shows are so similar they need to come up with different angles to wrap around the standard formulas. That's why we have criminal procedurals featuring forensic anthropologists, forensic scientists, behavior analysis profilers, Naval criminal investigators, research mediums, special victims investigators, and just plain old police detectives. Life has a similar angle. Sure, it's a criminal drama at heart. However, wrapped around that genre is the story of a police officer who has returned to the force after doing some hard time for a crime he didn't commit.

Does the formula work better than that of the forensic anthropologists, behavior analysis profilers, and plain old police detectives? Well, kind of. It all depends on what episode you watch.

Let's start with the basics. Life, which premieres 10 pm, September 26th on NBC, stars Damian Lewis (Band of Brothers) as Detective Charlie Crews. Crews' life hasn't gone the way he planned. After being convicted of a triple murder the former police officer was sent to a maximum security penitentiary where he was to spend the rest of his life. However, thanks to the diligence of attorney Constance Griffiths, and a negative DNA result, Crews was exonerated. He was released from prison, received a substantial settlement from the Los Angeles Police Department, and was able to return to duty as a detective.

Things aren't all roses at the precinct, though. The detective he is partnered with, Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi, The L Word), has problems of her own and is very skeptical as to why Crews has returned to the force. His Lieutenant, Karen Davis (Robin Weigert, Deadwood), really wants to see or hear about that one thing that will get Crews off of the force. His former partner, Officer Robert Stark, is trying to go about like Charlie's arrest never happened, even though he turned Crews in when the murder occurred.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to any of the others, Charlie is doing a bit of investigating on the side in an attempt to figure out who framed him for the murder. From the multi-wall chart that he has hanging in one of the rooms of his huge, furniture-less house, everyone is implicated in the cover-up. And, when I mean everyone, I mean everyone, including Lieutenant Davis.

Needless to say, there is a lot that is going on in this show. That's probably one of the reasons why I'm not hip to it right now. I just think that there are too many little subplots going on to cohesively follow. We have detective Resse's recovery from drug addiction (and apparent new sexual addiction), Lt. Davis' eagerness to kick Crews off of the force, Constance's unrequited love for his client, and Charlie's investigation into who really framed him. Add to that the story of former prison friend and current live-in financial advisor Ted Early (Adam Arkin, too many shows to mention), plus the fact that Crews' dad is marrying a younger woman, and you have a lot of story to follow.

It also doesn't help that the characters are unlikeable, including Charlie. Crews, who has a close resemblance to a clean-shaven Hugh Laurie, is very metaphysical, yet shallow, at the same time. Having spent a good part of his prison time reading The Way of Zen, Charlie now thinks that everything is now connected to everything else. So, he'll spout off something like 'What it is, it is' when asked a question. On the other hand, he's sleeping with any woman who walks across his path.

Now, I don't hate Charlie. Well, I really disliked him in the pilot episode. That's because he was all Zen-like and weird and ate a lot of fruit. But, by the second episode his character had improved. He still ate a lot of fruit, but it seems that he was beginning to grasp that we was back in the real world now and he needed to act a bit better around everyone. Plus, he seemed to be channeling some Shawn Spencer (Psych) and Temperance Brennan (Bones) in some of his observations of evidence and people's character. I still didn't like him, but he had his merits.

Now, the other characters, save for Ted, I don't like at all. They have no redeeming value to them and you can see that they're just burning a hole in Charlie's back whenever they glance his way. Plus, save for Reese, it seems like everyone had something to do with putting Crews in prison. So, unless they all show me that they have something good in them they're going to be on my poopie list.

After saying all of this I am not throwing in the towel on Life. If they cut the amount of side stories down and make these characters a tad more likable there's a chance that this show can succeed. The writing is good, the show is fast-paced, and it does have some legs to continue. At least until Charlie solves the mystery of who really murdered the family, that is.

Don't take my word for it, though. You can view the full pilot right below this review, courtesy of our corporate friends at AOL Video. Take a gander yourself (do so before September 23rd) and let me know through the comments or the poll below if you would watch this show.

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Would you watch this show on a regular basis
1 - No way. This is an unwatchable program5 (2.5%)
2 - It's bad, but that may just be the pilot6 (3.0%)
3 - The pilot was okay, but it just doesn't interest me9 (4.6%)
4 - The pilot was interesting. I may watch the second episode to see how it progresses33 (16.8%)
5 - Yeah, this was good. I'm interested to see how it progresses42 (21.3%)
6 - Pretty decent. I could see myself making this a regular viewing choice70 (35.5%)
7 - Best. Crime. Drama. Ever.32 (16.2%)

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I didn't realize, until a few hours ago, that this week is the week for 'Pilots' and Season Premiers, for regular programs (on non-cable stations). I tuned in to NBC, and they were showing Bionic Woman - and I wondered if it was the Pilot for this series. Not only was it the series premier, but afterwards they showed the series premier for Life (which is about 2/3rds underway); I had seen the ads for this program, but wasn't expecting to watch the first-ever showing.

It does seem interesting, but also seemed dry, at several points. Perhaps this is necessary, to set the storyline, themes, and plot in motion. But I hope that the upcoming episodes get more action-filled, and become faster-paced, rather than having so much emphasis on character examinations and interpersonal dealings.

September 26 2007 at 10:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Phil Leitch

Just watched the pilot from Amazon Unbox last night and thought it essentially added a bit of Lost/Prison Break interest once his big wall of photos was unveiled. Most of the cop dramas tend to be the same, maybe his quest to solve the mystery will help. Though it seems this will give end to the same problems Lost has, it isn't like he can solve the case without leaving the show lacking it's one thing to keep me watching.

September 21 2007 at 6:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I wasn't so sure about this show at first, from reading brief descriptions online, but I saw a good long preview on NBC and I think I'll tune in now. I don't really watch police dramas, but it looked interesting and kind of humourous, and I'll try any new show once. I don't have time to watch the video right now, but I'll be recording it when it comes on this week.

September 20 2007 at 9:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Blair M

The main character reminded me of the detective character from Touching Evil a few years ago. There are many parallels between the two characters. I like that (short lived) show, and I'll enjoy this (most likely short lived) show for many of the same reasons.

September 20 2007 at 8:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The pilot is well-balanced and overall very well done. It comes in as a close second to "Journeyman" for me at the moment.

They can of course ruin the whole think pretty easily. Remember last season's "Day Break" - the first episode rocked so hard it hurt but then it bombed miserably...

September 20 2007 at 8:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
AJ MacReady

I was pretty impressed with this; based on this one episode, I think it's going to be a good show and well worth following. It's smart and darkly funny, finely acted and just well done overall. Plus, the characters, likeable or not, seem like actual people and after only one episode, I don't think it's particularly imperative that we like them to get caught up in the story. So I'm hoping that it keeps up the level of quality and that it does well enough for NBC to keep it around.

September 20 2007 at 7:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm just getting a little tired of the quirky main character in a procedural. Even if you've been in prison for the past 18 years you'll know what a cell phone looks like.

September 20 2007 at 4:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brent McKee

Can't see the pilot. Is this yet another case of something being posted that only Americans can see online?

September 20 2007 at 3:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great show. A bit corney but I'd love to see more.

September 20 2007 at 12:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Loved the pilot, not so fond of the lawyer romantic angle, but then, I'm not all that fond of romance, so... I have to say, the one thing that kind of bugs me is Damien Lewis' accent - it's really nasal. Just a pet peeve, though.

September 20 2007 at 11:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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