Universal // 2007 // 901 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Cynthia Boris (Retired) // August 24th, 2009
TV's most intriguing detective, LA's most unusual crimes.
In one of the commentary tracks on this DVD, someone says, "Sarah got pregnant and ruined our show." It's sort of a joke, but not really and unfortunately, it's true. This is Life: Season Two on DVD.
Detective Charles Crews (Damian Lewis, Band of Brothers) spent 12 years in jail for a triple homicide that he didn't commit. Freed on appeal, his lawyers sued the city and Charlie was awarded a huge cash settlement that would allow him to live the good life for the rest of his life should he so choose. What he does choose is to go back to work as a cop, approaching his work with a newfound Zen philosophy and a lot of fruit.
Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi, The L Word) is Crews' new partner (his old partner was a victim in the triple homicide). She's a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, and so she's partnered with Crews because no one wants to work with either of them. Adding to her troubles is the fact that her father, Jack Reese (Victor Rivers), is a retired police officer who was involved in the murder case that sent Crews to jail in the first place.
Week after week, the two of them take on a variety of quirky homicide cases while Crews continues to search for the people behind the conspiracy that sent him to jail...
...And that leads us to the big changes in this second season.
There are three major elements that affect the second season of this series. First is the addition of Captain Tidwell (Donal Logue, Grounded for Life) as their new boss. Playing a crass cop from New York, Logue brings a different style of humor to the series and he fills the role of the audience POV, being the outsider who doesn't know about Crews' and Reese's back-stories. A few episodes into the season, he and Reese begin dating, adding a whole 'nother off balance dimension to this already off-kilter series.
The second element is Crews' search for the truth. Though he found the actual killer in Season One, he still doesn't know why he was set up to take the fall for the murders. In Season Two, Crews tracks down Rachel Seybolt, the daughter of his former, murdered partner and the only family member to survive that horrible night. Rachel becomes a factor in locating the other surviving members of a conspiracy that included Reese's father and it all leads to Russian mobster Roman Nevikov (Garret Dillahunt, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) and a showdown in the series finale.
The third factor was the one that did them in. Star Sarah Shahi came down suddenly pregnant and had to be written out of a good number of episodes. On the surface, this doesn't seem like it would be a big issue. The show is about Charlie Crews, after all, so give him another partner and it's all good, right? Wrong. The show works because of the banter between Crews and Reese, take out that element and the walls begin to crumble.
Good news: Shahi is replaced by Gabrielle Union (Bring it On), a very fine young actress. Bad news; the character as written is ridiculous and she lacks the chemistry with Lewis.
Good news: instead of writing Reese out with a lame excuse like she has to go visit a sick aunt, they write her out in a way that is relevant to the plot. Bad news: that storyline ends up being illogical and nonsensical.
The end result of these three changes is a great show that goes rapidly down hill as the season progresses. Take a look:
* "Find Your Happy Place"
Crews and Reese are called to the LA river to see a body of a young woman stuffed in a trunk. Under her body is the number one and before the day is over, bodies two and three turn up. The only link between the victims? A stationary store that makes custom cards for all occasions.
This is an excellent episode with a great soundtrack and a crazy killer. It's everything that's right with this series all wrapped up in the opening episode.
* "Everything...All the Time"
What first appears to be a gang related slaying turns out to be related to an underground rave. This one has a lot of the "B" story in it -- more clues to who set Crews up and plenty of scenes with the characters related to that arc including Rachel, Crews' ex-wife and Reese's dad. Not a favorite but it works.
* "The Business of Miracles"
"You broke the doctor" is the running joke in this episode about a cancer researcher that has been frozen to death with liquid nitrogen. It looks like the work of animals rights activists but nothing is ever as it seems on Life. Great banter, fun supporting characters and monkey put this one in the top five of the season.
* "Not for Nothing"
This one is creepy. The story revolves around a social experiment that has students locked down in a fake prison block for a weekend. Some of the kids are guards, some are prisoners and one ends up dead. Since they were all locked in, Crews knows that the killer is one of the students but his investigation turns up more than just murder. It's a study in human dynamics that shows how simple it can be to push a person over the edge. Good stuff.
A body crushed inside of a car in a wrecking yard leads Crews and Reese to an online love triangle and a record producer with a nasty streak. A couple of the supporting characters steal the show here including Jonathan Banks and Alex Sol.
* "Did You Feel That"
This is one of my favorite episodes of the season. It begins with an earthquake that sends the city into rescue mode and allows a murderer to escape from jail. It all goes downhill from there. With the ground constantly rumbling under their feet, Crews, Reese and Tidwell follow a twisted tale of murder and mayhem that will leave you saying, "oh no!" over and over again.
The murder of a beautiful woman leads Crews to a support group for lottery winners. Fun episode that deals with the concept that money can't buy you happiness.
* "Black Friday"
This is another one of my top five episodes. It's Black Friday and there's a dead body in the middle of the mall's holiday display. Reese and Crews arrive on the scene but before they can begin their investigation security opens the mall to shoppers and in the ensuing chaos the body disappears. The dialogue in this one is tops as we get the Crews spin on holiday shopping, the joys of fruit cake (it's fruit and cake -- what's not to like) and the concept of family.
* "Badge Bunny"
A teacher is found dead and the investigation reveals that she was a woman who only dates cops, aka a Badge Bunny. This leads Crews and Reese to take a long hard look at their fellow police officers, which doesn't sit well with brothers in blue.
* "Evil...and His Brother Ziggy"
A character named Eval leads to some of the funniest lines in this episode as Crews and Reese deal with the murder of a sheriff's deputy on Indian land.
* "Canyon Flowers"
A tribute killing for a Manson-like cult leader leads Crews to a murder museum. It's a fascinating episode that looks at the psychology of murder memorabilia collectors and I'll bet their set designers had a marvelous time creating the gruesome exhibits for the museum!
This episode served as a mid-season finale and ends with a huge cliffhanger meant to hold viewers until the show returned almost two months later. As far as I'm concerned, the cliffhanger is the only thing interesting about this episode, which sets up more back story between Crews and Russian mobster Roman Nevikov.
Crews and Reese investigate the death of a former NASA pilot who was about to pay the Russians millions of dollars to take him into space.
* "Mirror Ball"
One of their more humorous episodes, it deals with the death of the lead singer from a heavy metal tribute band. It's an interesting look at aging rock and roll fans and the legends they still adore. Face facts people, Mick Jagger now qualifies for Social Security.
* "I Heart Mom"
Charlotte Rae (The Facts of Life) guests as one of several people ripped off by a construction company that specializes in removing roofs and never putting them back. There are some neat twists, but not a favorite.
* "Hit Me Baby"
A man who raises pigeons and dates only call girls is found murdered. Here's a clue, the pigeons didn't kill him. Who did and why isn't enough to make this one interesting. This is the episode where Reese goes on assignment with the FBI, considerably cutting down her screen time due to her advanced real-life pregnancy.
* "Shelf Life"
Valerie Rae Miller (Reaper) guests as one of a quartet of soldiers on leave in LA. When one of them is killed the investigation leads to kinky parties on a private plane and on to a corporation whose interest in the bottom line might be getting soldiers killed.
* "3 Women"
Gabrielle Union (Bring it On) begins a short arc as Reese's replacement in this story about prison pen-pals. Though Union is a charismatic actress, the character of Seever is nearly as quirky as Crews and that's too much to deal with at one time. Her obsessive, overachieving actions are so far removed from reality that its comical, and not in a good way. Overall, Seever is a big swing and a miss.
* "5 Quarts"
A coroner is found murdered in the morgue. It should be interesting, but it's not.
* "Initiative 38"
A state politician involved in a fight to ban handguns turns up dead in her own hot tub. Bullets from two different guns might suggest the killing was related to her work, but statistics say look at the husband -- a prominent campaign advisor with an agenda of his own. The whole Reese at the FBI story goes off the rails. It's desperation time.
The season finale, which also serves as the series finale, makes an attempt to wrap up all the loose ends including the answer to 'who framed Crews and why.' The catalyst is Reese, who has been kidnapped by Roman Nevikov, forcing Crews to put aside his badge and take matters into his own hands.
I don't want to give away the ending, but I will say that I found it wholly unbelievable and out of character. Many people loved it, but I thought it felt like a desperate attempt to dig themselves out of a deep hole. Even more disappointing was the fact that it felt like an entirely different show. It didn't have the witty banter, the humorous undertones, or any of the off-kilter behavior that makes the show so enjoyable. It was a rough ending to a great TV series.
The DVD itself gets the job done. The five discs are housed in a tri-fold case. There are easily readable episode descriptions on the panels. The video and audio are as you'd expect for a new show. The series is styled with an over saturation of color which looked a little orange on my high def but your mileage may vary.
The special features aren't all that special. Producers Rand Ravich and Far Shariat lead the commentaries with help from a variety of actors depending on the episode. They're interesting to listen to and they do reveal a lot of behind the scenes tidbits. The delete scenes add nothing to set and the gag reel is the usual collection of people flubbing their lines.
Other than the plot points I've already mentioned, there's no bad here.
Life takes the typical trappings of a police procedural then puts them on spin. The oversaturated colors and cinema-style filming techniques make it visually interesting, but the real difference is in the dialogue. Much of the dialogue in the show is made up of short sentences with a great deal of repetition. It has a poetic feel and many of the throwaway lines have an existential double meaning. "What can you put in box?" "They shouldn't call it a river if there's no water in it." "Did you feel that?"
You could say that Life transcends the boundaries of typical cop shows, with a touch of Zen philosophy and a whole lot of fruit.
Believe nothing just because a so-called wise person said it. Believe only
what you yourself test and judge to be true -- Buddha
Review content copyright © 2009 Cynthia Boris; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 901 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel