Judge David Johnson loves Life. That would be the cereal.
Our review of Life: Season Two, published August 24th, 2009, is also available.
Life was his sentence. Life is what he got back.
Life only aired for eleven episodes, but this cop procedural made a name for itself with its quirky lead and oddball slayings (a dude gets everything south of his waistline blown off from an oven bomb?).
Facts of the Case
Said quirky lead is Detective Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis, Band of Brothers), a former patrolman who was bagged for the murder of a family and slapped with a life sentence. Twelve years later, DNA evidence exonerates Crews and he's spring out of prison, given a multi-million dollar settlement and, most important to him, his detective's badge.
He's paired with a reluctant, recovering alcoholic partner (Sarah Shahi), pressured by a demanding lieutenant and faced with a series of bizarre homicides that will require his flighty ruminations and out-of-left-field inspirations to solve. Meanwhile, in the privacy of his own home, Crews is consumed with discovering the truth behind his frame job.
I wanted to dig this series something fierce, what with my strong support for Damian Lewis having earned eternal credibility thanks to his Winters character from Band of Brothers, who was responsible for more than a few man tears. And he's good here, very good, easily the highlight of the show, and the sole reason why it's semi-noteworthy instead of utterly forgettable.
Even then it's close. Crews is a weirdo for sure and I haven't been able to totally wrap my head around why he is what he is and how deserving 12 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit led to his eccentricity but the particular mechanics that forged the character aren't crucial—Crews ends up being fun enough to compensate.
But the actual storytelling? Not even Lewis at the top of his game is enough to rescue the mediocre writing. Once in a while, a case will present itself as something interesting (the IRS guy turned spy hunter), but mostly the play-by-play fails to compel. In fact, the oft-bizarre deaths are the most innovative twists on the cases. Or the weird insertion of an extended Prince of Persia video game sequence set to sweeping, melodramatic music. Really.
The flat writing hamstrings the show, even writing given to Lewis, which should be homeruns all the time, is about 70-30 "amusing" to "eh." Unfortunately for the supporting cast, their stuff is even weaker, especially Shahi, who essentially spends each episode grimacing in Crews's general direction, complaining incessantly about her partner's whimsical musings and snarling. The only other character I like was Adam Arkin's, Crews's roommate and former co-prisoner, who has to put up with his weirdness. The exasperated schtick wears thin, however.
Most disappointing is the season-long arc with Crews attempting to get to the bottom of his frame-up. He's got lots of photos and Post-it notes and magic markers connecting the clues and each show usually drops another piece of the puzzle, but usually all of three minutes is devoted to the arc and never quite connected with me. I didn't really care what new piece of info popped up, a mortal wound in my estimation to the series.
To be fair, the series eventually grew on me, as it marched towards the end of the season. Crews became even more of a compelling character and his surrounding entourage, more tolerable. The latter episodes also featured cleverer cases.
But overall, I'm still not completely sold on the show and may or may not tune in for the second season. Right now I'm thinking not, but the Crews character is interesting enough to grab me as I channel-surf. Make no mistake: without Damian Lewis, this show would have disappeared down the memory hole.
The three-disc set is solid: a nice 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital, four behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, a blooper reel and cast and crew audio commentary on select episodes. Not bad.
Life: Season One is slightly above average, but the character's a keeper.
Not Guilty…by a hair.
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