[07/06/07 - 04:39 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Life" (NBC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.

And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!

(Wednesdays at 10:00/9:00c this fall)

The network's description: "From Rand Ravich and Far Shariat, the executive producers of the feature film "The Astronaut's Wife," and David Semel, who directed the pilot of NBC's "Heroes," "Life" is a new drama about a detective who is given a second chance. Damian Lewis ("Band of Brothers") stars as complex, offbeat Detective Charlie Crews, who returns to the force after years in prison, thanks to close friend and attorney Constance Griffiths (Melissa Sagemiller, "Sleeper Cell"), after serving time for a crime he didn't commit. The cast also includes Sarah Shahi ("Rush Hour 3") as Charlie's skeptical, demanding partner, Robin Weigart (HBO's "Deadwood") as their hard-hitting lieutenant, and Adam Arkin ("Chicago Hope") as former cellmate Ted Early. "Life" is an NBC Universal Television Studio production. Rand Ravich is executive producer and writer; Far Shariat is executive producer; David Semel is executive producer and director on the pilot."

What did they leave out: Be sure to stick around during the end credits for an amusing tag.

The plot in a nutshell: A documentary film crew introduces us to the storied career of Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis, great to see back on U.S. television), a cop wrongly convicted of a triple-homicide back in 1994. 12 years later, Crews was released from jail after his attorney (Melissa Sagemiller) discovered DNA evidence that exonerated him from the crime. "Life is what he was sentenced," she explains. "And life is what he got back." And so we rejoin Charlie 10 months later, now reinstated as a detective in the LAPD and the recipient of a hefty settlement package from the city. Prison however has changed Charlie as we're told the inmates - none too fond of cops - broke nearly every bone in his body. There however he apparently found solace in two things - his love of being cop and a new Zen lifestyle. Or in TV terms: he went kind of crazy. Charlie now has conversations with himself, always carries some kind of fresh fruit with him and makes inappropriate comments whenever possible. Nevertheless, the new Charlie also is amazingly adept with interviewing suspects and witnesses not to mention thinks "outside of the box" as they say. Said talents come in handy with his latest case - a young boy has been murdered after trying to buy information that would have exonerated his convict father ("Standoff's" Michael Cudlitz) - which also sees him assigned to his new-partner-with-a-secret, Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi). It seems that Dani herself has a storied past, one that their lieutenant (Robin Weigert) is exploiting to get dirt on Charlie. What follows is the usual procedural antics as the initially doubtful Dani comes around to see Charlie's skills. Along the way, the various documentary interviews fill in some more details about Charlie's past, including his now remarried ex (a blink and you'll miss her Claudia Black); his former partner (Brent Sexton), who didn't put up much of a fight for Charlie; and Ted, a tarnished CEO (the always amusing Adam Arkin) whom Charlie befriended in prison who now runs his estate and lives above his garage. In the end, Charlie and Dani reach an unspoken understanding about each other. But wait, there's more! A too-good-to-spoil-here twist at the very end (hint: it's the question that hasn't been asked here) sends the show into an unexpected direction, one that will undoubtedly add a much-need serialized element to the proceedings.

What works: Damian Lewis proves to be an intriguing lead as he wisely tones down the character's scenery chewing. His various ticks and mannerisms for Charlie come across as subtle and natural rather than an opportunity to grandstand. Two scenes in particular stand out - a pair of sure-to-be-promoted-to-death interviews with the victim's mom and one of his friends - as they help establish what a potentially unique character Charlie is. There's also a lot of fun humor to the show, such as how Charlie's incarceration has kept him sheltered from the various technological advances that have been made since then (camera phones, instant messaging, Bluetooth, Google, etc.). Kudos also go out to the great Adam Arkin, who's tasking with keeping a handle on Charlie's more outlandish desires (he wants to buy an orange grove because of its big, red tractor). Equally as amusing are a pair of beat cops (Reno Wilson, Matt Gerald) who routinely harass Charlie and give their frank opinions to the camera. The real star here however is director David Semel (who helmed last year's pilot to "Heroes"). He seamlessly blends the documentary segments with the day-to-day action to help create the genuinely compelling puzzle that is Charlie Crews. It's his sure hand that helps sell the show's final twist, which could easily have come across as silly. Plus, any show that uses Cliff Martinez's end credits score from "Traffic" in the temp track can't be all bad! All in all, there's a great show in here.

What doesn't: Conversely, Charlie is written - and admittedly sometimes played - differently from scene to scene. In one he's a Zen master trying to push away temptation. In another he's a 10-year-old boy excited to have a half-naked girl next to him. In yet another he barks at himself like a crazy person. If that's the point - and maybe it is - it at times comes across as disjointed rather than as organic facets of his character. Also working against the show is its decidedly pedestrian case. And again, while that may be the point - we don't watch "House" and "Monk" for their plots - it still is distracting. Furthermore, as much as the guy in me appreciates it, do we have to find not one, not two but three ways to get Sarah Shahi in a skimpy tank top in the same episode? It kind of undercuts her as being Charlie's tough gal superior. That being said, I have high hopes for the show. Let's hope it finds the right balance to lift it into must see viewing.

The bottom line: Definitely worth seeking out, but don't expect perfection.

  [july 2007]  


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