Rating 2½

Created by Rand Ravich

Writers: Rafael Alvarez, Laurie Arent, Wendolyn Calhoun, R J Colleary, Marjorie David, Scott M Gimple, Joe Hortua, David Manson, Glen Mazzara, Rand Ravich, Melissa Scrivner, Jonathan Shapiro, Far Shariat

Directors: Adam Arkin, John Behring, John Dahl, Holly Dale, Tucker Gates, Elodie Keene, Fred Keller, Peter Markle, Paul McCrane, Daniel Sackheim, David Semel, Marcos Siega, David Straiton, Lawrence Thrilling, Jay Torres, Tony Wharmby

Starring Damian Lewis (Detective Charlie Crews), Sarah Shahi (Detective Dani Reese), Adam Arkin (Ted Earley), Brent Sexton (Officer Bobby Stark), Donal Logue (Captain Kevin Tidwell), Robin Weigert (Lt Sgt Karen Davis), Jessy Schram (Rachel Seybolt), Victor Rivers (Jack Reese), Garret Dillahunt (Roman Nevikov), Shashawnee Hall (Special Agent Paul Bodner), Roger Aaron Brown (Carl Ames), Jennifer Siebel (Jennifer Conover), Titus Welliver (Titus Hollis), Brooke Langton (Constance Griffiths), Christina Hendricks (Olivia Canton), Gabrielle Union (Detective Jane Seever) and Helen McCrory (Amanda Puryer)

LAPD uniform police officer Charlie Crews is wrongly convicted of a double murder and spends twelve years in high security prisons. When the conviction is quashed and he is released he receives a $50 million compensation settlement and is reinstated in the LAPD as a homicide detective. He is assigned Detective Dani Reese, who harbours her own problems, as his partner and begins an unofficial investigation to identify the people who framed up, an investigation that leads him to his partner’s father, retired LAPD police caption Jack Reese.


‘Life’ was an NBC police drama broadcast across two seasons and a total of 32 episodes between 26 September 2007 and 8 April 2009, at which point NBC announced that it would not return for a third season. It starred the acclaimed and skilled English actor Damian Lewis, who had previously made an impact on American television in the 2001 mini-series ‘Band of Brothers’, and Sarah Shahi, who is perhaps otherwise best known for her role in seasons two and three of the television drama series ‘The L Word’. The English stage actress Helen McCrory, the wife of Damian Lewis, had a recurring role in season two of the show. ‘Life’ was created by Rand Ravich, the writer/director of the 1999 Johnny Depp film ‘The Astronaut’s Wife’

It is standard practice that all American network police procedurals come with a quirk; something that is intended to make each one stand out against the others in what is otherwise a very formulaic genre. ‘Life’ came with an overabundance of quirks and that, perhaps, was partly its downfall. Charlie Crews had so many tics and idiosyncrasies that he made even Dr Gregory House (from the hugely and I think inexplicably popular television medical drama ‘House’) seem positively mundane. To add to an already bursting to the seams collection of quirks displayed by Crews, his partner Dani Reese was a recovering drug addict and alcoholic with a major chip on her shoulder and Kevin Tidwell, the captain of their homicide division (in season two of the show), had an eccentric personality and an unpredictable approach to his job. The basic premise of the show, of course, was already patently ridiculous, but it was compounded by too much silliness and too many characters who were written out without proper explanation.

Crews was a Zen-like character who bought himself a huge house in the hills and seemed to be addicted to very fast and very expensive cars, but who had no furniture in his house because he claimed his life was not ruled by possessions or material things. He obsessively ate fruit of all kinds and varieties and constantly expressed childlike wonder at technological advances that had occurred while he was in prison. He was a very high profile and contentious figure in the LAPD, one that was potentially very embarrassing for them, so they assigned him a partner who was a recovering drug-addict and alcoholic with some serious issues of her own. The silliness was piled on thick and fast.

Throughout the first season and the first half of season two Crews was obsessed with his former wife, constantly harassing her new husband and ultimately breaking down her defences and persuading her to sleep with him. It was a pointless and grating sub-plot and neither character was seen or mentioned again afterwards. The defence attorney who continued to work for twelve years to have the conviction quashed and Crews released from prison and who seemed to be an important figure in his life was suddenly written out of the show without warning. Crews was obsessed with finding his god-daughter, the daughter of the friends he was wrongly convicted of murdering. When he finally did track her down, he brought her to stay with him. Subsequently, he decided it was not safe for her and sent her away. She was not seen or mentioned again. In the first season the homicide division Crews was assigned to was headed up by a character who proved to be a decidedly uninteresting presence and was summarily written out at the start of season two and replaced with a new character. The rather sudden disappearance of Jack Reese in season two was treated with far too little concern by characters who should have taken much more interest in his absence, until a rather clunky explanation for his disappearance was provided in the final episodes.

I found the sudden departure of Dani Reese from the main storyline during the closing episodes of season two rather strange. The reasons given for this and her brief appearances in subsequent episodes didn’t work very well for me to explain what was going on. It was only after I had finished watching the season and read about the background of the show that I discovered that the actress Sarah Shahi was pregnant. Initially, the character Bobby Stark was temporarily promoted upwards to become Crews’ new partner and I thought that worked quite well, but after a couple of episodes he was suddenly replaced, for no obvious reason.

The necessity to make allowances for Sarah Shahi’s pregnancy is understandable, but there seems to have been far too many other instances of the writers simply changing their minds about a character or storyline. This is not altogether uncommon in the early stages of American network shows, but surely not usually to this degree?

The premise, as I have already mentioned, was preposterous and the season-wide conspiracy story-arc in season two became increasingly convoluted, to the point where, except for the absence of aliens, it was almost heading into ‘The X-Files’ territory. I was, I should mention, reasonably diverted by this storyline, although it was ultimately rushed to a somewhat unconvincing conclusion (perhaps because the writers knew that show was not coming back and wanted to tie up some loose ends).

There were as many problems in the show as good points, perhaps more, and I really struggled to get past the first episode, which I found monumentality irritating. However, for all the faults and for all of my criticisms, I did end up enjoying it, although whether or not I’d want to watch the whole thing again is another matter entirely.

The opening episode of ‘Life’ attracted an audience of 10.15 million viewers on NBC. The low point was the eighteenth episode of the second season, which was watched by 4.22 million viewers. The final episode attracted 4.5 million viewers. The first season of the show was disrupted by the Writers Guild of America strike and only eleven episodes were made, although twenty-two had been commissioned. Several writers did not return for the second season, which ran to twenty-one episodes.

Review posted 17 April 2010


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