Preview: Life 1×1 (US: NBC)


In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, NBC. Starts September 26
In the UK: Not yet acquired

I foresee this is going to run into problems. I say this, not because it’s bad, because it’s not, but because I suspect NBC doesn’t quite know what to do with it.

The premise is interesting: a cop gets sent to jail after being framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Twelve years later, he’s finally vindicated and released. As part of his settlement, he gets to return to the police department that he used to work in where he works alongside people who resent him, think he doesn’t belong and so on. His wife’s divorced him, his mother’s died because his father refused to let her see him while he was in jail and he’s had over 200 stitches from the beatings he’s got while he’s been in jail. And just about the only person who rates him is his new partner, who basically drew the short straw thanks to being a recovering drug addict.

So it could be quite dark. And indeed, most of the time it is.

But he’s also got $50 million (or some equally sky-high amount – no one’s saying) from his settlement, so he lives in a mansion, drives a very nice car, and owns an orange grove. His financial advisor, whom he met in prison, now lives in a room above his garage. And after reading The Path To Zen during his stay inside, he’s now trying to achieve oneness with the universe and is a touch whackier than he was before he went to prison.

So how will NBC’s marketing department pitch it? Drama? Comedy? Comedy drama?

Oops. They went for comedy.

Is it any good?
I was surprised by Life. It’s actually rather good. It has a good cast. It has a nice style, with our hero Charlie Crews (played by British actor Damian Lewis) embracing his new life and life in general, as well as being bewildered by things like cell phones and instant messaging, which have emerged during his time inside.

The faux documentary inter-cuts are quite a nice touch, with various people in Charlie’s old life interviewed about him and their reaction to his freedom. The police investigation side of things, with its more deliberative pacing and Charlie’s new-found empathy for victims, criminals and people who are in jail or might be sent to jail, is a touch Raines-ish, which, of course, I rather liked as well. And Adam Arkin as Charlie’s financial advisor is as amusing as always.

Then there’s the contrast between Charlie’s attempts at Zen-like inner peace and the obvious problems he has coming to terms with his wife’s remarrying while he was in jail; the fact that the people who framed him – whoever they may be – are still free; and the fact that he has a really nice car now.

As a comedy, it doesn’t work too well. There are no killer lines, no slapstick, no really amusing situations – bar any scene with Alan Arkin in it. But as a slightly dark drama with the occasionally comedic turn it’s not bad. It’s not utterly compelling at the moment, but I’ll certainly be interested in seeing episodes two and three, at least.

I’m just not sure what NBC is going to do with. Although they’re emphasising quality in their fall season, they’re currently pitching Life as one big comedy, which I’m sure is going to put off people interested in more serious drama and seriously mislead those who are up for a laugh.

Let’s just see what happens then. Here’s a YouTube trailer.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.