Review: Life 2×1

Everything's connected. Except ratings


In the US: Mondays and Fridays, 10/9c, NBC. Moving to just Fridays from the 3rd.
In the UK: Still not yet acquired, unless Hallmark hasn’t told me something

There are so many cop shows out there that each needs its own gimmick to differentiate itself from the other. The traditional way of doing this is with the lead cop – Columbo, the down-at-heel, working class detective; Ironside, the detective in a wheelchair; Raines, the detective who imagines he can see dead people; and so on.

Life is no different, although it’s always had a confusing focus. On the one hand, Damian Lewis’s Charlie Crews could be ‘the Buddhist detective’, following some intensive reading of Zen books on enlightenment.

“Have you ever shot anyone?” a kid asks him on the subway when he sees Crews’ gun.

“Why would I do that? Violence against another is violence against everyone. Violence against everyone is violence against the self,” replies Crews.

But Crews was framed for a murder he didn’t commit and spent over a decade in jail. He’s picked up some odd skills and tendencies inside; he’s missed out on the Internet and other modern inventions; he’s also a multi-millionaire and a cop again after the lawsuit for wrongful imprisonment was settled. And now he’s out, he wants to find out who framed him then punish them.

“Yes, I have. And they all had it coming,” Crews further explains to the kid.

The ‘Buddhist, ex-con, multi-millionaire, out-of-time detective”? That’s not easy to get a handle on.

With that schizoid attitude, Life has always had a tricky time working out what to do with its life. Should it focus on the cases that Crews solves with his Buddhist insights? Should it focus on Crews or build up the supporting cast of not quite so interesting regular-type people? Should it stick with the general story arc of who framed Crews?

Lots of questions – has it worked out its happy place in the second season, and what is the sound of one hand pressing the buttons on a Nielsen box?

For the most part, Life continues in this season opener as it did last season. Unlike the current crop of new NBC shows (eg Knight Rider), most of last year’s outings were trying to be smart – Life‘s slow but steady, flash-free approach is still pretty much in keeping with that approach. The case Crews and his partner Reese investigate is interesting and as you might expect somehow solvable by a Buddhist insight into the universe. It’s a touch more OTT than last year’s more normal cases, but not much, particularly compared to some of the ones coming later in the season.

The story arc continues as before, but I for one, even though I watched all of last year’s episodes, couldn’t remember a single thing about what had been resolved last season, so was thoroughly confused – heaven help a newbie. So that’s less than gripping, even though they’re clearly moving comic relief Adam Arkin further into the foreground, by having him help Charlie with his quest.

The other background characters are getting more of a look-in too. Sarah Shahi’s Reese is becoming quirkier, mainly thanks to the introduction of a sexually harassing new captain from New York (played by Donal Logue of Knights of Prosperity among other things) to spar with. At times, she feels like she’s channelling The MIddleman‘s Natalie Morales rather than being the crabby former drug addict of the previous season. And Logue’s cheating New Yorker makes an interesting contrast to the very LA Crews.

But it’s still not that gripping. It’s interesting and you come out of the episode thinking, “Hmm. That was well done.” But sticking with it isn’t something that a whole lot of people are going to do, I don’t think, particularly with NBC dancing it around the schedules, since it really doesn’t have the clarity and charisma needed to really endear it to the viewer.

Anyway, Rev reviews the episode elsewhere and he’s promising to review other episodes so at least they’ll have one viewer – and regular Lifers can have somewhere to go to chat about it!

Here are a promo so you know what it’s about.


  • 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.

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