“Vengeance is a dark light that blinds all who seek it.”
NBC. All season 1 episodes free at Hulu. Starring Damian Lewis, Sarah Shahi, Robin Weigert, Brooke Langton, Brent Sexton and Adam Arkin.
A few years ago, after the runaway success of CSI, crime procedurals were all the rage and soon there were so many forgettable CSI or Law and Order spin-offs and rip-offs filling the airwaves. Then came the next sensation, thanks to Lost, serial dramas like Vanished and Kidnapped and whatever else, of which very few made it past season 1, or even through season 1.
Now, apparently, networks are combining the two, figuring they can get the best of both worlds, and NBC’s drama Life is a perfect example. Much like another last TV series I reviewed, New Amsterdam, every week there’s a new mystery that gets wrapped up by the end of episode (yay, short-attention spans!) but there’s also an ongoing story that drives the plot of the series (yay, passionate fanbase!). It’s actually very similar to New Amsterdam, except for the whole, living forever thing — each show’s main character is a homicide detective trying to solve a life mystery, paired with a tough minority female partner with a cop father, with a comic relief sidekick in his personal life and an elusive love interest.
In this case, detective Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis, or Winters from Band of Brothers as I like to think of him) has just been released from prison after spending 12 years behind bars for a triple-murder he didn’t commit. The season arc focuses on him trying to find the real killer and who set him up and why and dealing of course, with his adjustment to a new world. The latter consists of him trying to gain the trust of his fellow officers and also lame gags like him not knowing what an IM is. He has come out of prison with a new Zen-like mentality and a love for light and fruit, and all three are hammered home somewhat annoyingly (though they do tone it down as the season progresses).
His new partner, Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi, or that girl Tony sleeps with in Vegas on The Sopranos) is a recovering alcoholic who is annoyed by Crews, but of course, becomes loyal in the face of dissent from her colleagues, especially their boss (Weigert). His old partner (Sexton), still a beat cop, is racked by guilt for helping put Crews away in the first place and somehow finds himself at every one of their crime scenes, despite the fact that L.A. is a huge city of ten million. His sidekick is a white-collar criminal he befriended in prison (Arkin) who now manages his huge settlement from the city, as procured by his lawyer/love interest (Langton).
Much as with New Amsterdam the procedurals are pretty hit-or-miss and mostly forgettable while the most interesting part of each show is the season-long plot. The shows feature more of Crews trying to solve his own mystery are the better ones, as he slowly puts the pieces together on his wall o’ conspiracy in a back room in his new big mansion.
Damian Lewis is good and gets better as the season goes on, and his voice gets a lot less annoying after the pilot. Plus, he’s Winters, and I’ll always give him the benefit of the doubt. Arkin is amusing as the sidekick, but hasn’t had much screen time except for a throwaway plot with Christina Hendricks of Mad Men. Shahi is actually pretty convincing and her character is interesting, and Langton does a good job with her limited screen time and has good chemistry with Lewis. Weigert doesn’t have much of a role as their lieutenant, and apparently they’re bringing in Donal Logue next year as the precinct captain, so that will cut into her role some more.
They do provide a fair amount of closure in the best and final episode of the season (just in case they got cancelled, I guess) which is nice, but now I find it hard to imagine what season 2 is going to be about. However, with the promise of Crews’ secret room and his grand diagram of the conspiracy, the actual answers weren’t very interesting.
Overall, if you like procedurals, you’d do worse than Life or New Amsterdam, which at least have something else going for it besides the fairly predictable murder plots every week. And with Life, there will definitely be a season 2, and with both you can watch all the episodes for free at hulu.com.