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September 26, 2007 |

By Seth Freilich | TV | September 26, 2007 |

When I sit around late at night and think about what kind of new show I’d like on TV, I always come back to one thing — procedurals. “You know,” I think, “it just seems like there are no procedurals on the tube anymore. I mean, this fall, NBC only has one — one, I tell you — ‘Law and Order’ series airing. What the hell?” And as if it read my mind, NBC now brings us “Life,” yet another procedural.

A quick aside. Because I’m so tuned into the world of television (for better or worse), I tend to assume that everyone knows what I mean when I throw around TV lingo like calling something a “procedural.” But I was recently talking to someone about “Life,” and when I said that it was yet … another … procedural, the response was, “What’s a procedural?” So, if you’re asking yourself the same thing, here’s the simple answer: it’s all the “Law & Orders” and “CSIs.” Shows that focus on cops and detectives and investigators and the procedure of their case-making process. Procedurals make up one third of the trilogy of fallbacks the networks invariably turn to each year (the other two members being, of course, doctor and lawyer shows). Now the networks try to distinguish each procedural from the next, which is why we see a show like “K-Ville” being set in post-Katrina New Orleans, or why last year’s “Raines” featured a detective who talked to hallucinations of the murder victims.

“Life’s” take on the whole procedural thing is to focus on a detective, Charlie Crews (played by Damian Lewis), who had been slapped with a life sentence only to be released from Pelican Bay 12 years later after the case was reopened and folks discovered that — whoops! — none of the physical evidence actually matched Crews. As a result of this little “ooops, our bad,” Crews is well known from all the press coverage (folks deridingly refer to him as the “celebrity detective”), and he’s now rather wealthy thanks to a plush financial settlement from the city. Oh, and he’s quirky. He eats lots of fruit, and his time in jail has given him a very leveled Zen take on life, which leads to him frequently blurting out wise these, thats and the others. If this sounds a little precious, well, it is. But Lewis (who has lifetime cred with me after his amazing portrayal of Major Dick Winters in “Band of Brothers”) is talented enough to mostly pull it off. His character won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but Winters does enough with the role that the character of Detective Charlie Crews isn’t the reason I will not be coming back for the second episode.

Instead, the reason “Life” will have a rather short one for this viewer is because the rest of the show is relatively rote and mundane — been there too many times and done that more than is healthy. I’m writing this portion of the review without the notes I took while watching the episode, as they’re about 2,600 miles away at the moment, and although I watched that episode less than a week ago, I absolutely cannot tell you one single thing about the central murder mystery — I don’t remember who the victim was or how things turned out, although I do recall being relatively unimpressed with the wrap-up. And if this show has a quick downfall, this seems the most likely reason why; because a procedural must have, above and beyond just about everything else, interesting detecting/investigating storylines.

Now, to be fair, there is a little more to the show than just the crime-of-the-week. First, there are a host of uninteresting side characters. Robin Weigart (oh Calamity Jane, how I miss you!) plays Detective Crews’ police lieutenant, and she’s just looking for a reason to get rid of Crews, roping in his partner (played relatively serviceably by Sarah Shahi) as an accomplice in these efforts. And Adam Arkin plays Crews’ financial advisor — the two met in prison, as Arkin’s character was a CEO sent to the clink because of insider trading — who also happens to now live in Crews’ garage. And there’s a former partner, and an ex-wife and a lawyer and blahbitty-blah.

Second, there is spectacularly bad dialogue. Crews’ lawyer, for example, has this wonderful gem: “Life was his sentence, and life is what he got back.” Or there’s this clich├ęd line from his partner: “If you get jammed up for this, I get jammed up for this.” Or the following conversation, intended to show that Crews’ time in the clink has given him some deep insight into the criminal mind:

Criminal: Yeah, I got enemies, but none that would touch my son.
Crews’ Partner: Why is that?
Crews: ‘Cause everyone’s got family.
Criminal: That’s right. Everyone.

Third, there are the tiring gimmicks. I already mentioned the fact that everyone he meets pulls some form of the “aren’t you that cop” business. And it’s already old by the end of the first episode. Ditto that for the fact that much of modern life, like cell phones and instant messaging, are foreign forms of “science fiction” for Crews, who suddenly finds himself living in the future. And the show may also make a running gag of Crews harassing his ex-wife’s new man (he pulls the guy over in the first episode for a ticky-tacky driving violation), and that, too, will get old right quick. There are also “documentary style” segments of the show, when we get insight from all those side characters, and while that actually worked fine in the pilot, it just feels like another thing that will tire over the course of a season.

And yet, even with all these complaints, it’s actually not a horrible show. It’s just not anything special. If you’re looking for yet another procedural, I suppose you could do worse. As for me, I know I won’t keep watching because I barely made it through this first episode — while watching it, I found myself repeatedly putting it on pause to take care of other things. In fact, you might say that I was allowing real life to interfere with my watching of “Life.” …See what I did there? That’s what this show has done to me.

“Life” premieres on NBC tonight at 10 p.m.

Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television editor. His favorite part of the show might’ve been the fact that a girl was listed in the credits as “Very Pretty Girl.”

Zen and the Art of Here We Go Again

"Life" / The TV Whore
Sept. 26, 2007

TV | September 26, 2007 |

Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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