“Life”, and its male lead Damian Lewis, are goddamn fantastic, which probably translates into the show having a very short shelf life on network TV. Shows this good just don’t last, which speaks more to the crappy taste of the American TV public than to the cast and crew of “Life.” Then again, Charlie Crews could exist in that special bubble that allows for unique characters like Doctor Gregory House on FOX’s hit “House”, so who knows, maybe my pessimism about the show’s future is unwarranted. I certainly hope so.
Damian Lewis is Charlie Crews, a police officer wrongly convicted of a murder he did not commit. After a 12-year stint in prison, a sentence filled with solitary confinement, frequent trips to the infirmary, and 100s of stitches courtesy of his fellow inmates (cops don’t do prison time in peace, in case you were wondering), Charlie has been released from prison when evidence exonerates him. He did not do it, but someone sure wanted to make it seem like he did. Prison took 12 years from Charlie’s life, his badge, his wife, and nearly his sanity; but while in prison, he discovered Zen meditation, and now back on the streets (courtesy of a major civil suit settlement with the LAPD) and back on the force, Charlie Crews is determined to do his job as a cop — while trying to find the people who framed him.
As the pilot opens, it is Charlie’s first day back on the force, and he’s just been tagged with a new partner in the no-nonsense Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi), who is none too happy about her “promotion”. Their first case together involves a young boy murdered under a bridge, and the only witness is the boy’s dog. The progressions Charlie and Dani goes through to solve the case has less to do with the murder than it does Charlie’s philosophy and Dani’s baggage. Rand Ravich’s script pops, and co-stars Lewis and Shahi bounces off each other effortlessly.
We also meet Charlie’s small circle of friends: his lawyer, the beautiful Constance Griffith (Brooke Langton), with whom Charlie shares a perspective all their own; his friend Ted Early (Adam Arkin), a former ex-con whose life Charlie saved when the two were in prison, and who now runs Charlie’s settlement money; and there’s Charlie’s ex-wife Jennifer (Jennifer Siebel), who we see in interview segments, one of the pilot’s conceit to introduce us to Charlie’s history and frame job. In a funny bit, Charlie leaves behind his Zen momentarily when he chases down and tickets his ex-wife’s new husband for improper lane changing.
Charlie seems to have survived his 12-year prison stint in relatively good shape. He talks in Zen riddles, seems uninhibited, and breaks police regulations on a whim. It drives Dani Reese crazy, but also provides the show with a lot of comedy. The pilot works because Damian Lewis as Charlie Crews works. Sarah Shahi’s character also helps “Life” detour from the usual grind of cop shows. These two are very complex individuals, and their separate histories should prove interesting to explore.
And who exactly framed Charlie, and why? Those are questions for another day. Charlie will tell you he’s left it all behind him, but he’s lying…
David Semel (director) / Rand Ravich (screenplay)
CAST: Damian Lewis … Charlie Crews
Sarah Shahi … Dani Reese
Brooke Langton … Constance Griffith
Jennifer Siebel … Jennifer Conover
Matt Gerald … Krebbs
Adam Arkin … Ted Early