A Toast to the Greatest Cop Show Time Forgot
by Karen Han – The Daily Beast – September 30, 2017
Happy 10th, ‘Life’
On its tenth anniversary, it only seems fair to give ‘Life’ another day in court.
Life is a difficult name to live up to. There’s the board game, there’s the cereal, there’s the thing itself—and then there’s the TV show. The series, created by Rand Ravich, ran for two seasons and a total of 32 episodes from September 2007 to April 2009. Over the course of its run, it didn’t quite seem to gain any real traction; much of what was said about it was less original observation and more comparison to other shows, specifically Monk and House, which also followed a procedural structure and featured a straight man/weird man routine. Unfortunately, Life hasn’t fared much better in the decade that’s passed since the pilot. The only context in which it’s been mentioned has—in a stroke of irony—been in reference to its generic name. But even just a quick survey of the show will make it clear that Life is far from generic.
The show centered on Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis), a detective recently reinstated after serving 12 years out of a life sentence for a triple murder he didn’t commit. He was partnered with Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi), a recovering alcoholic and drug addict working her way back into the good graces of the department. While the show followed the typical “cop show” template of solving a murder each week, it also set up a larger arc: that of Crews’ solo investigation into who’d actually committed the triple murder, and why he’d been set up to take the fall.
Straight off the bat, Life set itself apart from the rest of the procedural crowd in that it dealt with incarceration on a deeper level than simply putting its villains behind bars. In part, this was due to the fact that the two lead detectives constantly returned to Pelican Bay State Prison—where Crews himself had served his time—to speak to the inmates about ongoing cases as well as Crews’ past. It was also built naturally into the narrative, as Crews’ incarceration and its effect on his mental and physical state was a constant point of contention for everyone around him. Much of the first season hinged on the police lieutenant attempting to get Reese to file reports on Crews’ “improper” behavior in an effort to get him off the force again, as well as Crews’ slow reintegration into society after having lost his wife and his friends while in prison.
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