12.05.2007

Doing Life

The Angry Young Bostonian takes television-watching very seriously. It provides an escape from the mundaneness of the workday; it keeps the mind off the monotony of running on a treadmill; it gives a frame a reference when reading columns and columns of commentary about TV online.

Most shows that debuted in September have now broadcast over 25% of their episodes and it's time to check in with what works, what doesn't work, what still has a season pass on the DVR and what doesn't deserve disk space.

Some of the shows reviewed are returning series, others are in their freshman year. All reviews are written after the viewing of the fifth episode.

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Since The Bionic Woman is in its first season, we'll pass judgment via the categorization route:

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Cop shows really are a dime-a-dozen, so every one of them needs to have some kind of element that keeps viewers coming back. Life doesn't necessarily turn the genre on the ear, but it certainly does tweak it.

What it's about: Charlie Crews (Damien Lewis) is a ex-murder convict, recently released from jail based on new evidence and several million dollars richer thanks to a wrongful conviction lawsuit. Oh yeah, he's also a cop and decides he'd like nothing better to do than rejoin the force and find out who framed him in the first place. He's paired with a younger partner, Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi) who has some personal demons of her own in the form of past drug and alcohol addictions. Charlie is treated almost persona-non-grata by his other co-workers who still see him as a blight upon their reputations as cops and detectives. Living with Charlie is Ted Early (Adam Arkin) a former CEO who was put in jail for insider trading. He manages Charlie's settlement money. Charlie is something of a Zen nut, having spent several years in the pen with nothing to read except for The Path to Zen for nine years.

Thoughts after the pilot: Damien Lewis does a good job as a nutball cop who spouts Zen sayings at crime scenes, but lacks the intensity of someone who is hoping to take down his framers from the inside -- maybe it's the Zen keeping him calm. Adam Arkin is great as Charlie's befuddled sidekick, performing odd jobs for him like buying orange groves and doing research on solar power arrays. The long-term plot of Charlie figuring out who framed him for murder will probably involve all other cast members in some huge season finale twist. A lot of critics compared Life to House, except besides the main characters thinking out-of-the-box, they are completely different in all aspects.

Your typical episode includes: A murder/rape/hate crime is performed and Charlie and Dani are put on the case -- 42 minutes later the murders/rapist/hater is nabbed, usually though the non-conventional, Zen methods of Detective Crewes. Charlie also covertly spends part of the time digging deeper into the conspiracy to keep him locked up.

Long-term subplot: On the wall in Crewes's walk-in closet there is a large flowchart of exactly how Charlie was put in jail and who is involved -- several of the pictures are of current cast members, with new additions being put on the wall every week, depending on the information Charlie uncovers.

What's good:
  • Damien Lewis and his Zen work, but not much else does.
What's not good:
  • Except for Arkin and Lewis, the rest of the cast is pretty vanilla.
  • Not enough Arkin -- Ted's relationship with Charlie takes place completely outside of everything else.
  • The week-to-week stories are predictable, even when Charlie Crewes's Zen monkey wrench is thrown in.
  • The conspiracy plot moves at a snail's pace.
Thoughts after five episodes: It's definitely a show that will keep my mind off the pain of running on a treadmill, but I don't see how they can make the conspiracy story last the entire series.

Catch up here.

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Bottom line: When is a procedural not a procedural? When it's Life.

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