A late season addition to the NBC lineup, Life won critics over with its unique characters and the way they interacted with each other, not to mention the reasons behind character Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis) having such a strange personality. Although it ran a short eleven episodes, the series is poised to return with another thirteen in its second season, something fans of the show are understandably elated about. Despite not being one of NBC’s biggest hits, if they wait it out just a bit longer, Life may just win over more viewers with its fantastic writing and characters.
Charlie Crews, accused and framed for a triple murder, was sentenced to life for a crime he didn’t commit. Twelve years into his sentence DNA evidence proved that he wasn’t the man responsible for the killings and was set free—along with a plea bargain that included the (reported) sum of $50 million and a return to the police department. While Charlie slowly works out who is behind the framing and murder of his friends, he gets to work on a variety of cases that show off his work as a detective…as well as some cases that have the police force questioning his innocence. With newfound wealth, the only thing keeping Charlie on the job is that he knows he can make a difference and that he is, when you cut straight to it, just a good cop.
By the time Life premiered I was neck deep in about twenty other shows on television and didn’t feel like committing to another. Plus, NBC didn’t exactly paint it as an incredibly fascinating show with their promos that just showed Charlie off as another typical detective “bad ass.” Still, I had a friend nagging me to watch the show so I decided to take the plunge and, as usual with his recommendations, he was right. The show really was fantastic in just about all ways and by the end of the pilot, I found myself camped out in front of my TV for the next seven hours as I devoured the remaining ten episodes. Yes…I watched Life in one day and still wanted more. Granted, it was only eleven episodes (cut short by, yes, the writers’ strike. Man I get tired of saying that in these TV show DVD reviews…), but every one of them was engaging and I was even wrapped up in the pilot within a few minutes, which is often quite rare.
So what makes the series so good? Well, the character of Charlie Crews is just so refreshing. He’s a bit eclectic but still has that side of revenge that one would expect after being wrongly accused for a crime, everyone thinking you did it and then suddenly walking away. There was drama all around the show, but it was handled in a reasonable manner so that it wasn’t crammed down our throats. Early episodes had people recognizing Crews as the man exonerated, while later ones had that peter off and instead replace it with people from Crews past coming back (his ex-wife, his old partner). On top of this is his obsession with fruit and his new partner, Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi) who simultaneously hates and loves Crews.
Watching the series in such short manner, I was quick to pick up on the changes that occurred after the early episodes. Although still in the series, Charlie’s obsession with fruit dwindled. I suppose this can be attributed to him having his fill, but it was just such a large part of his character in the early episodes that by the time it was brought back in the final few you wondered if the writers suddenly forgot about that side of his character. On top of that the series often repeated the flash back bits and the one in particular with the original detective assigned Crews case would just repeat a couple times an episode and was in at least every one of the episodes there for a good stretch of them. Thankfully it eventually stopped, but it felt like each episode was being written as if the viewer hadn’t seen the last. It was a little bit too repetitious.
Moving on past that I had no other problem with the show and became quite invested in it during the last disc of the set. Occasionally the series felt like it would shift its focus away from Charlie, which was fine at first until I realized that this was still the first season and the last thing it should be doing is shifting its focus away from the main character. Still, it’s hard to be too rough on the show as it is so very entertaining and engaging to watch. While viewing all of the episodes, I began to realize that Crews is like a mix of a less cynical House (House, M.D.) and a less intense Jack Bauer (24). That is to say he’s a really watered down version of two very extreme characters, but it works. He’s someone that is both likeable and relatable, and that alone makes the show such a treat to watch.
While I think they should’ve stretched out the mystery a bit longer, the series still looks to have a promising second season, so I won’t complain too much about the early resolution. Overall a very good show that comes Highly Recommended, although repeat viewings may be a bit less interesting.
Universal releases the first season on DVD in a standard three disc set, with the discs housed individually in their own trays in a digi-pak set that slides inside of a reflective foil slipcase, with rather generic (i.e., mirrored surface) disc art on the inside. An insert advertising the next season is included and the menus for the set are simple and easy to navigate, with a bit of animation and music on the main menu. Video for the series is a very strong 1.78:1 transfer with a solid amount of depth and fantastic facial detail. This show probably would look great in HD, but seeing as I never saw it as such during its original broadcast, I can’t compare the two. The audio, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, utilizes surrounds quite well and you’ll definitely hear some rear action going on during the high intensity moments of the series.
The set is a bit light on extras on the outset, but once you dig into the discs you see that there is not only quite a few commentaries to sort through, but a bit of extras to watch on the second disc as well. First up are deleted scenes on the first two discs, with a couple of scenes from “Let Her Go” (1:15) and another round on “A Civil War” (0:51). The commentaries start off right away on the first disc and include:
• “Merit Badge” with creator/executive producer Rand Ravich, Executive Producers, Far Sharlat and Dan Sackheim and Series Stars Damian Lewis and Sarah Shahi
• “Farthingale” Commentary with Creator/Executive Producer Rand Ravich and Executive Producers Far Shariat and Dan Sackheim
• “Serious Control Issues” Commentary with Creator/Executive Producer Rand Ravich and Executive Producers Far Shariat, and Series Star Adam Arkin
• “Dig a Hole” Commentary with Creator/Executive Producer Rand Ravich and Executive Producers Far Shariat and Dan Sackheim, and Series Star Damian Lewis and Sarah Shahi
• “Fill It Up” Commentary with Creator/Executive Producer Dan Sackheim, and Series Star Damian Lewis and Sarah Shahi
The commentaries are all quite insightful, although I particularly enjoyed the final two as we got the two series stars in on the action to hear their thoughts on it all.
Disc two houses the rest of the standard bonus content and includes a rather explicit (in language) Blooper Reel (1:04), a short “Life Begins” (8:19) making-of, a “Multi Angle of Deleted Scene” (1:59) that includes four different angles of a scene (final, behind-the-scenes, etc.), “Fruits of Life” (0:46), a discussion on the fruits of the show, “Still Life” (“Life In Action Slideshow” (0:48), “‘Fallen Woman’ Slideshow” (1:24), “‘Close to Mint’ Slideshow” (0:40)), a series of still photos set to music from the show and, finally, “Life’s Questions Answers” (5:26). Be smart and don’t be like me and attempt to watch these extras as you watch the series, as that final featurettes, as one would guess, spoils some of the final episodes and you likely don’t want that. So save the second disc extras until the very end unless you want the seasons entertaining finale ruined for you.
Overall it’s a bit light on the extras and what we do get is rather fluffy in nature. Still, the five commentaries are nice, especially the ones on the final four episodes. The show isn’t something you’re likely to watch again and again, but the set still comes Recommended.
Life: Season One arrives on DVD on September 2nd.