Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"Let Her Go" - Life, episode 1.3

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I'm pleased to have the opportunity to write weekly about this fall's most quietly winning show, NBC's Life. We're now three episodes into the season, so a quick recap is in order to bring everyone up to speed.

Los Angeles: Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis) is a police officer recently exonerated after twelve years in prison for murder. Charlie's settlement from the city affords him the chance to live in luxury with the company of his boarder/financial adviser Ted (Adam Arkin). Charlie (now an fan of Zen) has opted not to furnish his new home, no doubt preferring the open rooms to the confinement of his cell. In the first two episodes much is also made of Charlie's compulsive consumption of fruit. (Again, I'm guessing there isn't much fresh fruit available in prison) I was all set to start a weekly index of the fruits mentioned on Life but tonight Charlie kept his feelings to himself. I'm pretty sure I saw him working on a candy apple at one point, though.

The other part of Charlie's settlement returns him to the police force with a detective's badge. Charlie is assigned to partner with Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi), whose history of alcohol abuse and compulsive sex hasn't endeared her to the brass. Dani is expected to report any non-by-the-book behavior of Charlie's to a lieutenant (Robin Weigert of Deadwood) who seems to have something invested in getting Charlie off the force.

So there are two layers to Life. Charlie and Dani work a homicide each week, each learning to trust the other. Tonight's case involved a woman shot in her car and a husband (Charles Malik Whitfield) who can't remember anything. A witness points Dani and Charlie to a 500-pound Samoan named Manny (Tyler Tuione) who carjacked the victims. There's a stylishly filmed chase scene in which Charlie, after having his hearing knocked out by a "flashbang," runs down Manny and then almost gets into a knife fight before Dani intervenes. The knife (against LAPD regulations) leads to an interesting moment between the partners. Dani confiscates the knife from Charlie but later lies to the lieutenant to protect him. Charlie, having none of it, owns up to having the blade.

The conclusion to this case is sadder and more human than many cop shows would have played it; it reminded me of something we'd see on Without A Trace. Manny gets his comeuppance with the help of some Latino car freaks. Sarah Shahi didn't have as much to do this week as in the first two episodes, but she does some great underplaying in a garage scene when she's told one of the guys who knows Manny's whereabouts wants to airbrush her on to his car.

The other part of Life, the "mythology" if you will, involves who set Charlie up twelve years ago. Last week we learned that there was a witness to the murder- a young girl - Charlie went down for that the cops left out of the report. Charlie confronts the detective who nailed him (Roger Aaron Brown), which may violate the terms of his settlement. He goes so far as to pull a traffic stop on his remarried ex and her husband (which he also pulled in the pilot) to see if she knows the girl's location, since the murder victim was a family friend. There's a room in Charlie's house with one of those only-in-cop-show flow charts about the twelve year old murder, which features Charlie's lieutenant among others. We'll be watching this storyline play out all season.

There's enough stand-alone stuff in Life that one could dip in and out week-to-week. But you'd miss Lewis' bone-dry performance and the rapport he and Shahi have going. I haven't checked the ratings, but if there's any justice Life will knock out Dirty Sexy Money and stick around on Wednesday nights.

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