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Reviewed by Will Harris
hen “Life” first premiered on NBC as part of the network’s 2007 – 2008 season, it seemed like an interesting premise: a police officer who was falsely arrested for murder is cleared by DNA evidence after spending 12 years in prison, and, after receiving a sizable financial settlement to help make up for his false imprisonment, rejoins the force mostly so that he can find the real killer. The problem was that the lead character, Officer Charlie Crews (Damien Lewis), seemed to be quirky for the sake of being quirky. Unfortunately, those who tuned out because of his eccentricities weren’t around to discover that the series soon found its groove, turning Charlie into one of the more intriguing members of broadcast television’s law enforcement community.
It was highly disappointing for the remaining fans of “Life” when they were forced to endure a shortened first season due to the writer’s strike, but the greatest insult of all came when the show came back for its sophomore year, turned in this brilliant collection of episodes, and received only cancellation for their trouble. There was a certain amount of good news in the fact that the creators had enough forewarning to be able to wrap up Charlie’s story and not leave the show’s dedicated viewers stuck with a cliffhanger, but it’s still mild consolation when you consider how well-developed the show’s characters had become in only two short years.
The most obvious difference between Seasons One and Two of “Life” is the addition of Donal Logue to the cast as Captain Kevin Tidwell, who’s placed in charge of Charlie and his partner, Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi). When the season kicks off, it’s immediately clear that Tidwell isn’t going to be the typical hard-ass police captain, though it does briefly look like he’s going to be panting over Reese. What wasn’t necessarily expected, however, was that a relationship would soon develop between Tidwell and Reese. It might’ve pissed off those who’d been pining for the day when Charlie and Reese would find love together, but, c’mon, that was always going to be way too easy for a show with the kind of unique sensibilities that this one has. (Besides, when was the last time you saw partners on a cop show hook up and actually have it work out?)
The characters who were established during the first season continue to be fleshed out in Season Two. Ted Earley (Adam Arkin), Charlie’s former prison buddy, is now teaching at a college and continues to long for the love of Charlie’s father’s fiancée, Olivia (Christina Hendricks); by the end of the series, we’re given the impression that it’s not impossible that the two could finally have ended up together – or maybe that’s just the optimist in me. Officer Bobby Stark (Brent Sexton), Charlie’s pre-prison partner of the force, has gotten over all of the issues that the two suffered through in Season One, so they continue to rebuild their friendship. And of course, between her interactions with Tidwell and the way her father ties into Charlie’s story, we learn quite a lot more about Reese before all is said and done, though she goes all but invisible during the end of the season. It’s the result of Shahi’s real-life pregnancy, but the decision to allow for her absence by creating an FBI-related storyline was genius. Even with all of the developments with the other characters, however, “Life” remains predominantly about Charlie Crews. The relationship between Charlie and his ex-wife, Jennifer, is particularly interesting, since it’s easy to imagine the difficulty someone would face when they have a wonderful present but are constantly reminded that the past was great, too, but those who followed the tale of Mickey Rayborn and Roman Nevikov were witness to some seriously great television.
There’s been little discussion in this review about the various individual cases that Crews and Reese investigated during the courses of Season Two, but that should in no way be taken as a dismissal of their importance. They’re all great in their own way – music fans will particularly love “Mirror Ball,” which focuses on a heavy-metal cover band whose resemblance to KISS is possibly not coincidental, and the highly enjoyable “Black Friday” takes place in a mall on the busiest shopping day of the year – but really, “Life” offers such well-written characters that the locations they visit were almost incidental to the success of the show. As noted above, it’s great that fans were given the opportunity to see the series come to a decent conclusion – unlike “Pushing Daisies,” the wrap-up doesn’t feel at all forced – but all things being equal, what we really would’ve preferred was to see “Life” go on.
Special Features: The five discs are fleshed out with audio commentaries from various members of the cast and crew, deleted scenes, and a gag reel.