Monday, 3 November 2008

Life, ITV3, 30 Oct

I know this is a few days late, but I finally caught up with the first episode of this US import and thought I'd give it a quick review.

The premise is set up very quickly and efficiently in the first couple of minutes; Detective Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis) is released from a high-security prison after serving 12 years for a crime he didn't commit. He studies Zen philosophy intensely while incarcerated, so when he is released and reinstated to the LAPD, he has a radically different viewpoint from his colleagues.

In fact, the opening couple of minutes offer an impressive lesson in rolling out the big questions and theme of a show. We get a very real sense of the ordeal a convicted cop would undergo while in prison, and instantly ask ourselves how this will have affected Crews, both physically and mentally. It's also mentioned casually that he was exonerated because the 'physical evidence didn't match'; this implies that he was framed, prompting us to wonder who and why?

As we move into the story proper, we also get a tangible sense of his detachment, with subjective camera work and POV shots drawing us into his sense of being constantly watched. However, there is a slight clash of tone when several people in his circle (ex-wife, attorney, former police partner) give documentary-style interviews to camera and discuss what happened to Crews. I've a feeling this might disappear in the rest of the series, like the vox pop interviews in the early episodes of Sex and the City.

The pilot episode employs the effective technique of using the 'story of the week' to leverage the exposition; a child is murdered during a botched scam to sell him information that would apparently quash the conviction of his imprisoned father. The investigation sends Crews back into prison – as a cop rather than a con – creating natural opportunities for him to encounter people from his past and to reflect on his experiences.

While Crew's Zen-inspired approach to detective work and Damien Lewis's flinty-yet-fragile portrayal of the cop are refreshing, there are still some aspects of the series that seem familiar: the beautiful-but-ballsy partner with problems of her own, the hardass boss, the sexual tension with his foxy lawyer, the still-to-be-worked-out relationship with his ex-wife. His befuddlement at modern technology such as the Internet and mobile phones could also get a bit old. However, Life offers an original twist on the Unorthodox Cop strand, with the overarching question of who stitched him up promising to pull the viewer along.

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