Wednesday, November 14, 2007
"Life" as I know it...
"Chuck" is more fun. "Bionic Woman" has a hotter leading lady. "Journeyman" has gotten far better than I ever would have expected. But of the new NBC shows currently slinking along in the ratings abyss, the one I want to fight to save from the evil clutches of Ben Silverman is "Life."
[I should note that I'm assuming that even Silverman will see the advantages of keeping "Chuck" around assuming the strike ever ends (and I should add that I've written enough general praise for "Chuck" that my support for the show shouldn't be in doubt) and that "Bionic Woman" and "Journeyman" are both dead regardless of what happens.]
Through last week, "Life" has been averaging 8.1 million viewers for the season, but that's a bit of a cheat, since those numbers are inflated by a couple airings after "Bionic Woman" back before "Bionic Woman" went into the tank. That's more viewers per week than "Prison Break," a show that's basically running on fumes (plus a few dozen maniacal fans who scare me), and slightly fewer than "Chuck."
For more thoughts on "Life," follow through after the bump.
If you still find yourself awake after whichever shows you watch in the uber-crowded 9 p.m. hour (I've got "Bionic" and "Gossip Girl" at home and "Criminal Minds" in the office), I recommend you check out tonight's "Life," titled "Farthingale."
It's probably the best "Life" episode of the season, a piece of very, very good semi-procedural drama. It's also the episode that best combines the show's attempts to have both serialized and one-off elements. On one hand, you have Damian Lewis' Charlie Crews and Sarah Shahi's Dani Reese investigating a man who was somehow blasted in half, mirroring the fact that he was also supporting two wives. In addition, though, Charlie is under IAD investigation for the death of the officer who put him in prison.
"Life" hasn't necessarily done a great job at progressing the central mystery of who framed Charlie and wife, though we know it relates to the Bank of Los Angeles shootout, 18 million missing dollars and basically every single member of the LAPD. His Wall of Blame has made for a great metaphorical visual image, but it has never been useful to me in terms of tracing cause and/or effect.
Certain parts of what were supposed to be the show's central mythology have been tossed out or pushed aside. After appearing in the pilot, for example, as Crews' main antagonist, Robin Weigert's Lt. Davis has morphed into just another occasionally disapproving boss (though this week's episode includes a reminder that she wanted Dani to inform on Charlie). Brent Sexton is also good as Charlie's former partner, but he's seemed more and more benign with each passing week and therefore a bit less interesting.
They've also struggled with the integration of Adam Arkin's Ted and Brooke Langton's Constance. Arkin has just been occasional comic relief, though we can just await the episode where Charlie begins to suspect that Ted has embezzled millions of dollars only to discover at the end that he was just reading the signs wrong. And Langton was so marginalized that it looked like she'd been written out as of last week, but she's back in a more constructive context this week.
What Shahi has done more than anything is not held the show back. That sounds like an insult, right? I swear it isn't. I just had a low regard for her as the season began and was pretty confident that if she were as wooden as I'd often thought her before, the show would suffer. While "Powerless" wasn't one of the show's best hours, it was a showcase for Shahi, who got to do more than just treat Crews with scorn.
Where the show has succeeded is in juxtaposing Lewis' wildly eccentric Crews with both Shahi's buttoned down (and yet seriously damaged) Dani and the weekly assortment of odd criminals and witnesses. Thankfully, Crews' quirkiness has slightly diminished, tempering my biggest concern after the so-so pilot. He still loves him some fruit and hardly a week goes by where he isn't astounded by the progression of technology and his Zen approach still causes Dani to roll her eyes, but Lewis -- certainly one of the five best actors on TV at this moment (with various HBO, FX and AMC things off the air) -- keeps him human. When the character is best used, he's just a cop with a different way of looking at the world. Nothing wrong with that.
I've loved Lewis' scenes with a number of guest stars, including the wonderful William Sanderson as a bum with a respect for oral hygiene in "What They Saw."
Part of why I was able to stick with "Without a Trace" through nearly three seasons (alas, I've lost the plot and could never, ever, ever catch up now, I'm sure) was that the slew of character-actor guest stars was superior, nearly of a "Law & Order" caliber. They got veteran actors to do serious work and it kept the procedural aspects of the show intriguing. Part of why none of the "CSIs" have ever held onto me is their generally bland casting. And part of why I periodically watch "Criminal Minds" is to see which comic actor or former child star (Jamie Kennedy this week!!!) will be stalking and killing women this week!
I think "Life" has the potential to be that sort of stunt casting vehicle because what actor wouldn't want to go head-to-head with Lewis, whose character uses intellectual processes to solve his crime, rather than straight forward clue-accumulation detective work. If the show were to continue, I would recommend using the season's fifth episode, "The Fallen Woman," as a template for potential adversaries. Even if his Russian accent occasionally vanished, Garrett Dillahunt's performance as Roman, a mobbed up version of Satan, was so instantly and consistently chilling that I've already suggested to Sepinwall that Dillahunt should be brought back every other week as a recurring villain, the show's Big Bad, if you will. If I am looking forward to "The Terminator Presents: Sarah Connor Chronicles" for one reason, it's to watch Summer Glau kick butt without ever changing her expression, but if I'm looking forward to it for a second reason it's that Dillahunt is at least recurring and possibly a regular.
Speaking of character actors I like seeing, do we prefer Patrick Fabian as a killer or just as a red herring, because he's pretty much settled into a career path where the second he appears on screen, I either assume he's a murderer ("Pushing Daisies"), a distraction from the real murderer (last night's "Bones") or that he's both a distraction and a murderer (wasn't that sortta what happened on "Veronica Mars"?).
Anyway, enough rambling. Watch "Life." That way you can be disappointed when it's cancelled.