As I wrote a few weeks ago, "Life" has been growing on me, and last night's episode was just a strong hour of dramatic television. There are way, way too many cop shows right now, and it's almost impossible for a procedural story to stand out amidst that clutter, but the story of Mister Farthingale (or Misters Farthing and Gale, if you prefer) got my attention and kept it. It wasn't just background noise while Damian Lewis did his quirky Zen/fruit thing; it was intrinsically tied to his thing. While another cop show could have done this story, they wouldn't have done it in quite this way. If, in a hypothetical world where the strike wasn't taking place and "Life" wasn't almost certainly destined to be canceled once it ends, I were the showrunner hiring prospective writers, I'd hand them a copy of this episode and say, "This is what our show is."
I think the early episodes suffered from the writers' need to establish not just the premise, but the ways in which Charlie Crews is an unusual detective. So we got more fruit, more Zen koans, more of Reese and Lt. Calamity Jane butting heads with him over his unorthodox approach, etc. They laid all that stuff on with a trowel, and while it may have been necessary, the show has been a lot more interesting now that the writers and the other characters treat Charlie's quirks as a fact of life. They're not in awe of him, but they're also not trying to get him booted off the force every five seconds. (The scene where the lieutenant reminded Reese of their conversation from the pilot did a respectable job of reframing it as a legitimate concern and not just an eeeeevil conspiracy.) So when a weird case like this comes along that plays so well into the way Charlie's mind works, the bickering and eye-rolling comes at a minimum. And without those distractions, it was easier to focus on things like the lovely but disturbing image of the bisected Farthingale, or the constant parallel conversations with the two wives, or the other interesting things going on in this case.
I also think the arc stuff is getting better. In the main, I'm bored stiff with grand conspiracy stories, and the Wall of Blame (as Fienberg calls it) is getting awfully crowded. But this one feels like a genuine mystery with a genuine plan -- helped by the fact that, unlike a "Prison Break," the series can continue even after the conspiracy story wraps up -- so even though I don't expect to get a solution before these 13 episodes are over, the steps along the way have been intriguing. And making Brooke Langton's character a sympathetic DA finally gives her a useful role to play on the show instead of the woman who just pines after Charlie.
Speaking of Fienberg, he wrote a Save "Life" post over at his blog, in which he looks back to the Russsian mob episode as another template the show might use in a different Nielsen world:
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.What did everybody else think?