Thursday, November 29, 2007

Life: Orange man

Quick spoilers for "Life" coming up just as soon as I order personal pineapples for everyone on my Christmas and Chanukah lists...

In my review of the last episode to air, two weeks ago, I wrote:
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."

Based on the show's pleasantly surprising back nine (or whatever) pick-up earlier in the week, I was wrong on the first end of that run-on sentence. Based on last night's episode -- which followed the "Farthingale" template to a T, with a beautiful tableau of a dead body, a case with personal parallels for Crews, and more intensity on the frame-up job -- I would guess that the "Life" staff dug "Farthingale" as much as I did.

I liked how, as with last nights "Pushing Daisies," the Murder of the Week turned out to be, if not beside the point, than not the emotional center of the episode. The murder case had its interesting moments -- the aforementioned tableau, Crews and Reese busting in on the kitten farm, the killer (played by Michael Gladis from "Mad Men") swallowing the guitar pick and looking every bit the cat that ate the canary when he was finished -- but the heart was in Crews' reading of the kidnapped boy's situation and his recognition of how they both had large chunks of their lives stolen away. (Not sure who's worse off; Charlie was old enough to understand what was being done to him, but at least he remembers his pre-prison life, where the kid's real mom is going to be a stranger to him.)

And it can't be said enough how much I enjoy watching Damian Lewis work. He's so at ease with himself that you understand why those runaways might talk to Crews even without the offer of the fruit, or why Reese would agree to give him back the knife and side with Charlie against her father. But then there are those moments when he gets his back up -- either with the kidnapper dad in the apartment, or when he sees Jack Reese enter the station with the manila envelope -- and you understand perfectly what prison did to him. I almost don't care about the plots anymore -- even though they've gotten much better since the first few episodes when I was ready to punt the show -- because I just want to see what Lewis is going to do next.

It seems as if Crews' rogue investigation is nearing a point where he either has to uncover the conspiracy or get booted off the force. I'm agnostic about that story arc's value, but I know some of you have said that's the main reason you're watching. Based on the improvement on the episodic stuff over the last month or so, would you still be as engaged with "Life" if we quickly find out who framed Charlie and why?

10 comments:

BigTed said...

While I don't really care who framed Crews, I agree that his investigation into the conspiracy offers a different side of his personality -- a much angrier side than we get to see normally.

It was interesting when Reese asked Crews why he didn't just retire to a life of luxury, given how rich he is. I would have liked to see him follow up by asking her why she didn't just marry someone rich or become a supermodel, given that she looks like one.

M.A.Peel said...

I will definitely be interested in continuing with Mr. Crewes after he solves the murder/frame mystery. His new life should be like an onion, where the writers continue to peel into deeper layers of how much damage is done to a person by this kind of experience.

(Alan, the top line link of "click here to read full post and comment" seems to be missing on this post. If you don't know to click the time for the permalink, you can't read your text.)

John the Editor said...

Alan, I like everything you like about "Life," and like you, I'm drinking in every episode until its anticipated cancellation. I was disappointed, though, by Crews and his partner's obtuseness on certain points (spoilers): the possibility that the kid's dad wasn't his dad; the absence of grown cats in the apartment. I'm not a cop, and I don't think I'm more clever than other people, but I did wonder about those two things immediately, and I think good cops would have, too, particularly with the kid and his "dad."

Remember that ham-handed episode of the original "Star Trek" where the last two survivors of a planet's races are at pointless war, and 45 minutes in they reveal why they hate each other--one is black on the LEFT side and white on the RIGHT, and the other is black on the RIGHT side and white on the LEFT? Even Spock supposedly never noticed this until it was pointed out to him, which contradicted everything the show had previously demonstrated about Spock's powers of observation and deduction. But the writers had to make Spock not notice so that the viewers might not notice. Same deal with this episode of "Life."

I was also bothered that everything about the interaction between the kid and his "dad" pointed to an abusive situation--the visible fear the kid had of doing or allowing anything "dad" wouldn't like, the interior locks all over the apartment they shared--and then all that turned out to be misdirection. If the kid had seemed happy and relaxed around "dad" from the start--even while remaining mistrustful of outsiders--that would have helped explain the cops' not suspecting the true nature of the relationship. But the "dad" acted like such a psycho from the beginning that you couldn't help but wonder how he ended up with that kid.

I did like, though, the great acting, the poignant bits about fresh fruit, and the scene in the helicopter.

Alan Sepinwall said...

(Alan, the top line link of "click here to read full post and comment" seems to be missing on this post. If you don't know to click the time for the permalink, you can't read your text.)

Fixed. Thanks for the tip. Sometimes, Blogger starts throwing in its own coding for no reason.

bill said...

would you still be as engaged with "Life" if we quickly find out who framed Charlie and why?

From the first episode I've been floored by Damian Lewis's performance and wondered if the rest of the show could match him. I think it's now doing a pretty good job.

For me, solving the mystery is much like watching "Lost." I'm more interested in the storytelling journey than the final resolution. So if finding one answer reveals two more questions, that's fine with me. Watching Crews get in the "father's" face, I'm waiting for something that really sets him off.

Anonymous said...

"Watching Crews get in the "father's" face, I'm waiting for something that really sets him off."

How about when he kicked the crap out of that guy in the bathroom? Now that was fun. I love watching Crews let his angry freak flag fly.

I think I might have to rent Band of Brothers now because of this actor... I hear he was pretty extraordinary in that as well.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I think I might have to rent Band of Brothers now because of this actor... I hear he was pretty extraordinary in that as well.

Lord, yes. One of the most compelling portraits of a man whose defining characteristics were dignity and decency I've ever seen. Practically Atticus Finch-esque (if Atticus Finch carried a sub-machine gun).

floretbroccoli said...

Lewis also made the latest version of The Forsyte Saga worth watching. His Soames Forsyte was so much . . . deeper? than Eric Porter's in the original.

I would certainly continue to watch after the framing mystery is solved, as long as the solution doesn't torpedo the show.

As with Hugh Laurie in House, I watch Life for the central performance and hope that each week's episode will be worthy of it.

I like to imagine Damian Lewis calling Hugh Laurie to get his advice on taking on an American television show. I assume that Laurie's success is what led to the many shows this season built around a British star.

Ken said...

Reading coverage of the show when it started, I recall them saying they would "solve" the conspiracy in the first season. So more Veronica Mars than X-Files.

one is black on the LEFT side and white on the RIGHT, and the other is black on the RIGHT side and white on the LEFT? Even Spock supposedly never noticed this until it was pointed out to him

It's not that Spock or anyone else didn't notice -- to them, it was a distinction without a difference, and a foolish way to organize a society.

Anonymous said...

I was also bothered that everything about the interaction between the kid and his "dad" pointed to an abusive situation--the visible fear the kid had of doing or allowing anything "dad" wouldn't like, the interior locks all over the apartment they shared--and then all that turned out to be misdirection. If the kid had seemed happy and relaxed around "dad" from the start--even while remaining mistrustful of outsiders--that would have helped explain the cops' not suspecting the true nature of the relationship. But the "dad" acted like such a psycho from the beginning that you couldn't help but wonder how he ended up with that kid.

I thought it was very much ripped-from-the-headlines with Sean whatever his name was. The case in the midwest where the poor kidnap victim was basically abused into submission. This was more or less the same thing, the way I saw it, though they never explicitly said there was abuse going on. And I thought Crews and Reese were plenty suspicious, but they were caught up in the rest of the investigation and hoping child services would be able to spend more time on this boy.

I found this issue a bit distracting, as I kept waiting for someone else to point out the Josie and the Pussycats angle. Maybe I've gotten to used to CSI and Without a Trace, where they would have quipped about it.

As for post-reveal of what happened to Charlie, I'm not sure. I'd certainly give it a chance, but I think I'd be wary that it would be missing something (just as VMars never quite lived up to its first season and the incredibly personal mysteries VM was dealing with).