Monday, September 29, 2008

Life, "Find Your Happy Place": Boxing day

Spoilers for the "Life" season two premiere coming up just as soon as I ship a kumquat...

"Life" is one of those shows that took a while to grow on me last season. I liked Damian Lewis from the beginning, but it felt like creator Rand Ravich was trying too hard to show how Charlie Crews was different from your average cop show hero -- He loves fruit! Modern technology baffles him! He quotes Zen koans! -- to the point where Crews seemed less a character than a collection of tics. But a few weeks in, Ravich started taking a more Zen approach to showcasing Crews' quirks, allowing them to simply be as opposed to being in our face all the time. And once they relaxed on the fruit and the cell phone jokes and Reese rolling her eyes every time Crews opened his mouth, the show was markedly improved. I don't watch a lot of crime procedurals anymore, but "Life" quickly established itself as something I didn't want to miss. The final pre-strike episode, with Crews going rogue to find the man who committed the murders Charlie went to prison for, was one of the best hours of TV I watched last year.

So I was disappointed to see the show take a step backwards with tonight's premiere. Fruit references up the wazoo (oranges, kumquats, and even a request for mango ice cream), Crews (who's now been out of prison for months, if not a year) is still confused by something as prevalent as a motion sensor faucet, and while Reese is now on the same wavelength with her partner, Donal Logue has been brought in as the new boss(*) so the show can still have someone who acts confused by Charlie's MO every week.

(*) I like Logue a lot, by the way -- "Tao of Steve" is one of the most-rewatched DVDs in the Sepinwall household, and Jimmy the cabdriver's discourses on both the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" and Alanis' "Ironic" are brilliant -- and don't think Robin Weigert (who'll be around on occasion as a detective) was particularly well-used last year as the boss. So I'm not unhappy to see him here; I just want him to have more to do than asking what the hell Crews is talking about.

Now, I'm sure part of this is the whole re-freshman phenomenon -- "Life" has been off the air for so long, and was so low-rated to begin with, that this is essentially like a second pilot episode. Airing after "Heroes" will likely give it its biggest audience ever, and I can understand the desire to do a "Life 101" kind of episode for the newbies. But earlier this evening, "Chuck" was able to pull off something similar in a way that improved upon what had been happening last season, as opposed to seeming like backsliding.

I've also seen next Monday's episode, which isn't quite as dumbed-down, so I'm not too worried. And there were still some fine moments here, from the usual beautiful/bizarre crime scene tableaus (I especially liked the steamer trunk on the airport runway) to Crews rescuing Rachel by using Kyle Hollis' crazy "ring of fire" talk.

So no panic; just minor disappointment. I'm skeptical of the show's survival chances once it's only on Friday nights, but I'm glad for any extra hours I get to spend watching Lewis do his thing.

What did everybody else think?

20 comments:

Jon Delfin said...

Ditto, ditto and ditto, with the feeling magnified by having watched the whole last DVD (thank you, Netflix) this afternoon to get back up to speed. Tonight felt like going backwards a little. But only a little. Thanks for the optimism for next week.

Amanda said...

This ep is free on iTunes -- so I would say yeah they are going the big push to get new viewers and let them come in if not on the ground floor then a few steps up.

My take is basically as yours. I was just so pleased and relieved to see it back, I'm happy to let it grow again. And glad to hear Weigert will at least be around.

Nicole said...

The procedural part seemed familiar, and I'm pretty sure I saw something like this on one of the British procedurals, but I can't recall exactly which one.

It was okay for me, but I will keep watching for a bit.

Anonymous said...

Here's the sabotage one:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jd68qvUilDY&feature=related

monic said...

I'm truly happy this show is back, its one of the few shows I fell in love with last year and I've been counting the days til its return. I've been dismayed at some of the cosmetic changes in the show, particularly Dani's.

But I was relieved to see despite the 'sexier' look Dani Reese is still Dani Reese. I wasn't so happy with the emphasis on the procedural aspect though since I watch the show for the characters and character interactions. Particularly the fantastic push-pull between Crews and Reese and the even more fantastic synchronized policing they did so well.

I'm glad to see the dynamic is still there and even better, that they've settled into their partnership so well.

I liked Tidwell a lot more than expected but was extremely turned off at his constant hitting on Reese.

By far the best moment for me aside from the opening scene are the scenes when Charlie attempts to tell Dani about his secret, I'm so glad this show doesn't drag out the old 'secret keeping for your own protection' thing that usually drives people apart. I like that the writers knew Dani would piece things together by herself.

But the Charlie finding Rachel was really the moment when I sat up and said, 'My show's back!'

Also, I'm relieved to hear that things will pick-up because you're right this episode did feel like it did a step back, just a little but its still my show.

Bruce Reid said...

While I could have done with less fruit talk, all was forgiven after Lewis's sensuous shlurp of the kumquat.

It's sad to say that one of the more refreshing aspects of Life is its lack of sadism. Given the setup, I can't think of another show that would have skimped on a shot of a victim in the trunk, pounding and crying. Here, other than the well done fakeout involving the stripper's box, they avoided such nastiness.

Still not my favorite show, but offbeat and stylish enough to keep watching.

marenamoo said...

I really enjoy Life and its almost spare acting and reality. I liked the visual of finding the trunks - the solitary item sitting alone - the best do so much with the hint of terror. I also thought the "bad guy" was scarily psychotic with the smiley faces, including his own.

One thing I wanted to point out - you said next Monday's episode - isn't the next episode on Friday?

Alan Sepinwall said...

One thing I wanted to point out - you said next Monday's episode - isn't the next episode on Friday?

The next episode is on Friday, but they're also airing another episode on Monday, then another episode on the following Friday, before finally moving to Fridays only. For whatever reason, NBC sent out the two Monday episodes (episodes 1 and 3) for review; I haven't seen episode 2 yet.

M.A.Peel said...

Part of the pleasure of the show is definitely its visual language.

So we lost Jane, but gained Adams. Can Charlie Utter, last seen on CSI, be far behind?

Alan Sepinwall said...

So we lost Jane, but gained Adams. Can Charlie Utter, last seen on CSI, be far behind?

Jane isn't lost yet; Robin Weigert is still supposed to appear from time to time, just in a differen capacity.

And Dayton Callie's on Sons of Anarchy at the moment, playing yet another reluctant lawman.

JustJoan said...

I am so, so glad Life is back, and glad to find Adam Arkin back as well. Count me among those who could do without Reese's Herbal Essences makeover, but thank goodness the softness has not softened her stoic demeanor. Now is the time when I let my procedural fan's sensibility rear its head: why is there no coroner or forensic team in sight when the trunks are opened, and why do the detectives order the bodies lifted out before they are at least photographed in situ? I'm just asking...

Inigo said...

I think I was just so happy to have it back that I enjoyed it despite the qualms. The director of photography continues to display a wonderful eye for images, Damian Lewis continues to be fascinating to watch, and Dani, despite the softer, girlier appearance, is still tough and uncompromising. The case of the week still has that oddness that typifies this show. It's one of the few procedurals where I don't know who did it or why in the first ten minutes. As a Veronica Mars fan, I've resigned myself to loving shows that live on the edge of cancellation and Life moving to Fridays with a four episode burnoff in two weeks is not comforting. Hey ho, here we go again.

Jefferson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jennifer said...

I enjoyed it, for the most part. The kid was certainly creepy, so that worked. I did enjoy the shipping the kumquat moment. Heh.

But yeah, it probably won't last more than four episodes before cancellation this time, sigh. Hence the burnoff.

Jon Delfin said...

The DVD commentaries included mention of how many "Deadwood" actors were to be found -- Michael Harney played Crews's lawyer, for one. And Garret Dillahunt played a Russian mobster early on.

Jon Delfin said...

And by "Crews's lawyer," I mean his police union rep, of course.

Eugene Freedman said...

I was just hoping that the kid wanted a 2 Liter bottle of Coke to make his confession and rejected Pepsi.

Fox in a box?

Rev-Views said...

Definately a step back from last season's finale in substance. It was rather lackluster to be honest - Damian's dialog was great and the exchange around the ice cream truck was both funny and clever (well, maybe one too many fruit references but it's clear that Crews was just blathering to distract the man). But really the episode felt rather shallow.

It's as stylish as ever and some of the shots were superb, but it just lacked the right level of punch to turn it from enjoyable into marvelous.

Marty McKee said...

Daniel Sackheim's direction was extremely good. Love the shot that opened on another (seemingly) body in a trunk and spun to reveal a living dancer inside a clear box. Also, the scenes at the various crime sites and the ice cream truck were very well staged.

mindmat said...

This show makes me happy! It has layers. To me this episode was all about freedom and the open air contrasted with being confined in a small space. Charlie and Dani finding the last victim alive in the trunk parallels Charlie and Ted finding Rachel in the closet-like room. And in turn those stories match Crews getting out of prison alive.