Thursday, February 19, 2009

Life, "I Heart Mom": Take 'em both, and there you have the facts of roof

Spoilers for last night's "Life" coming up just as soon as I say "unfreeze"...
"I don't think I talk differently than anyone else talks. Maybe sometimes I don't not say things that other people don't not say, but most other people don't not say the same things I don't. Know what I'm saying?" -Crews
Most of the press coverage (other than Fienberg) of Fox's decision to move the "American Idol" back to 9 p.m. in a few weeks has focused almost exclusively on what the move means for "Lost." But "Lost" is going away in another season, and ABC sure isn't going to pull the plug before then, so no matter how badly "Idol" beats on it, "Lost" will make it to the finish line.

No, my fear (and Fienberg's) is that this move is going to hasten the death of "Life." I don't think any of us are naive enough at this point to believe there's going to be a third season of this wonderful but abysmally-rated show. It's already something of a miracle that it got renewed at all, and that NBC gave it a full order this season. My only hope at this point is that it makes it to the end of this year, and that Rand Ravich was able to read the writing on the wall enough to provide some kind of closure to Crews' quest for revenge/justice/Zen, and that the series doesn't end on a shot of Crews staring quizzically at the Wall of Blame. And now that "Idol" is about to move into the neighborhood, I fear that the ratings will become so low that NBC won't feel able to justify keeping a boutique show like this(*) on the air any longer, and that the plug will be pulled with several episodes to go.

(*) The shame of it is that "Life" is basically the same show as "The Mentalist" -- and better-executed, at that -- but it's on the wrong network. Other than the "Law & Order"s with their built-in brand loyalty -- and even the mothership isn't doing too hot lately -- people don't think of NBC as a place to find well-done procedural cop shows, and NBC at this point isn't in the position to be able to adequately promote and schedule a show like this. I imagine a lot of the "Mentalist"/"Lie to Me"/"NCIS" audience would dig this show, but they don't know it exists.

An episode like "I Heart Mom" suggests the rest of the season -- assuming we get to see all of it -- could go either way in terms of closure. Crews finally reaches a place where Mickey Rayborn is ready and willing to provide all the answers he wants (and we want) about the conspiracy that put Charlie in prison, but it's unclear just how much Rayborn tells him, or how much Charlie asked. It's implied that the conversation went on for a while after we cut back to the murder investigation, and we'll just have to wait and hope to find out how much Charlie now knows. Or maybe we'll just get a bunch of cool music montages followed by an abrupt cancellation. Sigh...

If, indeed, Rayborn was murdered, then William Atherton got a great farewell episode, as he got to play dead (and laugh about it afterwards), needle Crews about his solemnity and lack of a boat, and even make the guy eat a deep-fried scorpion.

As for the main case, it was amusing to see Charlotte Rae (Mrs. Garrett from "The Facts of Life") as the mother of M.C. Gainey (Tom Friendly from "Lost"), and to see Gainey playing at being an antique-dealing mama's boy. I lost the thread of the mystery after a while, as I usually do with this show, but there were nice individual moments, like the above-quoted scene where Reese complains about the Crews' speech patterns, or Crews getting hung up on them being like a couple (but never, thankfully, in a romantic way), or the blind guy smelling Reese, Crews assuming it was perfume, and then realizing she doesn't wear any and pawning it off on the smell of her "essence."

The Ted subplot was a little thin, as most Ted subplots are. Now that he's out of prison, he again seems so disconnected from the rest of the series that, good as Adam Arkin is in the role, I wish they'd only use him if he's going to interact with Charlie. (Or if Christina Hendricks is going to come back.)

Finally, I promised that in every episode featuring a William Atherton appearance, I'd include a quote from one of Atherton's memorable '80s movie villain roles. As this appears to be the end of the line for him, I figured I'd go back to my favorite Atherton role, as Dr. Jerry Hathaway in "Real Genius." I was tempted to go with another exchange between him and Val Kilmer (maybe the one about popcorn, or the one where Jerry tells Chris to pass the rest of the tests back, just like his IQ was normal), but given the subject of this episode, I couldn't resist Hathaway's rant at the contractors who are renovating his house:
"What are you looking at? You're laborers; you should be laboring. That's what you get for not having an education."
Ah, Atherton. I'll miss him.

What did everybody else think?

18 comments:

David said...

I will miss this show. It wasn't quite appointment tv, but I did look forward to it every week. I too hope it at least gets to complete the season, and hopefully the large, arcing story.

Wholi said...

Enjoyed the episode. Like you said Alan, maybe not the story overall, but the little moments throughout. ("Ask me if I want a gun!")
My wife & I fear you are correct about the show not making it thru the spring - let alone to next fall.
Shame since everyone on the show is VERY good!

Nancy said...

What happened to this wonderful show? The quirky is all gone, in favor of Reese and Donal Logue? Meh. Why do TV writers insist on coupling people that don't even have a whiff of chemistry? Damn shippers.

You know, I didn't watch Life regularly the first season, but caught up via HULU over the summer, and LOVED it. And I've been disappointed ever since it came back in the fall. Last night, when they revealed that William Atherton's character might be dead, I thought, that's it. This show is going to get cancelled. Too many conspiracies, too little time.

Zachary said...

I can easily imagine this dialogue exchange being in this episode:

Professor Hathaway: You are of no further use to me!
Chris Knight: [pause] Interesting way to begin a conversation...

Another good episode, althogh I did lose track of the MOTW, with it's twists and turns.

Every time Sarah was onscreen, I kept trying to see how much she was showing.

Since we don't see Mickey's death, I'm betting it was a cover up for something else.

I too am an optimistic for a 3rd season of this weird, quirky and wonderful police procedural.

Anonymous said...

I would be OK with never hearing Mrs. Garrett call someone a "prick" again. A part of my chidhood died last night...

Hoof Hearted said...

Another quality episode, as usual. But I sadly agree that Life's days are numbered (which would make a good zen-like Crewsism I guess).

Alan - I have a question on the business side of TV. Every season or 2, there is a quality show that is canceled before it's time due to ratings. Some prime examples are shows like My So-Called Life, Freaks and Geeks, Cupid, Arrested Development etc. Occasionally shows switch networks like Taxi did, or in recent years get a second life on basic cable, such as Monk. However, this is still very rarely done.

Is there usually a contractual situation preventing this from happening more often, or is it simply that most networks don't want to pick up another networks "scraps"? With so many networks seemingly desperate for good original programming (especially basic cable), I believe that a show like Life would be a good show to pick up to establish a reputation of quality programming. It's more of a play for long term gains as opposed to a short-term ratings bonanza (which is probably the answer to my question right there - network execs are not known for planning for long-term success) but it would be a far better way to fill a schedule than something like "Trust Me".

Robert said...

JAG made the jump from NBC to CBS quite successfully...any hope for the most engaging character currently on network TV to change networks (or even jump to USA), or is that just a pipe dream?

Alan Sepinwall said...

The instances if tv shows jumping networks are few and far between, in part because no one wants another network's scraps, in part because so many shows are canceled by the network that owns them (why would CBS want to pick up a failed show that NBC gets the back-end profit on?), in part because the cost structure is so different between broadcast and cable. (Criminal Intent was able to move to USA as part of a larger deal between NBC and Dick Wolf, but most cable series have a much smaller budget than even the cheapest-looking network show.) I wouldn't hold out hope for Life going elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Shows rarely make the jump from one channel to another because, typically, if a show is being dropped by a network, it is because of low ratings. Switching channels will cause the show to lose some viewers because they won't know about the switch, so the ratings will be even lower.

The TV business is not a meritocracy, and it is even less a charity. Networks don't want to air shows that get low ratings because they can't charge as much for the ad time and therefore make less money. While it did happen occasionally 20 years ago, the examples of a show switching networks in recent years is few and far between (Scrubs and the last season or two of Buffy are the only ones I can think of from the last 5-7 years).

Life's ratings are abysmal, and while it is a very good procedural, it will simply not last. It would likely not have made it to season 2 if it hadn't been for the writer's strike.

And Hoof Hearted - Monk was laways on USA. It was a big enough success in its early seasons that ABC aired the reruns

WWWeaves said...

I don't think NBC will pull the plug before the end. Life should do wellish in DVD sales, it would ruin that to stop production. NBC brass seems to like Life, although it will ultimately be a business decision. I continue to hope that it will somehow be cheaper to continue life that start something new.
I know cable shows are lower budget, but they sure look good. (Burn Notice, Battlestar). So what are the networks spending all the money on? Is it anything I care about?

Ed said...

I'm going to miss the show. But this is proof to those who may have forgotten that Networks do not create TV shows, they create audiences. We are the product that they sell to advertisers. If they cannot create the right product, then they have to try something else.

Remember to donate to PBS so that at least someone on broadcast TV can continue to differentiate between news and gossip.

Anonymous said...

This was a quirky (even for Life!) episode. Charlotte Ray, when she said "prick" caused me to fall off the sofa, and almost choke because I was laughing so hard. The network meddling is now evident, and yes, the show is on deathwatch status. I have never been able to figure out why networks cannot leave a show on in the same time period it premiers at- trying to find a show that is constantly jerked around causes the casual viewer to give up; infuriates the "appointment" tv viewer as well. As I said last week, this is my favorite show that is currently on. Next week, when Sarah will be on screen for far less time (I think, it is not a spoiler that I am aware of)will be a more true test, I think. Keep the faith- miracles sometimes do happen, even in TV programming, and (fingers crossed) Life will be renewed.

Anonymous said...

Too true, Ed. Now if only my PBS station would stop rerunning that damn "Doo-Wop All-Stars" special every other week.

Nice to see Helen McCrory (Mrs. Damian Lewis) make a femme fatale-ish appearance.

Can anyone tell me why Ted's daughter showed up at her dad's house if she had no intention of interviewing him? Or was that as pointless as it seemed, beyond letting us know that Ted has a daughter?

So Cal said...

That's a good point Alan, about Life being on the wrong network. I started watching Mentalist becasue it's on CBS, and have really enjoyed it.

Could have gave Life a shot, but i seem to avoid NBC like the plague these days.

It's sad, but the only time i watch NBC now is on Thursdays from 9-10 and the occasional Late Night with Conan.

Steve said...

Was this Sarah Shahi's last episode? No sign of her in the previews for next week. How many more episodes are left if the show makes it to May?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Shahi will still be on the show; they're just going to minimize her screen time due to her pregnancy. So I guess this was the last episode of "Life" as we knew it. Sigh...

Art Fleming said...

Ironically, just as its about to be einding, Life just started syndication here in germany.

Anthony Foglia said...

Anonymous said, Can anyone tell me why Ted's daughter showed up at her dad's house if she had no intention of interviewing him? Or was that as pointless as it seemed, beyond letting us know that Ted has a daughter?

She was going to interview Ted, but about his parents and ancestors, and not about Ted himself.

At least that's how I understood it.