Sunday, October 12, 2008

Life, "Not For Nothing": Playing prison

Spoilers for Friday night's "Life" coming up just as soon as I melt a plastic bag...

Though there were a couple of flaws that I'll get to in a minute, "Not For Nothing" was easily the strongest episode of season two. (And unless the numbers take a dramatic uptick soon, it may be one of the last. Sigh...) No university would ever allow someone to conduct the Stanford Prison Experiment today, but if you suspend your disbelief on that, the scenario was a powerful way to spotlight just how much Crews learned during his time in a real prison.

Three superb moments: Crews tries to silence Nate the poseur, realizing how close he is to starting a riot; Charlie and Ted putting on their hard prison faces to scare the bad professor into showing them the hidden footage; and, especially, Crews sitting down with the killer to prepare him for the rest of his life ("The first three years will be the hardest"). Damian Lewis is always terrific, but the writing really played to his strengths in those moments.

The B-story in which the new boss met the old boss finally started to give Tidwell some humanity, and I liked Lt. Davis a lot more here than I ever did last season, where the writers didn't know what to do with her. (I think they introduced her, like Stark, as a red herring for the conspiracy, and once that story moved away from her, they had no plan B.) I particularly liked that Tidwell had photos of all his exes in his wallet, as well as his disbelief that Davis' partner had married a stripper for his first wife.

As for the two flaws, the first was the lack of urgency displayed by Crews, Reese and the writers. Despite Tidwell making a big deal that they had two hours to close the case before the university lawyered up all the kids, the detectives never acted like they were on a tight deadline, and the story seemed to take place over a much longer span. (The trips to the mascot's dorm room, her boyfriend's house, and the frat(ernity) house, plus waiting for the pizza and fruit delivery should have been almost two hours by themselves.) If the writers weren't going to really deal with the deadline, they shouldn't have introduced it in the first place, since I spent a lot of scenes during the episode wondering why Charlie and Dani were acting like they had all the time in the world.

Second, Charlie and Ted realizing that "there could easily be four" was a threat wasn't quite the stunning revelation that the episode seemed to think it was. It was obvious Jack Reese was being threatened when the line was first uttered on Monday.

Still, one of the show's stronger episodes overall, and I'm gonna miss it when it's gone. Right now, the only thing it has going for it is that virtually everything on NBC is doing terribly -- the network can't cancel everything, right?

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

I liked the episode as well, although I'm still curious as to whether current university ethics codes would even allow you to run something like the Stanford Prison Experiment these days. Once the police were involved, I'd have expected the university to be all over that, denouncing it as a rogue, unethical operation that had no place in this particular institution of higher learning.

Also, I thought it was kind of amazing that Crews, the insightful, Zen-like detective, took more than a day (who knows how long in show time) to figure out that his partner's dad was being threatened in that call. WTF? Not only was that clear to anyone who's ever watched a procedural, it should have been obvious to anyone who's ever read (or heard of) Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. What else does a countdown suggest to this genius?

Anonymous said...

I thought this episode and this past Monday's were both terrific. I'm loving Damian Lewis, and Tidwell is growing on me. The numbers are distressing, but as you said, Alan, nothing on NBC is doing very well, so where do they start. Can't have Deal or No Deal in every time slot, can they? Shudder.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy this show and am disappointed to hear the ratings are not very good. I had the same thoughts that they didn’t display much sense of urgency despite the time limit placed on them early in the episode. Looking back, it seemed unnecessary to bring up if they weren’t going to conduct the investigation in a hurried manner.

I was a bit struck by it taking Ted and Crews so long to figure out that the recording was a threat. For a while I thought I had missed something. My only thought was that perhaps Crews believed Jack Reese was the ring leader of the plot against him but is now discovering that he may only be a cog in the wheel.

Rev/Views said...

They could have gotten away with using the Stanford Prison Experiment as the basis if they hadn't had any of the characters reference it themselves. But with Crews mentioning it himself the entire thing immediately inherited all the terrible ethical violations and turmoil from the real life example.

It was a good little scenario, but they would have been better off pretending that in the Life universe the SPE wasn't very well known.

That said, I'm sure psychologists (guilty as charged sir) would have then started moaning that no-one mentioned the original experiment. Eh. Great idea, missed a little in the execution, still a good episode. Need to see more of Robin in the future, she was ace.

Anonymous said...

I am someone who enjoys procedurals - not too heavy with some humor and/or quirkiness. This covers NCIS, Numbers, House, Chuck (love Chuck) and previously Bones. I have to say that Life is near the top of that list. Damian Lewis just totally sells the ex-con trying to get back to being a cop and the prison mentality that he can't escape. This episode really focused in on how strong he must have been to survive in prison and now in freedom and how much he has lost.

I have a question Alan, Chuck and Life are two of my favorite shows and they are tanking at NBC. Is there a way to move them around the schedule or showcase them. Really they are the cream of the crop at NBC and I would hate to see them get killed off and get more Knight Rider.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there's anything else NBC can do for the show to help the ratings. I only hope they keep it around like Homicide becasue it is a quality show and nothing else they put on will do any better on Friday night. I'm afraid they won't and it will be the second Donal Logue show (Knights of Prosperity) I will be watching unaired episodes online.

wcdixon said...

I really enjoyed the two eps (and the last two eps of Chck) this past week, but am feeling myself starting to pull back from 'liking' them so much, fearing cancellation.

If NBC chooses to accept their mission, they should pair these two series together and give them time to find their audiences (a la Bones)...otherwise, it might be curtains. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

"...the network can't cancel everything, right?"

Who'd notice?

sanford said...

I hate hearing that the show is not doing well in the ratings. I am guessing due to the writers strike that none of the networks really don't have much to replace shows that are not doing well.

I hope that if the show does end that they give us a conclusion to the story.

Unknown said...

I'm so sad its getting a poor showing in ratings I hope it doesn't get canceled because you're right, they can't cancel everything!

This episode really ramped up the intensity and more than anything felt like a season 1 episode with the conspiracy wall back and Lt. Davis (she will be forever the LT to me) making an appearance.

I still don't like Tidwell as much as I'd like.

fred said...

This episode was pretty awesome for sure, but with a setup like that one, it couldn't have been any other way!

Damian Lewis is really terrific, and I also enjoyed the little insight we got as to how he didn't "want to be saved" for a while, when Constance first approached him.

But the threat was indeed obvious from the start, and for him & Ted to took so long to figure it out was pretty stupid for sure.

About the ratings, it's really sad and yet it's almost as if NBC did all they could to get there: no promo, different slot every day, and eventually moved to Fridays. Not to mention how they're messing with the show (see Dani's new look), and I don't thin they ever believed in for cared for the show.

Do they even realize all their shows are doing bad, as are all the new series from last season that networks refused to get back on the air after the strike...

Nicole said...

I really enjoyed this episode, and agree that it was the best one of the second season. I'm sad that the show might be canceled, especially since I just ordered season one on dvd. I just know that if season two doesn't get a full order, they're gonna release a snazzy special edition that I will want. Although I can't believe that Ted and Charlie somehow took so long to figure out that BadDad was being threatened, I'm glad that another element was added to the mystery surrounding Charlie's framing. I will keep watching this show was long as NBC keeps airing it!

Anonymous said...

It's possible that Life isn't quite as endangered as one might assume from its ratings. It scored quite highly on the "Emotional Attachment Index" that measures how committed key viewers are to watching a show. Its possibility for growth is discussed in the last paragraph in this article: