Tuned In

Wasted Life

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NBC Photo: Justin Lubin

In today’s reviews, we’re taking on the big trends of fall 2007 one by one. Shows about people with superpowers: check. Shows about rich people: check. (Shows about nerds: already did that.) And now we come to NBC’s Life and the last, and most disturbing, trend of the fall: Shows with interesting premises that, probably because some executive decided viewers were too stupid to care about said premise alone, got turned into crime procedurals.

Pushing Daisies (man has the power to give and take life with a touch) looks good enough to survive its configuration as a magic private-eye show. K-Ville, on the other hand, could have been a fascinating story about what Hurricane Katrina did to New Orleans but turned into a subpar cop show.

Life, starring Damien Lewis, is exactly in between the two. Take Charlie Crews, a cop wrongly accused of a murder, send him off to the joint where he becomes the daily punching bag of convicts, and see what that does to his psyche: interesting stuff. Spring him from prison, turn him into a Buddhist-philosophy-quoting detective (with a $50 million lawsuit settlement) who uses his prison insights and eccentricity to solve the crime of the week: not terrible, just not necessary.

Essentially, this perfectly competent crime show is a police version of House. Which may sound like ratings gold, but part of the reason House works so well–besides its scripts and Hugh Laurie–is that it takes the formula and style of dozens of cop mysteries and applies them to a hospital drama. Life simply takes that formula back and applies it to yet another freaking cop mystery (Eccentric Detective With Skeptical Partner Subgenre).

I could analyze the show in depth–Lewis’ engaging if mannered portrayal of Charlie’s brittle sanity and humor, a wry supporting turn for Adam Arkin as Charlie’s lawyer/manservant–but what’s the point, really? If you’re a fan of cop procedurals, you could add Life to the list of approximately three dozen or so you could choose from any particular week. You probably won’t be disappointed if you do. But do you need to? With the vast choice of more ambitious, original, surprising shows on TV, life’s just too short for Life.

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