The new Fall television season is upon us and, as expected as the routine of having to rake leaves, with it comes the familiar spate of police procedurals. Not that you could tell from the title—nor could you tell much of anything else about the show from its unfortunate title—but Life is one of them. Detective Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis) has his share of quirks, from his constant eating of fresh fruit to his constant Zen-commentary. So much so, one feels this show is misplaced not being on the USA channels lineup of detective shows: Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Psyche, Monk. Despite the competition, Crews is easily one of television’s most fascinating characters.

Having spent the last 12 years in prison set up for a crime he was exonerated for, Crews (through convoluted premise-generating events) ends up back on the LAPD, though a lot wealthier for his troubles (thus justifying Adam Arkin’s return to series television as his one-time cell mate and now money manager, Ted Earley). The slightly troubled Crews, whom no one wishes to partner with, is nonetheless saddled with a partner equally in need of redemption, Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi). All of this going on while 1) a film crew does documentary-style interviews about the Crews case and 2) Crews is secretly trying to ferret out the conspirators that framed him in the first place.

“Life was his sentence and life is what he got back.” –Constance Griffith (Brooke Langton) “What do you think he should do with that life?” (interviewer)
“That would be up to him.”

One of the intriguing aspects to Crews’ character is observing how much prison life has affected him, especially in regards to how he pursues his calling of being a police officer. Besides being over a decade behind in technology, he still carries with him all the lessons of surviving in prison now that he’s back on the street.

People so often find themselves on a spiritual path once they find themselves in prison is because they look around and see the consequences of living life their way on their terms. Prison is the ultimate end of self. It’s when we’ve reached the end of our rope and hope. When we’ve seen where life has gotten us under our own efforts. When we see the bars/cages of our life for what they are. When we’ve completely bottomed out. With prison, we have nothing but time and are forced to be alone. We have to face our inner noise, without all of the distractions that comes from our hollow pursuits. In Crews’ case, he turned to Zen in order to make sense of his place in the world. But, as Lt. Karen Davis (Robin Weigert) points out, “You don’t have to go to prison to eat crap.”

“Tell me something that means something.” –grieving victim

What does life boil down to? What’s really important? These are the important questions we have to meditate on in order to find meaning for ourselves. Sometimes the answer comes in the simplest question, as Crews asks: “Anyone ever love you that much?” To take a bullet for you, to give you life, to sacrifice themselves so that you may find your true purpose for being. When Crews is asked by a grieving crime victim “How did you go on living? How did you get past it?”, the answers sound easier than they are. You’re already past it. We’re to be fully alive, in the moment, living the life we ought to be living.

It’s good to see quality writing and complicated characters taking the front seat in hour long dramas. The ever-present danger is that quirks become caricatures and characters become cartoons. So far, so good though and after only a few episodes, Life has found its rhythm. In fact, it’s easy to say that Life is one of the pleasant surprises of the Fall.