Damian Lewis, one of Britain's hottest stars (both professionally and physically), is in a new American TV show called "Life". Here he plays Charlie Crews, a cop who was mistakenly convicted of a violent multiple murder and sent to prison for life. After 12 years behind bars, they found out that the DNA at the scene proved him innocent and was released. Even though the state financially compensated him for this wrongful conviction, Charlie goes back to work on the beat, but he's a very changed man, indeed. What's more, aside from his day job, he's also trying to find out who the real murderer was - because the people who were killed were close friends of his.
This very plausible back-story is great fodder for mystery, thrills and no small measure of comedy as well. Understanding that the best way to figure out the real murderer of his friends, is to hunt them down from the inside out, so going back to work makes perfect sense. Like most crime drama shows, this takes one case per episode which also parallels something in one of the main character's personal lives. What makes this special is (partially) the ongoing thread of Charlie's personal investigation when he's off the clock. In each episode we not only get to see a crime solved, but also get another tiny piece to the larger puzzle - making this a very cohesive series indeed.
The other thing that makes this unique is watching how Charlie readjusts to living outside prison after 12 years inside. There are little things like catching up on new technology, or his dislike of fences and his deep appreciation for fresh fruit. But it's more than just that, as we also see the ex-con mentality of hating the penal system and police, combined with the fact that he's one of the people those 12 years taught him to despise. Plus, having been a cop in prison also made him hated by most of his inmates, which allowed him lots of time for reading, contemplation and observation. So on top of everything else, he's become very "Zen" and has developed an interesting way of looking at things and reacting to people. This newly acquired ability seems odd to everyone until it shows it gets better results than the old tried and true methods. Still, it's a human skill he's gained, and not something supernatural or unbelievable, thankfully.
Regarding the acting here, one might worry about this London born actor being transplanted to California as an American. However, those of us who have been watching Damian Lewis' career already know that he can do a truly believable American accent from seeing him in "Band of Brothers". Once again, Lewis proves his artistry but this time with an even more subtle accent, akin to one you'll hear from the lower rungs of society around Los Angeles. (And yes, I do know what that sounds like, so trust me on this one.) What I particularly enjoyed is how Damien mixes the straight cop tough-guy with the almost innocence of this finally freed bird which points up Lewis' marvelous talent in switching between drama and comedy at the blink of his bright red eyelashes. It is truly a joy to watch Lewis on screen.
Lewis is also surrounded with a top-notch cast, only one of which is a big name. That would be Adam Arkin ("Chicago Hope"), although some of you might recognize Brent Sexton ("Deadwood") as well. But just because lots of these faces don't look familiar certainly doesn't mean that you're going to see poor acting jobs. To the contrary, I feel there's some excellent teamwork going on in this series, along with the complex dynamics of the characters. For instance, Crews' boss Lt. Karen Davis (played by Robin Weigert) doesn't feel comfortable with him on the force, and pressures his partner Dani Reese (played by Sarah Shahi) into ratting him out if he slips up. The only reason Davis paired Crews up with Dani is because Davis knows something about Dani she can hold over her. Then there's Crews' ex-partner Robert Stark (played by Sexton) who is still a beat cop and hasn't made detective like Charlie has, and seems to still believe that Charlie really is the murderer - but he won't admit that to his face. All the while, you also feel that Dani isn't terribly happy with this arrangement, and yet she can't help how he seems to grow on her. Finally, Arkin plays Ted Earley, a white collar ex-con who is living at Charlie's house, and managing his finances - ironically the same type of job that got him thrown in jail in the first place.
All this points to a very witty, intelligent and well thought out script which is written to keep us guessing while never falling into the realm of stupid or over the top. Add that to some interesting additions such as interspersing documentary like interviews of various characters and their views regarding Charlie Crews' being found innocent and release from jail, and you have a truly well wrapped package here. The story, the acting, the cast, the script, the production and the direction all work beautifully. All that and staring the gorgeous and talented Damien Lewis - what more can you ask? Now, I don't know if or when this will be aired in the UK, but if I were you, I'd keep my eye out for it, since I can promise you, even those people who don't care much for crime dramas, might very well enjoy this TV series. I'm giving it a full five stars and highly recommending it.