The British actor Damian Lewis, beloved by some of us for his smart, sensitive role in HBO’s Band of Brothers, does a perfect American accent in Life, a very good new show that needs a more vivid title and more of NBC’s promotional oomph.
Lewis plays Charlie Crews, an L.A. cop who spent 12 years in jail for a murder he didn’t commit. Now exonerated and with a handsome settlement, Charlie opts to return to his beat, even though he could retire on his new wealth. The premise of Life is that prison changed Charlie profoundly; he maintained his sanity by adopting a state of Zen calm and philosophical quizzicality. These new skills now help him solve crimes.
If that premise seems more appropriate to a USA Network, ”Characters Welcome” series like Psych or Burn Notice, well, that may be true: Contemplative Life doesn’t fit with NBC’s hypier new shows like Journeyman or Bionic Woman. Charlie — partnered with Dani Reese (The L Word’s Sarah Shahi), an imagination-free detective who has substance-abuse demons — chews fresh fruit compulsively and interrogates in a soothing murmur. He tells suspects, ”I hate cops too” — and many of his fellow officers, who don’t buy his DNA-evidence pardon, hate him, too.
I love Lewis’ character; ditto Adam Arkin as his buddy/financial advisor and Robin Weigert — Deadwood’s Calamity Jane — who enlivens a crusty-police-captain role that’s written merely as an impersonation of Dann Florek in Law & Order: SVU. Life is intelligent fun. B+