Television You Should Have Seen – Life starring Damian Lewis


Last month I attended the Times Talks interview with one of my favourite British actors Damian Lewis at The Royal Institution of Great Britain (see highlights of this talk through the link at the end of this post), in which the hour included his thoughts on his first US television series. For those thinking that’s Homeland you’d be wrong – it’s Life. Quite a few of my friends aren’t even aware of the show and it therefore seemed to be a great opportunity to highlight another television gem that you should have seen.

Damian Lewis at the Times Talks event in London, May 2014

Before Homeland made him an international, award-winning star, Damian Lewis was the lead in another US drama series, this one on NBC. Created by Rand Ravich in 2007, Life centres around Detective Charlie Crews, a former LAPD cop who was wrongly jailed for the murder of his friend and his friend’s wife and son. After serving 12 years in prison he is exonerated and on release from Pelican Bay State Prison, successfully sues the city of Los Angeles and the LAPD, receiving a huge settlement (rumoured to be $50 million). Now minted, Charlie could do anything he wanted. Instead he chooses to wrap in to his compensation package a promotion to Detective in the homicide division and go back to work! Through the series we follow Charlie as he returns to work and is partnered with Detective Dani Reese, who is not very happy about this arrangement, but cannot deny his uncanny ability to see clues that others miss and the two develop a great partnership and bond.

The main cast of Life

I thought Life was a fantastic show – it’s sharply written, with scripts that are witty, clever and that blend drama and comedy brilliantly. Charlie Crews is also an incredibly interesting character and for me, one I enjoy seeing Damian play more than the now well known Brody. Crews is complex – he has been through a terrible ordeal, which has cost him his job, wife and friends, but Crews has chosen to follow the philosophy of Zen in terms of keeping calm about Life now that he has his back. He also has a great sense of humour and some wonderful quirks – I loved his obsession with fresh fruit of any kind and eating it at any time or place (apparently when in prison he didn’t eat any fresh fruit, so takes every opportunity to indulge now). There is also the determination he has to uncover who really killed his friend and framed him, which is the key reason for wanting to keep a job in the police department and it’s a great subplot in the background of the series as we watch him piece the puzzle together at his conspiracy wall in a concealed room of his home.

An unlikely partnership – Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis) and Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi)

The supporting cast are great too, in particular Sarah Shahi as his partner Detective Dani Reese. She too has her problems (as a former narcotics undercover cop she is now a recovering drug addict and alcoholic) and although she hates being partnered with Crews initially, you see very quickly what a great team they are. Adam Arkin is also wonderful as Crews’ friend from prison Ted Earley, who on release Charlie employs as his financial adviser (despite Ted’s prison sentence being due to insider trading). This friendship is quite comical but a lovely aspect of the series. Donal Logue is also very good when he joins the show as their boss at the LAPD.

Sadly despite recognition at the AFI Awards in 2008 where it won best TV series, the writers strike did not prove helpful to Life and it only lasted two seasons. However it was at least able to wrap the overarching plot lines up before it ended. For me, it’s certainly a series that has been sadly overlooked, but hopefully due to its lead actor’s growing fame more people are discovering the charm of Life. If you haven’t yet seen it, I’d recommend you give Life a try. A spoiler-free video, giving you a flavour of this quirky series can be found here:

Life seasons 1 and 2 are available to buy on DVD from all the usual stockists and via Amazon Instant Video.

Here’s a link to highlights of the Times Talks conversation with Damian Lewis (warning: contains spoilers if you have not seen season three of Homeland!):


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