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"Are you making fun of me?" "It's the universe that makes fun of us all." ... "Why would the universe make fun of us?" "Maybe it's insecure."
Officer Charlie Crews was Wrongly Accused of murder and spent twelve years in prison before being exonerated by DNA evidence. Now, back as a detective, he's trying to figure out who actually killed his business partner and family and why he was sent away.There are a few things notable about Life: in prison, Crews found The Path to Zen and thus, as a result of long years of (a) being in prison while (b) studying Zen philosophy on his own and (c) having the crap beaten out of him by other inmates has come out a cross between a Cloudcuckoolander, a Defective Detective, and a Cowboy Cop; to top it off Crews won a huge lawsuit against the police department (which included his re-instatement and promotion to Detective), so he's basically a crime-solvingEccentric Millionaire.Other characters include Dani Reese (his alcoholic ex-drug addict partner), Ted Early (his financial advisor, roommate, and prison friend), Constance Griffiths (his lawyer and with whom he shares Unresolved Sexual Tension), Karen Davis (his captain), Bobby Stark (his former partner from before he was convicted) and Brian Tidwell as the second season's commanding officer.Not to be confused with Discovery Channel/BBC nature documentary miniseries Life.
"We have to use his strength against him." "What's his strength?" "His weakness." "His strength is his weakness?" "Yeah, it's like the one-handed clap." "Are you really Zen?" "Zen-ish."
A Day in the Limelight: Bobby gets an in-universe example in "Hit Me Baby" and "Shelf Life", when Dani leaves for a short-term gig with the FBI. Charlie requests him as a temporary partner until a replacement detective is found. Subverted from an audience perspective, since Bobby ends up not contributing much to the first case and plays a similar role to his usual in the second half of the episode. He's there more in "Shelf Life" but still not as important as Dani.
Agent Mulder: Charlie, sort of. Although he doesn't believe in everything (he's just open to the possibility), he acts very mystic and cryptic most of the time. Interestingly enough, though, Dani isn't an Agent Scully, and is usually willing to play along with Crews, since he gets results.
Arbitrarily Large Bank Account: Charlie can buy pretty much whatever he wants on a whim. Justified, since he earned it as compensation after serving twelve years in prison for murders he didn't commit.
Arc Words: "There was six. There is five. There could just as easily be four." It's referring to the number of conspirators, one of whom was murdered to protect the secret.
Badass Biker: Double-subverted with William Ford in "I Heart Mom." He's an outlaw biker who wears angora sweaters and runs an antique shop, but is still quite capable of acting the brutal gangster when messed with.
Bittersweet Ending: "Canyon Flowers". The killer is caught, but the identity of a serial killer's grandson is leaked to the public turning his life into a media circus and causing his girlfriend to break up with him.
In his first appearance, Roman gets away because of his powerful connections with law enforcement and the husband of the woman he killed finds out she never loved him, but at least her fellow "Natasha" is able to leave behind her sordid past life.
Broken Ace: Crews is a Chick Magnet, a talented detective with lots of money to burn. But he's obsessed with finding out framed him and he's still very bitter his wife left him.
Buddy Cop Show: Subverted, Crews and Reese are definitely not close off-duty. Or on duty.
Though they have an increasingly symbiotic relationship over the course of the show, and they clearly take their partnership seriously. They care about each other quite a bit.
Crews and Bobby seemed to have had this kind of partnership in the back-story. He's one of the few people from Charlie's old life who never denounced him (including his wife). As a result, Bobby spent several years as a pariah within the department and may have stalled his career permanently.
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Charlie again; he acts very weird at times, but his time in prison also made him an extremely good investigator.
Seever is a cop who is also a lawyer, which means she often ends up talking about the legal aspects of a case in the middle of the investigation.
Cain and Abel: Though it isn't revealed until the season 2 finale, Crews and Roman. Crews was being set up so he'd fall in with the conspiracy and become an heir, of sorts. Roman wanted to be the favored son.
Casual Car Giveaway: In an episode, Charlie decides that his luxury car is too obvious (there are criminals looking for him) so he offers to exchange cars with someone driving an old beater who stops next to him at the traffic lights. Once the other guy realises Charlie is serious, he happily makes the trade.
Cell Phones Are Useless: Played with during the first season. Charlie has trouble figuring out how to work a cell phone. He's more proficient during season two, but most investigation-related calls still go to his partner.
Character Development: Charlie couldn't seem to complete any interaction without saying something zennishly absurd in the first season, but by the second he could hold well-reasoned, focused conversations. Considering the zen was implied to be a crutch for holding back his darkness, it seems time has allowed him to put some of the darkness behind him. By the end of the series he's genuinely quirky rather than possibly crazy.
Christmas Carolers: In one episode a group of carolers are startled and horrifed when Charlie hits a suspect dressed as one of Santa's elves with a fruitcake.
Charlie: I'd like to come to my own wake. Dani: But then you'd be dead. Charlie: Except for that part. Just to see who'd show up, see what they'd say. Pretty girls in black dresses...weeping quietly in small groups. Or all by themselves... Dani: Lemme know when you touch down.
Creator Provincialism: One episode had characters say that a local mall was the nth largest in the world, with all their suggestions being within the top ten. No American malls were in the top ten largest in the world during the years of the show's run.
Cowboy Cop: Charlie again, sort of. He has a tendency to bend rules and go off on his own.
Crime Time Soap: Sure, there are cases, but there's also Charlie's and Dani's personal lives.
The dinner scene from "Evil...and His Brother Ziggy" may be the most hilarious example.
Kyle Hollis, the man who killed the Seybolts. He and Crews both found some sort of spiritual awakening. Crews wants to clear his name while Hollis is The Atoner.
Evil Gloating: Not too often, but the hitman... woman... hitwoman in one episode spends a while describing the course a poison will take, enough time that she's interrupted before she can deliver a killing blow.
Faux Documentary: Season 1 had a series of short clips presented as talking-head interviews between various minor supporting characters and an unseen interviewer. They're absent in the second season until the beginning of the series finale, when Roman shoots the interviewer dead.
Fair Cop: Dani. It's even more noticeable in season 2, where she starts wearing her hair down. Also, Seever.
Crews, as well.
Fish out of Water: Crews, having spent the last 12 years in prison, is woefully unprepared for all the newfangled technology that's sprung up.
Foreshadowing: Seever drops the statistic that 97% of cops never fire their guns off the range.
In the season one finale, Mark Rawls says to Crews that it 'feels like earthquake weather'. Next season, in the episode where Rawls next appears, there is an earthquake, and everything goes to hell.
Ted says he couldn't go back to jail, and Charlie reassures him "no one is going back to jail, Ted". Naturally, by the end of the episode, Ted, naturally is framed and arrested.
In the pilot, Charlie kept saying he is not attached to his beautiful car. In the end, Ted runs it over with a tractor.
Fruit of The Loon: Charlie, all the time. As he explains when asked about it, you can't get fresh fruit in prison.
Genre Blindness: In one episode, Charlie warns Bobby not to approach the house he's observing until Charlie arrives. Naturally, as soon as the target closes the blinds, he enters the house without Charlie and gets into trouble.
Genre Savvy: In one episode, Reese is away, so Charlie solves the case with the help of his old partner. Then, after catching the killer, he's sitting on the dead guy's roof, talking with Reese on his cell, about how they still don't know why the guy was killed. When he goes quiet, Reese accurately predicts that he's having a Eureka Moment.
Go Mad from the Isolation: Charlie spent a lot of time in solitary confinement. A lot of time, with nobody to talk to but himself and no distractions but an old book on Zen.
He outlines it in six-month increments to Hollis in "Fill It Up"
Charlie: How's it going in there, Kyle? The first six months I was in solitary, I did push-ups every day and I never talked to myself. The next six months, I stopped doing push-ups and I...I confess...I did talk a little to myself. The six months after that...those next six months, Kyle? You don't wanna know what happened then.
Had to Come to Prison to Be a Crook: When we meet Arthur Tins in season 1, he's a low-rate con artist whom Crews sends to prison for a parole violation. When we see him again in season 2 after he's escaped, he's a hardened criminal who murders one man, robs an armored car and takes a family hostage.
Hide Your Pregnancy: Sarah Shahi was pregnant during the last episodes of season 2 so she got written into a storyline of being interviewed by the FBI and temporarily replaced by Gabrielle Union.
Hoist by His Own Petard: How do you stop a Professional Killer who kills people using household objects from escaping? Put the diet soda you asked her for in her gas tank. Not to mention the fact that the victim was a hitman himself, who she killed because the economy was bad and she didn't need the competition.
Holy Backlight: In the Season One finale, "Fill It Up." Also pops up again in "Re-Entry".
Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: At 6'1, Charlie/Damian stands about 10 inches taller than Dani/Sarah. (However, you really don't want to test the Tiny Girl in this case. Because she could kick your ass in 2 seconds.)
Hyper Awareness: "It's all here. Except for what's not here." "What does that mean? Does anybody know what that means?"
Lonely at the Top: Reese and Crews investigate a murder among a support group for lottery winners in "Jackpot". Most of the winners have shed their families, some because said family members were always asking for money, others because they became incredibly paranoid that people were after the money.
Meaningful Name: Subverted by Eval (sounds like "evil"), a leading suspect in "Evil...and His Brother Ziggy." He's a sketchy guy illegally importing guns, but it turns out they're musketoons for use in (historically inaccurate) reenactments for his casino.
Mixed Ancestry: Reese has a white father and a Persian mother. This doesn't come up a lot except in one episode of season one (it's also close to an Actor-Shared Background for Sarah Shahi, who has an Iranian father and Spanish mother).
Mundane Luxury: Crews's love of fresh fruit stems from not being able to get any while in prison.
Never Going Back To Prison: Ted has this outlook, and says that he will kill himself before going back. Ultimately he's unable to avoid being sent back to prison, although Charlie is able to hire another prisoner to essentially be his 24/7 bodyguard.
It Was Here, I Swear: When the police storm Charlie's place, hoping to connect him to the murders, said wall magically vanishes. Much to even Charlie's surprise. Turns out his roommate/friend removed it when he wasn't looking. When Charlie starts up the wall again, he covers the walls in butcher paper first.
And later on, a blackmailer manages to charm Ted into letting her into the house he and Charlie share, and takes pictures of the Wall. Uh oh. She later ends up an ally. Turns out her client was involved in the conspiracy, and he wanted to make sure Charlie wasn't gunning for him too.
There was also a Serial Killer whose room is filled with smiley face memorabilia.
People rhetorically asking what an experience would be like to highlight how terrible it is - that Charlie would have gone through as a prisoner.
Charlie's love of fruit.
Charlie repeating everything that's said to him, often to Reese's dismay.
"Is that Zen?"
And Charlie saying something Once an Episode that might be Zen but turns out not to be. For instance, telling a suspect who is about to hit him that "You strike me and you'll only be striking yourself." The suspect asks "What? Some kind of karmic payback?" Charlie responds "If only. No. My partner will just shoot you in the head."
"Why is your car full of bullet holes?" "I shot it."
Relatedly, Crews's cars all ended up trashed in some way over the course of the series.
And Charlie is not attached to his car. Any of them.
Samus is a Girl: Ziggy Vadas, who is only described beforehand as Eval's brother.
Science Marches On: An in-universe example. Crews was framed and sent to prison for life. As it turns out, none of the evidence at the scene matched him, but until DNA testing improved, this could not be proven.
Token Minority: While Dani's father is American, her mother is Persian (this matches Sarah Shahi's actual half-Iranian parentage). Everyone else is white.
The actor who plays Jack Reese is Cuban. There's also Det. Carl Ames and Special Agent Bodner.
You're forgetting all the sexual minorities they keep encountering. (After all, it is California.)
There's an entire episode set on an Indian reservation, and Seever herself qualifies as a Twofer Token Minority.
Too Dumb to Run Psychology Experiments: The sociology professor in "Not for Nothing" replicated an experiment specifically known for encouraging abusive behavior in its participants... and then decided that random blackouts with no direct supervision and deliberate psychological torture were a good idea. You can guess what happened.
This may also be a case of research failure, as modern ethical guidelines would probably rule out his experimental design in the first place. Maybe not, though, as the professor was shown to be trying to cover his tracks and was ultimately arrested for his behavior.
Turn in Your Badge: Charlie and Reese's boss wants Charlie sacked, and she pulls all kinds of gambits to try getting him to either quit or be sacked for screwing up. It doesn't work.
Undisclosed Funds: Charlie's settlement, which is rumored to be somewhere between 5 and 50 million dollars. In one episode, where several suspects are part of a lottery winners support group, Charlie is told that you have to have won at least 20 million to join. Charlie pulls up a chair, and sits down.
Wrap It Up: The second and series finale. The Myth Arc isn't really solved yet, but the ending is satisfying enough that both Crews and the audience can have some closure.
You Always Hear The Bullet: Averted simply in "A Civil War", when the hostage taker in the bank is shot by a marksman outside. The scene takes place entirely inside the bank and there are no cutaway shots to police snipers outside so when the shot is fired all you hear is the breaking of the glass window and the delayed report of a rifle which reverberates as if the sound is bouncing off other buildings. Someone in SFX on this show thought hard about what someone inside the bank would hear.