Missing: Life

Posted on November 16, 2011


I like police shows, as you probably figured out from reading previous posts on this blog (but if you’re new, I am, and welcome). In 2007, we were intrigued by the premise and cast of Life. We knew Damian Lewis from Band of Brothers and Dreamcatcher. I had just left a company where I’d worked for thirteen years, and I was dealing with issues of loss, so the theme of someone trying to regain his life held personal interest for me.

We Watched It

When the show opens, Charlie Crews has left Pelican Bay State Prison after serving twelve years of a life sentence. An LAPD detective, Crews and his lawyer spent 12 years proving that he was wrongly convicted of the murder of his friend and business partner Tom Seyboldt, and all but one of Seyboldt’s immediate family. He’s even secured a huge settlement from the LAPD and the city of Los Angeles. He could retire, but instead he insists that his settlement include returning him to duty on the LAPD. His new partner, Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi), isn’t thrilled that she’s saddled with a guy everyone believes is a killer. That’s before she discovers that he’s a little crazy. He lost some touch with reality inside, and began practicing Buddhism to ground himself.

Charlie Crews has a secret, though. He believes that his imprisonment was the result of a conspiracy, and that the conspiracy still exists. If any member of the conspiracy knew what Charlie suspected, its members would have to act against him. So, hidden in his big house, is a room. One wall of that room diagrams all the people and events linked to Charlie’s arrest, trial, and imprisonment. As the show goes on, the wall grows and changes as Charlie implacably hunts the people who killed Tom Seyboldt.

Is Charlie really a slightly crazy Buddhist, or are his quirks and behavior a disguise, hiding a ruthless killer in plain sight?

Missing It

The show had a great cast. Damian Lewis did a terrific job of taking us inside Charlie Crews’ mind. We genuinely cared about him. When Dani Reese’s father disappeared and she was kidnapped, our hearts were in our throats. The supporting cast included Adam Arkin, Brent Sexton, Donal Logue, Gabrielle Union, Jessy Schram, and Robin Weigert.

Because the overall story arc was intensely personal for Charlie Crews, we understood how every event and detail mattered to him. NBC encouraged fans by giving us our own conspiracy wall. Check out the Exclusives menu on that page, and you’ll see how the fans shared their conspiracies.

The mystery ended with the show. We actually got an ending, rather than the show dying off without resolving it. The solution felt rushed, though. I’m not sure if I was dissatisfied with the ending, or with the show going away.


That said, I thought the second season was weaker than the first. Effectively, they re-launched the show. In the first season, Charlie’s Buddhist beliefs provided him with an alternative perspective on the crimes they solved every week. It was a pillar of his character. With all the suspicion and resentment against Charlie, his perspective made him valuable to the LAPD. He solved mysteries faster than other detectives could, if they could solve them at all.

In the second season, that was grossly watered down. We didn’t get to see the process by which Charlie “normalized” his life. We didn’t get to see him gain acceptance within the LAPD. Suddenly he was just another detective, albeit one with a dark past. The show ended before we got to see if the writers would recover what made Charlie special.

Maybe the past always look rosy, but I remember Life as being a good show that struggled a little in its sophomore season. We’ll never know if it would have recovered.


What shows do you feel were cancelled too soon? And please – no MST3K Manimal jokes. If you want to check out Life, you can see full episodes for free here.

Posted in: television