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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Life: "Find Your Happy Place"

Illustration for article titled Life: Find Your Happy Place
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Illustration for article titled Life: Find Your Happy Place

I left Life out of my Primer on TV Detectives last week, in part because, hey, I couldn't cover everything, and in part because I've never known quite what to make of Life. I liked the premise at the start of Season One: Detective Charlie Crews, his life turned upside-down after being falsely incarcerated for murder, sues for a pile of money and reinstatement on the force, and uses his newly Zen approach to the world to help him see details in crimes that others might miss. All well and good. But after a few weeks, I found I was falling behind on Life, because the mysteries were a little plain, and the show's larger arc–in which Crews tried to figure out who set him up to go to jail–seemed a little too much like every other serialized conspiracy-themed drama on the air. I reluctantly dropped the show from my TiVo queue–I say "reluctantly" because I was really enjoying Damian Lewis' performance as the perpetually curious Crews–and only returned for the season-ending two-parter.

And now I'm checking back in for the first episode of Season Two, after reading that creator Rand Ravich and NBC had agreed to emphasize the procedural elements of the show, along with developing the backstories of the main characters in a more conventional way, rather than via complicated master-plots. Sure enough, "Find Your Happy Place" downplays Crews' attempts to solve the puzzle of who screwed him, and instead dives headlong into a kinky mystery: Bodies are turning up in numbered trunks all over Los Angeles, and Crews and his partner Dani Reese have to figure out who the killer is before all the missing boxes get filled.

I figured out the bad guy early on, using the Law & Order "Hey, I know that guy!" method of home detection. It works like this: Whenever you recognize a character actor in a seemingly minor role on a mystery show, that's usually the guy you're looking for. So as soon as I spotted Noel Fisher–a guy I know from The Riches and the movie Red–my list of possible suspects dwindled down to one.

Of course, Crews figured it out early too, by finding an unexpected connection between all the early victims: They were all recent recipients of good news, which they announced using cards made up at Noel Fisher's stationery store. The next mystery? Where did this creep stash the one trunked-up body that's yet to be found?

Given that our hero was himself transformed by his time in a confined space, the symbolism of the box in "Find Your Happy Place" was a nice touch. Otherwise though, this episode felt a little rote as a character-driven police procedural. The trappings of last year's Life–like the sudden breaks into direct camera addresses, intended for a documentary on Crews–didn't always fit with the new elements, such as the introduction of Donal Logue as goofy ex-NY cop replacing the officious, casually evil Robin Weigert.

Still, every time I think Life is nothing special, Ravich and company cook up a scene that throws me for a loop. Tonight there were three: a standoff around an ice cream truck that cleverly resolved during the commercial break; a shot of a woman trapped in a box that turned out to be a go-go dancer grooving at a club; and a scene of Crews gazing in awe at the automatic devices in a public toilet. Those are the moments that make Life interesting; not the bizarre cases or the answers the hero obsesses over.

So I may return to Life every now and then, because I do so love detective shows. But to quote Charlie Crews, "Love has nothing to do with need," and with a slate of other shows demanding my attention, Life just isn't that vital.

Grade: B

Stray observations:

-"You're not here to box the kumquat are you?"

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