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"Are you making fun of me?"
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, so he's basically a crime-solving Eccentric 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 Real Life, or Life Force, or The Game of Life (John Conway's zero-player computer "game"), or the board game Life (where does this article entry go?), or the Eddie Murphy movie Life, or the Discovery Channel/BBC nature documentary miniseries Life, or the Manga series Life, or Life cereal, or LIFE Magazine.
"We have to use his strength against him."
- Action Girl: Dani, Seever to a lesser extent.
- 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.
- A Death in the Limelight: Subverted. He's poisoned and almost impaled, but gets better.
- Agent Mulder: Charlie, sort of. Although he doesn't believe in everything, he acts very mystic and cryptic most of the time. Interestingly enough, though, Dani isn't an Agent Scully
- Arbitrarily-Large Bank Account: Charlie can buy pretty much whatever he wants on a whim.
- Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?: Deliberately invoked by Crews.
Tidwell: Are you thinking about what I'm thinking about?
- The Atoner: Kyle Hollis who thought he "got right".
- Autopsy Snack Time: Linda Park's coroner character in "5 Quarts" is constantly eating.
- Bad Boss: Roman.
- 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.
- Beware the Nice Ones: "Do you know how I survived twelve years in prison?"
- Big Bad: Roman.
- The Big Board: Charlie's conspiracy board.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Can You Hear Me Now: 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.
- Catch Phrase: "Is that zen?"
- 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 Episode: Crews and Reese investigate a mall murder.
- Clear My Name: In a rare example, the accused has already been cleared. Legally, at least.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Mentioned above, but here's a classic Lampshading at the wake of a murder victim.
Charlie: I'd like to come to my own wake.
- Convicted by Public Opinion: and in real life as well.
- Cowboy Cop: Charlie again, sort of
- 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.
- Da Chief: Lieutenant Karen Davis. Replaced in season 2 by Capt. Brian Tidwell, played by Donal Logue. (Slight subversion of the Suspiciously Similar Substitute in that Davis is demoted to Sergeant, but still appears on the show.)
- The Danza: Charlie's ex-wife, Jennifer Conover, is played by Jennifer Siebel.
- Death Glare: "You want to help us." "Why?" "Because I'm three seconds away from deciding I don't like you."
- Dirty Cop: Practically everyone, it seems.
- Disproportionate Retribution: "3 Women". An ex-con is framed for murder because he stopped writing his pen pal after getting out of prison.
- Dissonant Serenity: Charlie, unless he's on the trail of the people who framed him.
- Dynamic Entry: In "One", Charlie does this with a car.
- Epiphanic Prison: "Not for Nothing".
- Everyone Is a Suspect
- Evil Counterpart: To some extent, Roman for Crews.
- Evil Gloating: Not too often, but the hitwoman in one episode spends awhile 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.
- 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, there is an earthquake.
- 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, one of them is framed and arrested.
- In episode 2, Charlie kept saying he is not attached to his beautiful car. In the end, Ted runs it over with a tractor.
- Five-Bad Band: Deconstructed in "Everything… All the Time".
- Benny the Comic Relief makes Patrick laugh but knows he's weak and Patrick's right to not trust him.
- Marty The Brute is actually childish and looks up to Patrick.
- Annabelle the Dark Mistress hates Patrick and wants to get away from him.
- Patrick the Big Bad envies Benny because "Everyone knows who he is but no one knows who I am".
- The psychiatrist thinks she is their Team Mom but as Crews puts it, she's just the help to them.
- Found the Killer, Lost the Murderer: The end of season one.
- Fruit of the Loon: Charlie, all the time.
- 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.
- 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. 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.
- Hello, Attorney!: Constance.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Major Winters gets to be a cop! and Bull Randleman gets to be a prisoner that he helps out! Also, Skip Muck never died and now builds airplanes!
- 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 Career 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".
- Hyper Awareness: "It's all here. Except for what's not here." "What does that mean? Does anybody know what that means?"
- Hypocritical Humor:
Ted: What are you thinking about?
- Debatable, Crews seems to be saying that the reason he needs a bigger gun is more important than having a peaceful soul. Either way, doubles as a Crowning Moment of Awesome.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Almost all the Seever episodes included a number.
- Jurisdiction Friction: Crews and Reese are sent to investigate the murder of a sheriff's deputy on an Indian reservation to avoid a turf war between the tribal police and the sheriff's department.
- Karma Houdini: Roman, in the episode "The Fallen Woman," killed a woman, but is able to get away untouched because he's an informant for the FBI.
- This starts to fade midway through season two, diminishing completely by the series end.
- Letting Her Hair Down: Reese in Season 2.
- 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.
- Mundane Luxury: Crews's love of fresh fruit stems from not being able to get any while in prison.
- Must Let Them Get Away
- Mystery of the Week
- Native American Casino: In episode 2x10, the deputy is killed in one of those reservation casinos.
- Of Corpse He's Alive: Used (quickly, at a distance) to trick a confession in one episode.
- Odd Couple. Uh... well, duh. Reese and Crews are so completely different, which of course, led to Shipping.
- In the Season Two Finale, "One", the last few seconds indicate it might be canon. May.
- Pac-Man Fever: See the trope entry for What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome?. This part of "A Civil War" was widely mocked on gaming blogs.
- Police Procedural
- Punk in the Trunk: Charlie does this to Kyle Hollis in "Fill It Up."
- Put on a Bus: Constance and Rachel.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Reese joins the FBI, and is never shown standing up, due to Sarah Shahi's real life pregnancy.
- Redheaded Hero: Charlie
- Room Full of Crazy: Charlie's conspiracy wall.
- 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.
- Running Gag: A number of them, done pretty smartly.
- 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."
- Samus Is a Girl: Ziggy Vadas
- Seventh-Episode Twist: Crews finds out about Jack Reese and the Bank of LA shootout.
- Shrouded in Myth: Jude Hays' death.
- Smug Snake: The couple from season 2 who tried to kill 4 birds with 1 stone: Kill his wife, frame her little sister, use the murder as a springboard for a political career and humiliate the police.
- Story Arc
- Suspiciously Idle Officers: None of the FBI agents who secretly work for Roman seem to have any duties other than those he gives to them.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Seever for Dani.
- They Fight Crime
- Token Minority: While Dani's father is American, her mother is Persian. 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 an purposeful psychological torture were a good idea. You can guess what happened.
- This may also be a case of Did Not Do the Research, 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.
- Trademark Favorite Food: fruit, fruit, any kind of fruit.
- Turn in Your Badge
- Undisclosed Funds: Charlie's settlement.
- Unusual Euphemism: "Uncap the Sharpie." Reese is asked this and is horrified.
- UST: Studiously, conspicuously and hilariously averted, with both of Crews' female partners.
- In the more generic, regular type of UST. There are some subtle indications that maybe there is something more going on. Alas, we'll never know.
- Averted or subverted? Seever make a speech about the fact this will forcibly comes. Of course, Charlie was not listening, being in one of his EurekaMoments.
- What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome?: In season one there is a very dramatic sequence in which a thirty-year-old guy and a teenage girl try to play Prince of Persia to level 10.
- "What Do They Fear?" Episode: "Not for Nothing" turned out to be this.
- What Would X Do?: The dead person variant.
- The Wonka: Charlie.
- Wrap It Up: the second and series finale. The Myth Arc isn't really solved yet, but the ending is satisfied enough that both Crews and the audience be at peace.
- Zen Survivor: Charlie, literally.