Monday, April 30, 2018

Breaking down the pilot of LIFE

Previous Pilot Breakdowns
Veronica Mars
The Office
Homicide: Life on the Street

Fair warning before I begin LIFE, if there's a pilot live-tweet I'm gonna fuck up, it's this one. Haven't seen it since it aired. I do not remember the resolution to the mystery, so if I miss something planted deep in the pilot, forgive me. I bumped this up in rotation when I saw it was leaving Netflix.

The show opens with sort of a documentary style. It's an infodump. Charlie Crews was a cop wrongly convicted of a triple murder - his business partner and the partner's family. DNA gets him off after 10 years behind bars. You might be noticing that a lot of these pilots have infodumps. Some use VO, some use flashback. Some use both. Some drop it at the start. Others wait until the top of Act Two.

After that, we pick up 4 months after his release. Crews is a detective on his first crime scene with partner Dani Reese. Notably Reese was what broke Sarah Shahi's type-casting as "the hot girl." She's good as a hard-edged detective and meshes well with Damian Lewis.

We're at the case of the week part of the show, murdered kid. Charlie shows his unusual approach to investigation, examines a nearby dog everyone ignored, finds a bullet. And then he finds a finger.

Top of ACT ONE - Charlie's financial advisor and lawyer do a documentary talking heads. We learn that Charlie got a HUGE (undisclosed) settlement for wrongful imprisonment. After the mythos tease, we're back to the case. Talk to the kid's, John, murdered stepfather. Charlie does the quirky cop thing to intuit the guy's high. His method pisses off Reese, who already doesn't like him.

Reese: "I'm the superior detective, I'm responsible for your actions. You get jammed up for this, I get jammed up." CONFLICT. Then there's a fun bit where Charlie doesn't know how to use his cell (because they didn't have them when he was put away).

Case-of-the-Week shows often become what I call "clue trails." Risk of "And this... and this..." I'm not gonna recap every step of the investigation. Investigation takes them to the prison where the kid's father's doing time. A few throwaways from the guards taunt Charlie about his past there, suggests they don't like him much. Look for these little moments in a pilot, stuff that reminds us who characters are.

Guards provoke Crews again. He responds with some zen platitudes. It's not the sort of lead character we see in a cop show. (I mean, the quirky cop thing has been done more often lately, but Crews feels unique.)

END ACT ONE - Crews pulls over his ex-wife's new husband, hassles him.

TOP OF ACT TWO - cops interview kid, Crews and Reese clash again. He says he knows she had to fight in this job "I'm not gonna fight with you."

Kid says John was offered information from someone who said that it could get John's dad out on a technicality. Met him online, claimed to be a lawyer. "John just wanted to get his dad out of jail and now he's dead." Possibly wrongly-accused convict is an obvious, but effective way to use the case to thread out Crew's history and issues too.

And now we meet two patrolmen who knew Charlie when he was on the streets, one of them is Stark, former partner. Helped take Charlie down.

Reese checks in with her LT. Making sure Reese is "working the program." (i.e. rehab.) Lt thinks Crews is trouble. "He got screwed and he's gonna get even." Nice scene between two female cops raising the issues they have to deal with because of gender. (Before I said so, did you default to imagining the Lt. as a man?) Lt. also is looking for an excuse to get Crews bounced. Reese admits he tipped off the kid's stepdad that a search might be coming and he should flush his pot. More conflict. Lt hates Crews. AND Reese seems to show whose side she's on.

Charlie's buddy Ted handles his settlement money, ex-CEO, put away for insider trading. They met inside, helped each other, now he lives with Charlie. The documentary lets us learn all this efficiently. Neat trick, right?

ACT OUT on a case scene, interview the mother, confirm her son stole money to pay the mysterious "lawyer."

ACT UP - Charlie gets call from his lawyer telling him to come tonight.

Next, Ted shows Charlie Google. (Remember, that didn't exist when he went inside either). Charlie: "Google me." Ted: "You don't want to see that." Montage of Charlie's "criminal" history.

Charlie's lawyer bugs him to call his father about his new wedding. Charlie says that his mother is dead because "He killed her when he wouldn't let her come see me." Charlie isn't inclined to forgive him that. Also, they're definitely setting up sexual tension between Charlie and his attorney. Then, more fun with Charlie and tech, this time bewildered by the Bluetooth in his car, and the fact his phone gets pictures "It's like living in the future."

Top of the next act: Reese asks why he became a cop again, he says the whole time he was inside, he still felt like a cop. She probes if he's going after the guys who set him up. he says no.

Aw crap. I missed how their investigation led them to the guy who killed the kid. Guy lost his finger to the dog, then "I watched Arthur kill that kid." He shoots, Crews has to find a position to shoot back from. in the shooting, bullet hits a packet of coke. Gets all over Reece (remember, she's recovering). she freaks out. he helps her into the shower to wash it off. Crews later asks her what that was about. she doesn't answer. Clue trail leads us to Arthur. Arthur is brought in for questioning. They jack him up on a parole violation. ACT OUT.

NEXT ACT starts with Reese and Crews. Offers her fruit. they bicker, but it's more friendly. We start to see how this chemistry is gonna work. They get a confession out of Arthur with the threat of putting him in the prison yard with the kid's father. Tense scene as he's being led there. He confesses.

Lt comes to Reese, says dept is ready to move forward with her complaint on Crews. Reese takes it back. So she's been won over by Crews. Seemingly. It's as small journey for her in the pilot, but a necessary one.

Charlie goes home, and we see him going through confidential files. Hidden in his closet, he's got one of those HOMELAND "Wall of Crazy" things, following the trail of events that led to his conviction. Suspects on the board... including his ex-partner and his Lt.

So he lied to Reese. does that mean he doesn't trust her? And is that because he doesn't know her? or because he DOES know her and that he shouldn't trust her?

You'd think we'd go out on that scene, but we get a small bit of Ted going to drive a tractor and accidentally running over Charlie's expensive car. (Don't ask).

Okay, so let's recap mythology:
-Wrongly convicted cop.
-back on the force
-secretly looking to figure out who framed him.
-EVERYONE's a suspect.

We actually only know bare bones here. There's a lot later eps have to flesh out in the backstory.

Crews/Reese - the core partnership, moves from outright tension to some measure of respect. Kinda reminds me of early Mulder and Scully, with Crews's quirky ways being like Mulder's investigative leaps.

What makes these characters different:
Crews - the zen thing, and his befuddlement of modern tech (which only goes so far.)
Reese - recovering addict. Could be a cliché, but it feels like there's a big story there.
Comic relief - Ted, former inside-trading CEO turned Crews's buddy and money manager. Gives us another world for Crews to go home to that isn't just him staring at his Wall of Crazy

Other stray tidbits that can be story fuel:
- Crews's father and the tension with him over his MUCH younger fiancé.
-Crews's history with his partner, barely touched here, but clearly will be important.
Lt's kinda pulling the "woman card" on Reese to get her on her side.

Format: We have a contained case-of-the-week, like every other procedural, but unique thanks to these characters. And presumably the long arc will advance each week, with the documentary helping exposition dumps when needed

(I legit don't remember if we ever find out who's making this documentary or how that comes into play. In the pilot, it almost feels like it could just be a storytelling device, like Modern Family's talking heads.)

Hopefully after the pilot, you either want to know who framed Charlie and why, OR you want to see him solve crimes each week. Ideally both.

Other Pilot Breakdowns:

No comments:

Post a Comment