Life (NBC TV series)


Life title sequence
Genre Crime drama
Created by Rand Ravich
Starring Damian Lewis
Sarah Shahi
Brent Sexton
Donal Logue
Adam Arkin
Brooke Langton
Robin Weigert
Composer(s) Jon Ehrlich
Jason Derlatka
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 2
No. of episodes 32 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Rand Ravich
Far Shariat
David Semel
Daniel Sackheim
Producer(s) Loucas George
Running time 45–48 minutes
Production company(s) Ravich-Shariat Productions
Universal Media Studios
Distributor NBCUniversal Television Distribution
Original network NBC
Picture format 480i (SDTV)
1080i (HDTV)
Original release September 26, 2007 (2007-09-26) – April 8, 2009 (2009-04-08)

Life was an American crime drama television program created by Rand Ravich that aired for two seasons on NBC. It was produced by Universal Media Studios under the supervision of executive producers Rand Ravich, Far Shariat, David Semel, and Daniel Sackheim. Semel also directed the pilot.

The series stars Damian Lewis as Charlie Crews, a detective released from prison after serving twelve years for a crime he did not commit. Life premiered on September 26, 2007 on NBC and aired on Wednesday nights at 10 ET. On May 4, 2009, NBC announced its cancellation, a month after the final episode had been aired.[1] The series was later made available for streaming through Hulu and Netflix.[2]


In an interview with, series creator Rand Ravich explained that Life came initially from Ravich's own long-standing interest in, and desire to work on, a police procedural show. Ravich first created the character of Charlie Crews as the basis for the show; upon the completion of the script, Ravich immediately considered actor Damian Lewis for the role.[3]

Life was conceived as an episodic television show in the vein of 24, where emotional closure is provided as new clues to the main mystery (the conspiracy that sent Charlie Crews to prison) are revealed every few episodes, with Ravich stating that he and the writers disliked the serial nature of some shows where it feels "like you’re kind of wandering in the desert".[3]


First season

Life centers on Detective Charlie Crews, who at the start of the first season (set in 2007) is released from Pelican Bay State Prison after serving twelve years of a life sentence. In 1995, he was wrongfully convicted of the triple murder of his friend and business partner, Tom Seybolt, and all but one of the partner's immediate family. Thanks to the efforts of his lawyer Constance Griffiths, DNA evidence exonerates him of the murders. Having lost his job, his wife, his friends, nearly all contact with the outside world and even his grip on reality for a time while in jail, he emerges enlightened by the philosophy of Zen, a fixation with fresh fruit (which he acquired while in prison, as it is nonexistent on the inside), and an obsession with solving the murder that nearly cost him his life and exposing the conspiracy that framed him for it. After successfully suing the city of Los Angeles and the LAPD, he is reinstated to the police department and receives an undisclosed amount of money, rumored at $50 million.

Crews is partnered with Detective Dani Reese, previously an undercover narcotics agent and now a recovering drug addict and alcoholic (thanks to her work and several betrayals as an undercover cop). Crews is not well received by Lieutenant Karen Davis, who, during the season, tries to force Reese into offering information that will see Crews suspended and eventually fired. Even though she herself is uncomfortable with her new partner, Reese backs Crews up on numerous occasions, and the two slowly develop a bond.

The overarching story of the first season concerns the murder for which Crews was wrongfully imprisoned, which leads him to confront various figures from his past such as his former patrol partner, his remarried ex-wife, and the detective that solved the triple-murder case and is still convinced of Crews' guilt. Near the end of the season, Crews manages to uncover information that implicates Reese's father (also a retired cop and Lt. Davis's former partner) in the murder. In the finale, Crews is able to bring the true killer, Kyle Hollis, to justice, but he remains unaware of the reasons behind his having been framed.

Second season

The second season premiered on Monday, September 29, 2008. On July 21, 2008, producers announced the second season would effectively re-launch the series with a new "pilot" episode.[4] Earlier in March 2008, series creator and executive producer Rand Ravich explained that the second season would delve deeper into the conspiracy in the framing of Charlie Crews.[5] Similarly, more of Dani Reese's past would be revealed.[6]

Crews continues to investigate into the conspiracy to frame him and begins tracking some retired cops. He tracks down Rachel Seyboldt, the surviving member of his business partner's family and she moves in with him. Reese begins a relationship with the new captain after her father disappears. Crews eventually learns that he had been watched since the police academy, to eventually replace an aging crime lord. The intent was to corrupt Crews' friend Tom Seyboldt, who owned a bar with Crews and that by corrupting one business partner, they would also corrupt Crews. Mistakes were made, the Seyboldts were inadvertently murdered and Crews framed for the crime. The second season concludes with Crews trading himself for Reese after she is kidnapped by Roman Nevikov. Soon after, Crews kills Nevikov by crushing his windpipe. The last scene of the series shows Crews finally finding peace.

Cast and characters

Original first-season main cast of Life. From left to right: Robin Weigert, Sarah Shahi, Damian Lewis, Adam Arkin and Melissa Sagemiller.

Main cast

Series Creator Rand Ravich immediately considered Damian Lewis for the part. Lewis chose to do the role after reading the script, in which he appreciated the character-driven nature of the story.
In the second season finale, Sarah Shahi is visibly pregnant, which was announced in early 2009. She started to work fewer hours on set. The storyline used was that Reese was working for the FBI. Gabrielle Union filled in for Reese as Crews' temporary partner, Detective Jane Seever.
Reese's inner demons are what attracted Shahi to play the character. Specifically she said, "I like the fact that she has a dark side and she has some demons that she needs to overcome."[7]
In Season 2, Ted started teaching at a business school. Initially, the class has virtually no one attending, but Olivia, Ted's love interest (and Charlie's father's fiancée), spreads rumors of Ted doing impressive crimes that cause the class to be filled to capacity. The Group, specifically FBI Special Agent Paul Bodner, framed Earley for violating his parole and Earley was briefly returned to Pelican Bay. Crews acted quickly, arranging for his prison friends to protect and serve him and eventually "convinced" Bodner to have Earley released.

Recurring cast

While in custody, Nevikov provided information to Crews that led him to shift the focus of his personal investigation towards the Bank of Los Angeles Shootout. In Season 2, however, it is revealed the agent who delivered this news (FBI Special Agent Bodner) was really corrupt and working for Nevikov. Nevikov brought a team of builders consisting of two builders/mob enforcers and an engineering genius, over from Moscow to the United States illegally, and then had them monitor the site of the future new federal building in Los Angeles, copy details of the building's security system, and then installed it in Nevikov's club (under the guise of unknown renovation work), as well as underground vaults underneath the basement. Once the work was completed, Nevikov couldn't risk his secrets being exposed as the builders knew too much, Nevikov executed all three. Crews and Reese investigated, and eventually approached Nevikov about the killings. Nevikov denied any knowledge, but because they "asked nicely" (appealed to his ego), he agreed to ask around.
Nevikov noticed the detectives continuing investigations on him, and subtly threatened Rachel Seybolt's life if Crews investigated too deeply. The LAPD launched a search of Nevikov's club, hiding it from federal attention, but found nothing, and Bodner claimed jurisdiction over the case when it was suspected the engineer was involved in terrorism. Crews figured out by reading Russian history what Nevikov had done, as well as suspecting the engineer; Pavel, had left a "trapdoor" in Nevikov's security system for them to find.
As such, Crews, Reese and a SWAT team stormed Nevikov's club, with Nevikov calmly waiting for them and gave himself up. Initially he remained calm and confident they wouldn't find anything yet again, but Crews used the personal laptop built by Pavel for Nevikov to unlock the "trapdoor" in the security system (a video made and narrated by Pavel shortly before his death) explaining what transpired as well as revealing what he found was going on in the underground vaults beneath the club's basement (human trafficking). The people were released and Nevikov was believed to have been brought to justice.
It was later revealed that Nevikov was an "investment" for the Group who was abandoned in favor of Crews to take charge of their money laundering operation. Spurned by this betrayal, Nevikov hunted down and killed Jack Reese, and attempted to do the same with Mickey Rayborn, failing when Rayborn went into hiding. Needing a way to find him, Nevikov arranged with his friends in the FBI to have Dani captured, and then tried to tie up loose ends by having the same agents killed. Crews realized Nevikov was still at large when, going to maximum security prison to see him, he instead found another prisoner paid to impersonate Nevikov and serve his sentence in his place. Nevikov then contacted Crews with a straight deal: Reese for Rayborn.
Crews, instead, offered up himself as he had intimate knowledge of Rayborn's financial details, which Nevikov could use to take over the laundering operation. While in transport, Crews used a technique he learned in prison to crush Nevikov's windpipe, thereby killing him. Nevikov's bodyguards, really working for him out of fear for their families, let Crews go when he explains to them that whatever Nevikov had on them died with him.


Main article: List of Life episodes

Life premiered on September 26, 2007, on NBC, aired on Wednesday. NBC initially ordered thirteen episodes of the show: an original order of seven episodes, and then on October 10, 2007 placed an order for at least three additional episodes, later pinned down as six episodes.[8] In November 2007 NBC placed an order for the balance of a full season, nine additional episodes. This would've brought the show's first season to a standard 22 episodes, with NBC stating it was hitting its creative stride.[9] However, due to the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike, only 11 of the 22 episodes were completed.

The second season premiered on Monday, September 29, 2008, and a second episode aired Friday, October 3, 2008. Another episode aired Monday, October 6, 2008, after which it was moved to its regular time slot of Friday nights at 10/9c and then after 4 weeks the show was moved to Wednesday nights at 9/8c.



The series was created by Rand Ravich, who also served as executive producer alongside Far Shariat, David Semel, and Daniel Sackheim for Universal Media Studios. Semel also directed the pilot.[10] Rafael Alvarez (The Wire) was a writer and producer for the show.[11] Alvarez also wrote a pilot called Panic in Detroit for NBC.[11] Based on this piece they hired him to work on Life as a writer and producer.[11]

NBC issued an order for a minimum of three additional episodes, on top of the original order for seven, the day "Let Her Go" aired, October 10, 2007.[8] On November 26 NBC announced that Life had received a full season. However, due to the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike only 11 of the 22 episodes were completed.

After the strike ended on February 13, 2008, NBC decided not to film any more episodes for the 2007–08 season and instead announced that Life had been picked up for a second season and would return for the Fall 2008/09 season on Friday nights at 10/9c.[12] The network released the first episode of season two, a week before its air date, online and via cable on demand.

On November 7, 2008, NBC picked up Life for a full season.[13][14]

After the first season and the writers' strike was over, half of the writing staff of the show (originally six writers), who were all also producers, decided to quit and did not return for season 2. According to creator/showrunner Rand Ravich, it wasn't either due to the strike or over creative disagreement: "I just think people went on to do what they want to."

One of the writers, Glen Mazzara, moved on to a new series, Crash, starring Dennis Hopper, where he served as writer, executive producer and showrunner.[15] Mazzara was also a writer and showrunner on The Walking Dead.

Themes and characteristics


First introduced in the pilot episode, episodes of Life generally feature short segments of documentary footage as interludes. These scenes feature the supporting cast being interviewed about their relationship to Charlie Crews and their response to his wrongful imprisonment and release. Appearing are: Bobby Starks (Brent Sexton), Jennifer Connover (Jennifer Siebel), Ted Earley (Adam Arkin), retired Detective Charles Ames (Roger Aaron Brown), Constance Griffiths (Brooke Langton) and in the first episode Dr. Alan Fay, surgeon at the Pelican Bay prison and two uniformed police officers named Krebbs and Zerco (Matt Gerald and Reno Wilson respectively). Segments were often repeated in following episodes and new segments were slowly added from time to time. This technique continued throughout the arc of the series, until the camera crew is killed by Roman Nevikov during an interview in the final episode. Up until that point, it is not disclosed that this documentary is an ongoing, as opposed to a finished, project.


A prominent theme in Life is the effect of imprisonment, both physically and mentally, on ex-convicts, particularly on the characters of Charlie Crews and Ted Earley. Several episodes deal prominently with the effect on Crews; for example, his use of a knife rather than his service revolver in a confrontation ("Let Her Go"); his desire to keep his house as spacious as possible ("Let Her Go"); his shock and revulsion at the idea of putting a fence around his pool to keep out the coyotes; his insight into the behavior of guards ("Serious Control Issues"); and the connections existing between (ex-) convicts ("Fill It Up").

Several references are made to the 12 years Crews spent in prison during the course of the show. For example, in "Dig a Hole", characters repeatedly ask the question "Who knows where they were ten years ago?", to which Crews continually responds that he does. Similarly, another recurrent theme is Crews' lack of knowledge of current technology due to his time in incarceration.

The episode "Serious Control Issues" focuses on a teenager who was abducted as a child and the similarities that exist between him and Crews.

The conspiracy wall

The conspiracy wall as shown in the pilot episode, "Merit Badge". The wall was recreated on the NBC website.

The 'conspiracy wall' is first introduced in the series' pilot episode and consists of photos and articles that the character of Charlie Crews has linked to his false imprisonment. New items were added to the wall during the first seven episodes as new clues were revealed. A digital reproduction of the conspiracy wall on the NBC website allowed visitors to view and speculate.

The actual conspiracy wall was dismantled in the eighth episode, "Farthingale". The digital version is no longer available on as of January 2016. In the second-season episode "Black Friday," the conspiracy wall was shown to be back in place.


The philosophy underlying the Zen religion is featured heavily in Life, most prominently through Charlie Crews. Episodes usually feature Crews using Zen techniques to stay focused or, by the unique insight it gives him, to solve a case. Similarly, he often uses Zen kōans (a metaphoric and even seemingly paradoxical riddle or story, and that cannot be solved by the literal application of logic or reason, but which, when understood through meditation, illuminates some aspect of life and living in order to progress on the path to enlightenment).

Crews' struggle with his beliefs are most prominently featured in the first season finale "Fill It Up", when he learns the identity of the real killer in the case that saw him wrongfully imprisoned. In anger, Crews throws a tape on Zen, titled "The Path to Zen", which is featured in a previous episode, out of his car as his desire for revenge conflicted with the inherently pacifist nature of Zen. In the final scene of the episode, when the killer is brought to justice, Crews picks up the discarded tape from the road.


Critical response

As of August 2008, Life has a 64% favorable rating for season 1 and a 72% rating for season 2 on Metacritic. Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly dubs the series "a very good new show that needs a more vivid title and more of NBC's promotional oomph" and praising the portrayal of Charlie Crews by the "beloved" Damian Lewis.[16] In contrast, Gina Bellafante of The New York Times noted that the character of Detective Crews (and contemporary Adrian Monk of the series Monk) did not portray "law enforcers as believable soldiers of the working class", which she considered a negative. Tonally though, she described the show as "a musical version of a Thomas Harris novel" (Harris is a noted and acclaimed author of crime novels) and found the narrative to be "incredibly satisfying".[17]

David Bianculli of the Daily News (New York) also likened the character of Crews to Adrian Monk, noting that "Lewis is commanding, and draws your attention without saying a word, almost as much as does Tony Shalhoub on Monk." He also praised Sarah Shahi for her performance as Dani Reese, stating that "it's easy to imagine her as the star of her own spinoff, taking her no-nonsense character front and center".[18] Alan Sepinwall, reporter for The Star-Ledger instead cited a resemblance between Crews and main character Gregory House (played by British actor Hugh Laurie) of House, but noting that "where House's quirks and bad behavior are ceaselessly amusing, Crews' idiosyncrasies -- also including a bafflement at modern technology like camera phones and instant messaging -- are already tired by the end of the first episode".[19]

Robert Bianco similarly made the comparison between Life and House and Monk but noted that the character of Crews is covered "with so many quirks, foibles, and eccentricities you can hardly spot poor Lewis underneath", concluding with "strip away the abrasive flourishes and what's left is a standard issue TV mystery with cases that are too easy to solve and internal conflicts and conspiracies that make no sense".[20]

International distribution

Country Channel Premiere date
Australia Network Ten
Italy Joi 2/20/2008
Lithuania TV3 Lithuania
Russia Fox Crime
Germany VOX 3/11/2009
Switzerland SRF zwei 1/12/2009

Awards and nominations

The show won a 2008 AFI Award for best television series.[21]


U.S. television ratings

# Title Air date Rating Share 18–49 Viewers
S01E01 "Pilot: Merit Badge" September 26, 2007 6.5 11 4.1 10.15
S01E02 "Tear Asunder" October 3, 2007 5.7 10 3.0 8.80
S01E03 "Let Her Go" October 10, 2007 5.3 9 2.8 8.14
S01E04 "What They Saw" October 17, 2007 5.0 8 2.8 7.66
S01E05 "The Fallen Woman" October 24, 2007 4.7 9 2.5 6.85
S01E06 "Powerless" October 31, 2007 3.7 6 2.0 5.72
S01E07 "A Civil War" November 7, 2007 4.1 7 2.6 6.41
S01E08 "Farthingale" November 14, 2007 4.5 8 2.5 6.94
S01E09 "Serious Control Issues" November 28, 2007 4.1 7 2.2 6.27
S01E10 "Dig a Hole" December 3, 2007 4.3 7 2.5 6.61
S01E11 "Fill It Up" December 5, 2007 5.0 8 2.5 7.64
S02E01 "Find Your Happy Place" September 29, 2008 ... ... 2.8 6.92
S02E02 "Everything. . . All the Time" October 3, 2008 ... ... 2.3 5.78
S02E03 "The Business of Miracles" October 6, 2008 ... ... 1.7 5.44
S02E04 "Not for Nothing" October 10, 2008 ... ... 1.4 4.92
S02E05 "Crushed" October 17, 2008 ... ... 1.5 5.93
S02E06 "Did You Feel That?" October 24, 2008 ... ... 1.5 5.49
S02E07 "Jackpot" November 5, 2008 ... ... 2.0 5.82
S02E08 "Black Friday" November 12, 2008 ... ... 1.8 5.83
S02E09 "Badge Bunny" November 19, 2008 ... ... 1.7 5.32
S02E10 "Evil...And His Brother Ziggy" December 3, 2008 ... ... 2.3 8.10
S02E11 "Canyon Flowers" December 10, 2008 ... ... 1.8 5.46
S02E12 "Trapdoor" December 17, 2008 ... ... 1.7 5.19
S02E13 "Re-entry" February 4, 2009 ... ... 1.8 6.76
S02E14 "Mirror Ball" February 11, 2009 3.2 5 1.4 4.72
S02E15 "I Heart Mom" February 18, 2009 3.3 5 1.5 5.16
S02E16 "Hit Me Baby" February 25, 2009 3.3 5 1.7 4.89
S02E17 "Shelf Life" March 11, 2009 3.4 5 1.8 5.21
S02E18 "3 Women" March 18, 2009 ... ... 1.5 4.22
S02E19 "5 Quarts" March 25, 2009 ... ... 1.4 4.32
S02E20 "Initiative 38" April 1, 2009 3.7 6 1.5 5.70
S02E21 "One" April 8, 2009 ... ... 1.3 4.50
# Timeslot Season Premiere Season Finale Episodes TV Season Ranking Viewers
(in millions)
1 Wednesday 10:00PM September 26, 2007 December 5, 2007 11 2007–2008 #63 8.1
2 Wednesday 9:00PM September 29, 2008 April 8, 2009 21 2008–2009 N/A 5.77

International ratings

In Australia, TV ratings for the first episode of Life on Network Ten reached 1.085 million viewers, making it one of the top programs viewed for that day and timeslot.[22][23] The season finale aired in that country (episode 8) on 21 November achieved the ratings of 908,000 viewers.[24]

In the UK, the series is shown on ITV3. The series two premiere attracted 205,000 viewers.[25]

In Germany, the series is shown on VOX. The first episode of the second season got 15% (3.5 million) viewers.[26]

DVD releases

Title Release Episodes Additional information
The Complete First Season September 2, 2008[27] 11 While the music selection plays an important role on the show, a process supervised by creator Rand Ravich, the DVDs do not include the original music selection but alternative songs (NBC's "rewind version").
The Complete Second Season August 25, 2009 21 While the original version of the episode "Canyon Flowers" opened with Coldplay's song "42", the song is missing on the DVD. The original version of "Find Your Happy Place" opened with Gram Rabbit's "Devil's Playground", also missing from the DVD.


  1. "Life" is Over At NBC,, May 4, 2009
  2. "Life" on Netflix Streaming,, July 10, 2012
  3. 1 2 Seat42f (2007-09-27). "'Life' Interview With Damian Lewis". Retrieved 2008-08-23.
  4. "'Life' to relaunch; 'Chuck' plans shower fight". The Live Feed.
  5. Gary Levin (2008-03-13). "For five freshmen, strike means second chance ; Rethink and retool for relaunch in fall". USA Today.
  6. Kaye Villagomez (2008-04-20). "What makes Sharah Shahi happy?". Manila Bulletin.
  7. "Life According to Sarah," The Malay Mail, 2008-04-08; reprinted at Live Journal (retrieved 2011-10-22).
  8. 1 2 TFC Staff (2007-10-10). "NBC, CBS stand by their newcomers". Retrieved 2007-10-10.
  9. Greg Braxton, Los Angeles Times (2007-11-28). "NBC wants full seasons of 'Chuck' and 'Life'".
  10. "Life: About". NBC. 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
  11. 1 2 3 David Zurawik (2007). "Alvarez gets Life -- a new NBC fall series". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2007-10-14.
  12. NBC (2008-02-13). "NBC renews drama series 'Chuck, 'Life' AND 'Heroes' for 2008-09 season". Retrieved 2008-02-13.
  13. Littleton, Cynthia (November 7, 2008). "NBC orders full-season of "Life"". Retrieved 2008-11-10.
  14. "NBC Gives Life More Life". Retrieved 2008-11-10.
  15. Dempsey, John (June 5, 2008). "Dennis Hopper to do 'Crash' series". Variety.
  16. Ken Tucker (September 26, 2007). "TV Review: Life". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2008-08-19.
  17. Gina Bellafante (2007-09-26). "Sprung From Jail: A Cop With Cash and Quirks". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-19.
  18. David Bianculli (2007-09-26). "Police show breathes new 'Life' into familiar formula". Daily News (New York). Retrieved 2008-08-19.
  19. Alan Sepinwall (2007-09-26). "Money makes the new season go 'round". All TV. The Star-Ledger. Retrieved 2008-08-19.
  20. Robert Biance (2007-09-26). "Alas, it's not a good 'Life'". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-08-19.
  21. "AFI Awards 2008". American Film Institute. 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-29.
  22. Seven - Daily Ratings Report -, 4 October 2007
  23. TEN - Daily Ratings Report -, 4 October 2007
  24. Seven - Daily Ratings Report -, 22 November 2007
  27. Life DVD news: Announcement for Life - Season 1 |
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