The British are coming! The British are coming!
Much has been made about the large quantity of new fall series starring British actors, the unspoken supposition that they're coming to class up American TV.
But the quality of prime-time TV is not determined by the nationality of the actors, but by the quality of the writing.
For instance, British actor Damian Lewis ("Band of Brothers," "The Forsyte Saga") depicts repression and can smolder with the best of the Brits, but his new NBC series, "Life" (10 tonight, WPXI), is pretty lifeless.
Lewis stars as detective Charlie Crews, wrongfully imprisoned for 12 years for a murder he didn't commit. Now exonerated with a huge police department settlement and again working as a cop, Crews tries to catch up with the modern world (cell phones have cameras!) while untangling the murder he was framed for.
He's a bit of a social outcast (think: Dr. House, played by another Brit, Hugh Laurie) who's prone to quoting from self-help tapes, bringing home money-hungry women for a romp in the sack and irritating his recovering addict new partner (Sarah Shahi) with his quirks. In addition, Charlie has daddy issues and lives in a mansion (his accountant, played by Adam Arkin, lives over the garage).
Throughout the pilot and a subsequent episode, there are also flashes of Crews' former partner and those who investigated the murder he was accused of committing. Crews suspects he was framed and continues to investigate to discover who was responsible for him having his life interrupted by incarceration.
In tonight's premiere, Crews is a quirky character who's borderline annoying. His tweaky nature gets toned down by the second episode that features a pretty routine murder case that's as obvious as it is unimaginative.
In addition to Lewis, "Life" wastes the considerable talent of character actress Robin Weigert, best known as Calamity Jane on "Deadwood." She's stuck playing a no-nonsense police lieutenant from the stock character warehouse. She may or may not have something to do with framing Crews.
"Life," created by screenwriter Rand Ravich ("The Astronaut's Wife"), wants to be a character study of what prison does to the wrongfully accused, but it gets bogged down by so many procedural elements that all the character moments get squished and forced out around the edges, resulting in an uninteresting blob of an overly familiar TV show.
TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.