10-11 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 26

The one thing current network police procedurals have in common is their overall respect for those who wear the badge. Unlike, say, FX's "The Shield" and, to a far lesser extent, TNT's "The Closer," network shows depict police units pulling together, concerned mainly with finding the real criminal and not just building a good case for the district attorney.

"Life" is different and, perhaps, more true to life. It shows a police force, in this case the LAPD, more interested in closing cases than solving crimes. Large and small resentments fester among the officers, and the police lieutenant's top priority is to weed out a certain detective.

It's an entirely different vibe, further enhanced by a charismatic and quirky central character who is both unpredictable and impossible to pigeonhole. Given a chance to develop, Detective Charlie Crews could someday take a place with the likes of Kojak, Columbo and Monk.

Crews, played with striking authenticity and a perfect American accent by British actor Damian Lewis, was a beat cop convicted 12 years earlier of a terrible crime. (In the second episode, we learn it was a triple homicide.) New evidence, however, showed he didn't do it.

He reached a settlement that made him a multimillionaire and reinstated him to the police force as a detective. Fellow cops are suspicious. His partner, Dani Reese (comely Sarah Shahi), thinks she's been saddled with an oddball. His superior, Lt. Karen Davis (Robin Weigert) is looking for any legitimate reason to have him discharged. Crews, however, had been studying Zen philosophy in between frequent and severe prison beatings and is just doing his best to stay in the moment.

He is far from a Zen master, though. He can't help but enjoy the flashy car, huge mansion and sexy women purchased with his settlement money. Nor can he resist the urge to harass his ex-wife's new husband. Still, his new outlook on life -- odd as it seems to others -- gives him an edge at solving the heinous crime of the week.

All of this would be enough to make "Life" thoroughly watchable, but creator and executive producer Rand Ravich adds one more element: When Crews isn't solving crimes or enjoying women, he's busy setting up his own replica of the room in "A Beautiful Mind," trying to figure out who committed the crime for which he was framed. That story, told documentary style, will run through the season, maybe the entire series.

The cast includes Adam Arkin, who plays Ted Earley, a CEO and white-collar criminal Crews befriended in prison. Earley lives in an apartment above Crews' garage and handles the finances. In the first couple of episodes, he is mostly a token presence, which is a waste of Arkin's considerable talent.

With all it has going for it, including solid technical credits, "Life" will be fighting for its own. Network competition includes "CSI: NY," which will siphon off a lot of procedural fans, and ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money," which has hit potential.

Universal Media Studios
Executive producers: Rand Ravich, Far Shariat, Dan Sackheim, David Semel
Producer: Loucas George
Director: David Semel
Creator-teleplay: Rand Ravich
Director of photography: Checco Varese
Production designer: Phillip Toolin
Editors: Warren Bowman, Joshua Butler, Victor DuBois
Music: John Ehrlich, Jason Derlatka
Set designers: Beau Peterson, Susan Lynch
Casting: Megan Branman, Dylann Brander
Charlie Crews: Damian Lewis
Dani Reese: Sarah Shahi
Ted Earley: Adam Arkin
Constance Griffith: Brooke Langton
Lt. Karen Davis: Robin Weigert