After cars, my affection goes straight to good TV shows. I was practically raised by the tube and I still watch a very long list of all kinds of shows. Now, it’s a beautiful thing when a great series has an equally great car on it and I’m not the only one loving the car star phenomenon; Starsky and Hutch, Knight Rider, Dukes of Hazzard and many others were all hits in no small part thanks to the cars used. Fans dreamed about them, hundreds of copies were (and still are) made all around the globe…
We tend to think of the car star phenomenon as something from a few decades back, but it’s funny how lately, although not being the focus of the show per se, there are still a lot of great cars on TV and funnier still, no one seems to have any really good information on them. So that’s why AV is launching a new series of articles dedicated to fighting this injustice, starting with unfairly canceled shows; first installment: “Life”.
Life was a great show (surprisingly, from NBC) that told the story of detective Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis) of the Los Angeles Police Department, a man who spent twelve years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. After his release, the apology from the government comes in the form of a 50 million dollar check. The new truck load of green is managed by Ted (Adam Arkin), a white collar ex-con Charlie met in jail and learned to trust. Up to this point Life could be just another cop show filled with clichés but thankfully, it steered clear. First off, there was a massive conspiracy behind Charlie’s wrong imprisonment. This conspiracy was lead by the father of Charlie’s partner in the L.A.P.D, detective Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi). Besides, Charlie leaves prison with a brand new Zen attitude that affects every way in which he sees the world, brings the funniest, ludicrous moments to the show.
That same Zen attitude applies to the way Charlie regards his cars. On the pilot (“Merit Badge”), we find Charlie driving a blue 2003 Bentley Continental GT; the car was even a part of the show’s advertising campaign. As we first see Charlie blasting through the streets of L.A. with the GT, he keeps repeating “I am not attached to this car”, after all it’s just an object and his newly acquired philosophy is not big on object attachment. Well, Charlie not getting too attached to the Bentley turns out to be a good thing because Ted accidentally backs over it with a huge tractor (at a farm Charlie bought after suffering with the lack of fresh fruit in prison for so many years). The tractor scene was very cleverly done because obviously a real Continental GT wouldn’t be wasted like that, but it doesn’t look CGI either…my money is on a look alike car made, but I could never get any concrete information on it.
Getting rid of the Bentley in the very first episode ended up being a smart move from the shows PTB’s. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Continental GT, I’ve had the opportunity to be in the company of some of these adorable little – and when I say little, I mean huge – creatures and I was very well impressed with them. W12, over 550 bhp…all very nice. However, soon after it was introduced, the Bentley suffered (in my opinion) with a crippling setback that plagues it to this day: its reputation. More accurately, its buyers and the way their image has attached itself to the car. An example: to me it would be bad enough that a certain hotel heiress that shall not be named (Paris Hilton) would buy one of these for herself but that wasn’t enough for her…you see if I had a lot of money, just the simple fact of foreseeing the possibility of hear the sentence “you know who else has one of those…” would be more than enough reason for me to stay clear of it…So degrading the car by buying it wasn’t enough. I accidentally almost died of a heart attack when I saw the pictures of the new and improved Hiltonmobile covered in a ever so discrete electric pink, ugly rims included.
You see this is the trouble with the Continental GT is that it turned into “the” car to buy and make a social statement with. It is also “the” car for new money. I’m no snob, but frankly some of the “customizations” done to these will make you want to slit your own throat. Although the massive sales volume is very good news for the gentlemen at Bentley, I’m very worried about the GT’s place in history, years from now. Just how will it be remembered? I hold a renewed hope for the Supersports…
Back to Life, clearly the most common exclusive car around wasn’t good enough for a character as unique as Charlie. Something amazing was needed, something well known but not common, something aggressive but dear to the public. What was needed was the Buick Grand National, the hope for muscle car revival back in the late 80’s. On the third episode of the first season, Charlie finds a new best friend in his 86 (or 87) Grand National 3.8 SFI Turbo. Although the GN is equipped with a V6 instead of the traditional V8, that doesn’t mean it’s slow, quite the contrary, in fact it’s very popular for drag races where, with some minor adjustments, it’s capable of extremely respectable times on the quarter mile. On one of the scenes that’s among the very best in the show, scratch that, among the very best in TV history, Charlie buys the GN from a guy called “Maldito” (the dialogue you have to hear from yourself because I cannot express here just how funny it is!) and immediately afterwards uses it to pull over his ex wife’s current husband, something that turns into a recurring gag in the show, Charlie would track down the guy and pull him over pretty much every day.
The GN isn’t the ultimate bad boy of the Buick family, that honor is reserved for the mind blowing 1987 GNX (publicized as the ideal car for Lord Vader and currently the target of unbelievable financial speculation due to its low production numbers – 547 – which makes it much economical for someone who always dreamed of one to get a regular GN and then bring it up GNX spec); however this doesn’t diminish it’s value to me. It didn’t get turned down by the show’s fans either. With its classic black body and simple but strong silver stripe along hood, roof and boot, something uncommon in Buicks but that turned out great, Charlie’s GN was itself a start of the shown until our hero decided to give it to a girl…
Again, Charlie was on foot and in need of a car, a spacious one…that need being apparent to him after his ex-wife forgot that she was indeed an “ex” and decided to have a…fun time with Charlie in the back seat of her current husband’s car. Along came the Maserati Quattroporte, an absolutely astonishing Italian machine. A few sources claim the Quattroporte used by Charlie was a GT-S, that’s not true; it was a GT, all black including the rims, giving it a particularly tough look. V8, over 400 bhp, 0 to 60 in little over 5 seconds…a good ride for any millionaire.
The addition of the Maserati in the show also reveals the character’s development. Charlie had grown, acquired more refined tastes. The Quattroporte worked amazingly well on screen but like every car on “Life”, it eventually had to go. On the episode “Did you feel that” (season 2), the Maserati is shot repeatedly leaving it riddled with bullet holes. In what to me was another stroke of genius from the show’s developers, Charlie has the mechanical aspect of the Maserati fixed, but leaves the bullet holes alone. This landed the character and his Quattroporte in TV Guide’s “Hot List 2008”. Questioned about this at the time, Rand Ravich, executive producer of Life, told TV guide: “we realized he should drive the car in this shape. It’s a beautiful machine that’s seen some things and has the scars to show it”.
There was some speculation as to what Charlie would drive next, fans debated over should get a spot in the show and everything came up from muscle cars to exotics. However speculation ended when in the episode “Mirror Ball”, the girl to whom Charlie and given the GN decided to give it back, with a few minor changes…namely the paintjob…yellow and covered in flowers in true hippie style. Thankfully and quickly the magic of television let the public see the GN back to its former glory for the rest of Life’s season 2, an uneventful one after that for the Buick.
Life ended up being canceled after only two seasons, something that was, in my view, extremely unfair because it was one of the most original and well written shows of its time, not to mention the quality acting. Hopefully one day we’ll see something as original find its way to the air waves again.
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