Video Games according to Life: A Civil War.

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of those “Video Games according to TV Shows/Movies” posts. Previously, I looked at David Caruso chewing the scenery and giving us the most meme-worthy quotes as I checked out CSI: Miami‘s Urban Hellraisers episode. (You can check that out here.)

As we bring the series out of moth balls, we look at another TV show that depicted video games in the silliest way possible. This time, it’s a short-lived crime drama that while had an interesting premise, was the wrong place at the wrong time.

Again, I’m not a graphic designer. Leave your complaints about this at the door.

This time, our featured show is Life, a short-lived police procedural that aired on NBC from 2007-09. Damian Lewis plays Charlie Crews, a former cop who was imprisoned for 12 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Now hired as a police detective, Crews must solve crimes while trying to solve the mystery of who actually caused the crime he was imprisoned for. It’s like Monk, but instead of an obsessive-compulsive man, we have an eccentric ex-con.

As opposed to Urban Hellraisers, which I watched without watching any prior episode of CSI: Miami, I actually did watch Life‘s pilot to understand the show’s premise. The acting is solid, Lewis does a fine job showing off Crews’ personality traits. Though, if you decide to watch the series for yourself, expect to see a lot of “technology has changed since he was in prison” jokes. Like in the first episode, I saw him fumble with both trying to use a cell phone and trying to comprehend how he’s answering phone calls from his new car.

The episode in question is titled “A Civil War,” from the show’s first season. The episode starts with two Persian-American employees of a gas station killed and stored in a refrigerator, with “GO HOME” splashed on the windows in motor oil. Crews tries to find out who caused it, finding out it’s a hate crime by three perpetrators. Later on in the investigation, they find out there’s a third person, Amir Darvashi (Oren Dayan) who was kidnapped being held for ransom, and they ask for help from the gas station’s owner, Mary Ann Farmer (Sarah Clarke).

I'm sorry, but after watching so much 24, it's hard to see her as anything but a psychopath that might kill anybody at any moment, even in a show like this.

I’m sorry, but after watching so much 24, it’s hard to see Sarah Clarke as anyone but a psychopath that might kill everyone at any moment, even in a show like this.

There’s a few other parts involving solving the mystery and a sub-plot involving Crews’ friend Ted (Adam Arkin) going to shop for solar panels with Olivia (Christina Hendricks) and getting stranded at the solar panel area because he didn’t put gas in the car; as well as Amir’s sister being called by the three perps trying to find the money otherwise they would kill Amir, but it’s mere padding.

Now onto the part that you came here to see. Crews, his partner Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi) as well as two unnamed techies start looking through the files of Amir’s computer, hoping to find a reason why they would kidnap him. Outside of a file mentioning “Level 10, Farah,” they have no leads. Eventually Crews, through earlier evidence of his sister mentioning he played “video games,” comes to this conclusion:

Somebody was paid and given money to write a line as ridiculous as that. I can’t tell which is more ridiculous, this or the earlier scene where Crews poured an energy drink onto a keyboard and the computer started short circuiting. Computers do not work that way!

Crews eventually confiscates Amir’s Xbox – an original Xbox, mind you, which was pretty dead by this time – and eventually one of the techies (Theo Wilson) starts playing Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones terribly.

Xbox system, Xbox controller, PS2 game. Then again, unless you had an HDTV, you probably wouldn’t have noticed the inconsistency.

Over the course of them playing the game, text is overlaid on the screen (in Papyrus, no less!) of the techie beating “levels.” While the original Prince of Persia has levels, The Two Thrones was more a linear action game that didn’t have levels, just stages the player progressed through. I’m also pretty sure Two Thrones doesn’t have messages like these:

Unfortunately, the techie, who said he’s 30, lives with his parents and has a Captain Kirk costume in his closet, is having trouble with the game and is unable to reach level 10. Complete with a montage of him playing deliberately badly for dramatic effect.

Eventually Crews glances and sees Amir’s sister Shahnaz (Shiela Vand) mimicking the controller movements with her hands. Thinking that she might be better than the basement-dweller techie, Crews lets Shahnaz start playing through Two Thrones and completes level after level effortlessly. She eventually gets through to “level 10” and, like magic, a spreadsheet opens up, showing all the deals Amir has been doing.

…Where to begin on all this?

First, this would require a a modded version of the game, otherwise any schmuck who’s competent at video games would stumble upon this command by accident. Certainly Ubisoft wouldn’t be happy if this was left in the code, they’d be issuing refunds.

To counter the point both Dani and Charlie made, the Xbox doesn’t support applications like spreadsheets, as it’s not running on Windows or any other OS that has that kind of ability. In addition, how the heck would Amir be able to write these spreadsheets? Pretty sure the Xbox doesn’t support a keyboard and mouse, and I doubt he’s typing those in with an Xbox controller.

Had Amir never thought of just having it on his computer with an encrypted password? Or putting it on an SD card or something? Feels cumbersome to go through all this trouble with a game just to store special data like this.

After that mind-numbingly terrible scene, we continue with a wonderful song performed by Hendricks as we briefly continue the Ted/Olivia subplot, before returning to Crews and Reese as they figure out why Amir is being held hostage. They later find out some of the records from the spreadsheet were given the initials MAF, referring to Mary Ann Farmer. Crews and Reese then head to the Farmer’s residence, only to find the getaway vehicle and the remaining one of the three robbers assassinated. They later find Jeffrey Farmer (Trent Ford) holding Mary Ann and Amir hostage at a bank as they transfer the funds over to Jeffrey.

Crews tries to reason with Jeffrey, eventually leading Jeffrey to get increasingly angry at the “arab” (yikes) before being shot in the chest by a sniper, killing him. It turns out Mary Ann was giving Amir money so he could start his own business, because he didn’t like his own son turning to a life of crime. As a result, Jeffrey got jealous at the attention Amir was getting compared to him, so he kidnapped Amir as a bargaining chip. Honestly, conditioning a worker like your own son rather than trying to fix your own son’s life is kind of shitty, but maybe it wasn’t worth it to fix him, who knows?

“This means something… this is important.”

After everything in the main case is wrapped up, Crews returns to his house and adds another hint at the mystery of who caused him to get incarcerated. Then the episode ends.

I wouldn’t say this was a bad episode, but the video game part in the middle is cringe-worthy to be sure.

2021 edit: In hindsight, I realized that not only does this episode do rather bad nerd stereotypes, but also stereotypes middle-eastern people somewhat. The opening scene murdering two middle-eastern people and one of them being held hostage unfortunately fuels some of the anti-middle east sentiment that was still in full swing by the mid-2000s, especially after September 11, 2001. I mean, Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones being the game of choice for this hacker seems like a conscious decision by the show’s producers.

Honestly, I’m the whitest of white people out there, but I feel this had a lot of questionable sentiments about middle eastern people, and it’s kinda gross in hindsight. I feel like I can’t really weigh in with this compared someone who’s actually of that race, but I figure this is something shared with people of that same race. At least it’s not like some shows where they depict middle eastern cities as old dust-ridden towns, I guess?

Life doesn’t seem to be a bad show, but then again, CSI: Miami‘s Urban Hellraisers episode was so irredeemably bad that it can only go up from here. But I could see why this show had its fans, Lewis’ character is informative and eccentric enough that he stands out, but in a sea of police procedurals on TV, this just got lost in the shuffle. This is the kind of show that would’ve been better on USA, wedged firmly in-between Burn Notice and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Surprised NBC didn’t just shuffle it to that network, it probably would’ve lasted a year or two longer.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go play Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones and get to level 10 so I can see what spreadsheets I have lurking in my Xbox. I wonder what Ubisoft thought of their game being featured like this…

(Updated 1/8/2021 for updated images and paragraph adjustments.)

B.J. Brown

I'm the creator and writer of You Found a Secret Area. Fascinated by obscure pop culture and wanting a place to write about curated stuff, I created the blog in 2012 and have been running it ever since. Also on Twitter. (Pronouns: she/her, they/them)

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  1. Rachel says:

    I recently discovered “Life”, and decided to give it a go despite it now being years after it was cancelled. I too found this episode stretched the suspension of disbelief to breaking point. These days computer nerds like me are less likely to “live at home with their mother” and more likely to be making six-figure incomes providing technical expertise to a world that can’t seem to get enough of same. The lack of even basic technical research by the scriptwriters wasn’t even the worst part of this episode (Christina Hendricks cringeworthy campfire singing to a much older beau was). But it was enough. This episode definitively demonstrated why this show got cancelled: a total lack of credibility in the writing, despite an interesting premise. I mean, who would design a method of crypography that involved playing ten levels of a computer game every time you wanted to access a spreadsheet?

  2. Rachel says:

    PS: you should sort out your preferred comments mechanism. I tried to leave ‘real’ details against my comment above, but was prevented from doing so by WordPress’s absurd comments system, which appears to assume that you’ll want to log in to a long-forgotten WordPress account if you enter an email address that it thinks it recognises. That’s the only reason I used a fake email in my comment above. Any comments system that encourages people to provide fake details just to post a comment without hassle is surely self-defeating, no?

    • B.J. Brown says:

      I looked into this and did some slight adjustment to the comment system by disabling requiring a name/email to post, though WordPress might be requiring people to log into an account first. I don’t think there’s anything I can do about that.

      Regardless of WordPress’s unusual commenting system, I appreciate the comment. 🙂

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