“For Life” is a legal prison procedural loosely based on the life of former inmate Isaac Wright, Jr. The drama stars Nicholas Pinnock as Aaron Wallace, a man wrongly accused and sent to prison for life for drug charges, leaving behind is wife and young daughter. While in prison, Aaron becomes a prison rep for fellow inmates and a jailhouse lawyer on a quest to clear his name and expose the corruption of the District Attorney’s office and our criminal justice system.
“For Life” is a familiar story with somewhat of a new spin to it. It is not often that the side of the prison rep and the fight for justice inside the system is shown on network television. Unfortunately, it’s more of a brisk exploration with the main focus being his motivation behind helping his fellow inmates…to grow a cash of favors and debts that can help him on his plight for justice. It’s often not clear whether his true motivations are altruistic or more selfish in nature. But the show does a decent job of using these cases to show the more problematic side of our justice system and the fight for prison reform.
While the main theme of the show is the fight for justice and truth, for the individual and for his fellow man, the show layers on one too many side plots and motivations. While trying to shake the status quo, the prison’s new progressive female warden (Indira Varma) tires to expose and fix the flaws of the penal system from the inside with push back from her own staff and some inmates. Although she is an ally to Wallace and his mission, she is often conflicted when Wallace’s plans may look like a conflict of interest for her wife (Mary Stuart Masterson) who is running for District Attorney.
Then there are Wallace’s wife and daughter who are trying to keep it together on the outside. His wife Marie, played by Joy Bryant, is in a new relationship that Wallace is not a huge fan of. Marie, not quite sure of his professed innocence, is trying to get her life back on track and raise a teenage daughter the best that she can while trying not to get too wrapped up in Wallace’s schemes and risk it all. And then there’s his daughter’s (who still have full faith in her dad’s innocence) plot line that makes things tricky with her young boyfriend, but gives Wallace even more reason to fight for his freedom. We get that Wallace loves his family and is willing to do whatever it takes to be reunited with them, we don’t need all of the many different layers to really see that. It’s kind of overkill.
And then there are Wallace’s adversaries at the District Attorney’s office. Aptly represented by Boris McGiver and Erik Jensen‘s characters, their adversarial nature is a little on the nose. They come across too staunch in their fight to discredit Wallace and keep him in prison. Begging the question, “is it a conspiracy and if so, why him?” The acting is stellar but the storyline (at least in the first 3 episodes) leaves out the motivations for their actions making it seem unreasonable and over-the-top.
While “For Life” tries to tackle race, gender, sexuality and other issues within the system and out side of it, they’ve chocked the show with way too many side stories…everyone has their own motives. There are too many little twists that just convolute the story. Wallace’s character has a one-note intensity that leaves Pinnock’s performance kind of flat. You’re supposed to root for him, but he’s so angry all the time it makes it hard. In the beginning there is lots of exposition that seems to rush through Wallace’s backstory and how he ended up in prison, leaving more questions than answers. Hopefully those questions will be answered by season’s end.
“For Life” airs Tuesdays at 10:00 p.m. ET on ABC.
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