Freshman drama series in Emmy contention

Consider this season’s “Life” last season’s “Friday Night Lights.”

No, not in the literal sense that would have Damian Lewis coaching a football team to a state championship or Sarah Shahi having a baby, but in the fact that both shows were in the ratings intensive care unit for their respective first seasons. Yet critics championed both series, which undoubtedly helped in the decision to go ahead with second-season renewal for each.

Exec producer Rand Ravich understands the analogy.

“We were under the radar,” says Ravich, who watched his show receive only a small amount of the marketing support compared with what NBC offered “Bionic Woman” last fall (yet “Life” goes on, while “Bionic” became a one-and-done). “There were lots of big shows that premiered when we did, and the attention got placed elsewhere.”

And as “FNL” had former Peacock exec Kevin Reilly fighting for it, “Life” has Katherine Pope — the president of Universal Media Studios, the show’s production home — in the skein’s corner. “Katherine and I have a really good relationship,” Ravich says. “She talks about the show the way the critics do.”

Ravich and exec producer Far Shariat came up with the premise of L.A. cop Charlie Crews (Lewis) imprisoned for 10 years for a crime he didn’t commit. He then returns to the force a changed man, trying to balance being a topnotch detective in the present while retracing his steps a decade ago to see which forces were instrumental in his being put away.

“It’s really clever what Rand has done,” says Lewis. “There are very few of us who know what 12 years in a maximum-security prison will do to you, and it gives Rand the license to do whatever he wants.”

Which brings us to Crews’ many changed habits since coming out of jail, including his curious desire to eat fruit during the most inappropriate times.

“I did a lot of research on prisons, and the inmates get the worst food,” Ravich explains. “If you want to survive, you need to eat out of the vending machines, and you can’t find any fresh fruit.”

With that in mind, Ravich’s goal to get “Life” in the spotlight this fall is proving to be a plum assignment.

Best episode: “Fallen Woman.” A Russian is killed, and it turns out she’s part of a group of attractive ladies being brought over to the States in a scam by a shady underground character (Garret Dillahunt).

Underrated character: If given the opportunity, there’s plenty of backstory yet to be told about Ted Early (Adam Arkin), Crews’ cellmate and a former financial power broker. Their scenes together are understated gems.

Great line: “You don’t have to understand here to be here,” — Charlie Crews.

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