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What's the back story?

It's the latest American cop drama attempting to take UK audiences by storm. The main man is Detective Charlie Crews (played by the British actor Damian Lewis), who has just spent 12 years in prison for a triple homicide he did not commit. During that time, he lost his mind after being separated from his fellow prisoners for his own safety and placed in isolation. There, he discovered Buddhism and emerged from the nick a new man.

Sound far-fetched? It is. He's eventually exonerated and wins a large amount of financial compensation from the Los Angeles Police Department. After his release, he returns to the force to team up with his new partner, LAPD Detective Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi), to "find the light" by using his knowledge of Zen and prison to fight crime, as well as find out who framed him. Typical line? "Anger ruins joy, steals the goodness of my mind... forces my mouth to say terrible things. Overcoming anger brings peace of mind." Glad we cleared that one up.

The show's pedigree

The experience of those behind this imported programme, originally screened on NBC, is undoubtedly impressive. It's written by Rand Ravich, who penned The Astronaut's Wife (the 1999 space flick starring Johnny Depp and Charlize Theron), and Far Shariat, producer of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, is executive producer.

Damian Lewis became known to American audiences through the Steven Spielberg-produced TV series Band of Brothers, and he's joined here by a strong supporting cast, which, as well as Shahi (whose credits include the action movie Rush Hour 3), has Brent Sexton of HBO's Deadwood as Officer Bobby Stark; Donal Logue (of US sitcom Grounded for Life) as Captain Kevin Tidwell; and Chicago Hope's Adam Arkin as Crews's former cellmate Ted Earley. ITV executives bought the series in the summer. Its second run is currently airing in the US.

Plot so far?

The first two episodes of the series see the elaboration of Crews's back-story, and an exposition of his relationship with his partner Reese. This, observers have commented, seems antagonistic, and, in parts, infused with sexual tension. Crews mixes up the trappings bought with the money he received in his payout – huge mansion, sexy car – with a Zen-like refutation of materialism. All these strands are put to work alongside standard cop-drama plot-lines, which in turn meld with a longer, unfolding drama – who framed Crews, and why?

To get you up to speed, the series so far has seen the pair investigate the murder of a young Boy Scout, and the killing of one Anna Turner, dispatched on her wedding night in her hotel room. Crews meets the policeman who was in charge of his own conviction, who's convinced that Crews was guilty. But our meditative cop visits the scene of his alleged crime and realises that a key piece of information had been removed from the police report. Gripping stuff. Possibly.

So is it a winner?

Critics seem divided. Crews's mannerisms, such as spouting Zen-style platitudes, slagging off fellow officers and constantly munching fruit, annoy as many as they attract. Crews is also hopeless regarding the technological advances that happened while he was in jail (Life on Mars, anyone?).

"I enjoyed it," says The Independent's television critic Robert Hanks. "But it's frustrating to see an actor as good as Lewis mixed up in such tosh. His performance in Band of Brothers was a masterpiece of understated authenticity. Here, he has something of the same reserve, but overlaid with a distracting collection of mannerisms." The Observer's Ian John agrees: "Lewis is a commanding still centre, but you'll either be intrigued or irritated by his character, while the script wastes the wonderful Robin Weigert (Calamity Jane in Deadwood) as his boss and tests one's tolerance for people who say such things as, 'You don't have to understand here to be here.'"

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