by Frankie Fanelli
For Life is a new thriller drama series created by Hank Steinberg which aired February 11 on ABC. Starring Nicholas Pinnoch, Joy Bryant, Indira Varma, and Tyla Harris, the show follows a man who was imprisoned for life following a charge for a crime he didn’t commit.
Aaron Wallace was working at a nightclub when he was arrested for trafficking drugs, though they actually belonged to someone else. Throughout the nine years he spent in prison after being wrongfully convicted, Arron (played by Nicholas Pinnoch) found several loopholes in the system that allowed him to become a certified lawyer while incarcerated and devote his time while behind bars to fighting the injustices in the system that put him there. The pilot episode jumps quickly into his first case where he represents a man, Jose Rodriguez, who was convicted of buying the drugs that his girlfriend overdosed on and nearly died from. By proving that the defendant’s girlfriend lied under oath when he was convicted, Aaron effectively gets the man’s charges dropped and he is allowed to walk free. Glen Maskins, same man who originally landed Jose in jail, was the same one who caused Aaron to be convicted all those years ago and Aaron’s personal vendetta against him is what caused him to take Jose’s case in the first place. After Aaron comes out victorious in defending Jose, a warden and ally of his advises him to stop targeting Maskins in his cases as they will only become harder and harder to fight. Aaron agrees, that is: until his beloved daughter Jasmine (Tyla Harris) comes to visit him with some news that changes both of their lives and gives Aaron a renewed lease on the passion for his fight to be acquitted of his wrongful charges.
For Life’s pilot episode is nothing if not ambitious. Beside being chock full of exposition dumps and rapid plot movement, it is also full of surprising, constant twists and turns and a plethora of legal lingo that, for someone like me who may not know the ins and outs of legal and courtroom proceedings, may be hard to follow.
Aside from the plot lines that follow Aaron’s personal legal issues and journey into being a practicing lawyer, there are also some complicated family issues that Aaron is facing. He and his daughter have an undoubtedly touching bond and she has never stopped having faith in him, but the same cannot be said for Aaron’s wife Marie (Joy Bryant) who, while sympathetic to his situation, is in a relationship with one of his close friends and believes he is something to be left in the past. It’s not uncommon for pilot episodes to move quickly and reveal a lot about the characters right off the bat, but if the pacing of the pilot episode is any indicator for the rest of the series then I fear that For Life may have bitten off more than it can chew.
However, that being said, the issues it does tackle are important ones that can never have enough light shined on them. Despite each episode’s disclaimer that its events, characters, and locations are fictitious, Aaron Wallace’s story is loosely based on that of Isaac Wright Jr.’s. And while the complexities of rigged and corrupt legal systems are infinitesimal, For Life simplifies them in Aaron’s situation to an almost frustrating degree. This is aided by the fact that much of the obstacles he faces in his fight were fabricated for the sake of drama and entertainment in the show, and that all of his nemeses are comically villainous (not to mention the fact that the prison’s head warden, and at time Aaron’s only ally, is married to his key legal rival). This is just an example of the excessive drama that was piled high onto an already mountainously complicated case, resulting in at times near-manic plot and main character. But just like the legal situations it deals with, For Life is a show brimming with reasons for the characters to be emotionally heightened: a longing for freedom, family, justice against a system that has wronged you and so many others, and self-preservation, just to name a few.