MY LIFE IS MURDER: A NEW OBSESSION FOR XENA FANS TO CROWE ABOUT
"No such thing as destiny. You get to make your own." Alexa
"Ay-yi-yi-yi-yi." Could it be? The spine-tingling battle cry of a dark-haired, leather-clad young ex- warlord, slicing her way through baddies in ancient times? Um, not exactly. It's uttered more as a resigned sigh at the start of a different saga, by a reddish blond, 50ish retired homicide detective in ultra-modern Australia, reluctantly persuaded to resume crime solving that threatens to interfere with her new passion -- conquering bread.
True, the … vocalizer … is indeed Lucy Lawless, perhaps paying tongue-in-cheek homage to the character who launched her international stardom. (A restaurant in the introductory scene is even named "Ayala".) Her latest role may not wrack up the body count of Xena: Warrior Princess, but whether you're a fan of that iconic show, light mysteries or Lucy herself, you're apt to conclude the actress still kills as Alexa Crowe in My Life Is Murder.
The best bit? Our intrepid real-life warrior not only battled through a world-wide pandemic to introduce MLIM in 2019. She persevered through to a second season scheduled for airing August 2021. The move in filming locations to New Zealand -- plus an episode with Renee O'Connor! -- promise to enhance the victory.
The following offers an overview/reflections on My Life' s first 10-episode season, particularly geared for followers of the multi-faceted Ausxip site. I tried to make it as spoiler-free as possible, with hints provided in hi-lighted lyrics from the series soundtrack.
"When I see your monsters, I'll stand there so brave and chase them away."
Despite the many differences (and about two decades between show launches), Xena: Warrior Princess and MLIM share many similarities: the wry, double entendre humor and unself-conscious approach to tricky issues, reflected in such episode titles as "Lividity in Lycra" or "Remains to Be Seen." The playfulness and pranks, such as the series name sneaking up in places like an aquarium and a heart monitor, or the "Breakfast with Lucy" entry on a character's electronic calendar. Most notable is the comparable cast chemistry/camaraderie, beautiful natural and designed settings.
Both Xena and Alexa use whatever means at their disposal to seek justice in their vastly different milieus. They share key traits as no nonsense "problem solvers." Their gradually revealed backstories offer evidence neither was a model teen. Not quite a Destroyer of Nations "bad girl," Alexa admits a "guardian angel" changed her life, coaching her away from a path toward delinquency. Few would label Alexa "charming," as opposed to acerbic, manipulative, impatient, inconsiderate, demanding, controlling, hypercritical of everyone but herself, not adverse to lying when that suits her needs. Sound familiar?
We first meet Crowe, like the Warrior Princess, dealing with big changes in her life, stoically suppressing feelings about love and loss. Also prone to sleepless nights, tied to the vocation she seeks to leave behind, ambivalently approaching new connections. Her attempts at cocooning, fixation on the tricks/tools of bread making and "I'm a very busy woman" declarations seem hollow to her associates.
"In the dark, we stand apart. We never see that the things we need are staring right at us. You just want to hide, never show your smile, stand alone when you need someone. It's the hardest thing of all that you see the bad memories. Take your time and you'll find me."
Alexa too reluctantly considers accepting purpose, comfort and family from a diverse crew of nonrelatives. They encourage us to care about what she's thinking or up to. To give her props for her empathy for a grieving partner or mother. To understand why - as off-putting as she appears -- those closest see in her so much worth going the extra mile to support.
Kieran Hussey, a former colleague still on the police force, pushes the right buttons to tantalize her with selective open or questionably resolved cases. He provides reliable backup, a sounding board and the assistance of talented young data analyst Madison Feliciano, played by Ebonie Vagulans. (Remember Ebonie Smith, whose M'Lila taught Xena "the pinch in the episode "Destiny"?)
Shades of "I travel alone" Xena's sidekick Gabrielle, the sunny but feisty Madison doggedly penetrates the "I don't do teams" hide of the woman she idolizes, challenging her mentor to be "a better people person." Like their pre-Mycenae counterparts, Alex and Madison prefer "do it myself" over relying on "mansplaining." They do disagree about the four-legged companion Alex attracts - not a horse, but a mysterious stray cat that triggers Madison's allergies and chagrin that he roams Alexa's home so freely, despite Crowe's pretense he's not there or insistence he isn't hers.
George Stathopolous (yes, Greek) owns Brewster Cafe & Bar, where Alexa barters ciabatta for coffee (plus whatever else she can wrangle), hangs out, sometimes works and dispenses advice. A couple of other recurring characters fit the "necessary evil" category in Alexa's view. Her taciturn doctor refuses to humor her notions for stress reduction or let her raid his jellybean jar. Dawn, a prim attorney on the homeowner association board, scolds Alexa for unneighborly behavior. The many fine guest actors include Dannielle Cormack, XWP's beloved Amazon Ephiny.
Though Crowe doesn't suffer a tight-fitting bustier and short skirt for sleuthing, she does sport a signature uniform - long, flowing soft trench coats paired with slacks and fashionable short boots. Her nonthreatening appearance, however, doesn't always convince interviewees she's not an official agent of the law. Kind of like Xena needing to refute she's an Amazon. "But you act and look like one." Her response to one villain? "It must be the boots."
THE SMALL STUFF
"I don't know what I'm looking for, but when I find it, it will feel right."
Trailers for MLIM tease action-lovers with snippets from the first two episodes of Crowe kneeing, punching and rolling. Oh, she continues edging close to jeopardy, but pretty much pounds dough rather than heads, slices and dices in the kitchen, and spills blood in video games or by accidentally wounding herself. Nor does this particular "who done it" present much melodrama, brain blowing puzzles or serialized plot lines. The appeal? Bite-sized, smart, fun and, in Lucy's words, "visually delicious" fare that's equally addictive.
Alexa entices us to follow along as she saunters, hands in pockets, from one potential suspect to another - sometimes tangling with hapless strangers along the way-- then back to her flour-covered countertop. To get caught up in her quirky thought processes that often lead us down rabbit holes. To care about the ordinary victims or the "could be your office mate" culprits who simply wanted something or someone a little too much. To find intrigue and knowledge in mundane but unconventional settings where she digs out the bad seed often hiding innocently in plain sight.
Compared to contemporary detective shows featuring an arsenal of technical wizardry, MLIM sticks to a relatively simple recipe for success - a blend of Crowe and Madison. The former takes in everything, regardless of how random it appears. Trusts her instincts and experience to discover connections. Relies on Madison to find missing (and sometimes irretrievable) pieces she believes exist in cyberspace or to accidentally spark an "ah hah" moment. While discussing a victim's religious medallion, Madison comments, "The small stuff's always the sad stuff," to which Alexa replies, "Small stuff's always the big stuff."
Which brings us to the little Lucyisms Alexa displays, that connote a disdain for embarrassment, appearing unattractive or confinement to boxes. In the premier ep, Crowe expertly breaks apart and slurps on a kiwi fruit (possibly in tribute to Lucy's New Zealand origins) during a conversation with Kieran. In other instances, she talks on the phone with dental floss dangling from her mouth, must be reminded to clean food from her teeth or chin, and blithely signs a form with her left hand.
"You can get behind me or get out of my way."
Alexa hurries toward her first engagement with an her erect, confident, purposeful stride, fluidly adjusting to any obstacle. Smiling, comfortable in her skin and world. Not exactly a wannabe Warrior Princess, but someone the actress playing her matured into 25 plus years later, equally notable. How amazing to witness that evolution, to have some idea of the "living life out loud" experiences underlying it.
Lucy often remarked that school mates nicknamed her "unco" (uncoordinated) as a gangly teen awkward at sports, despite a childhood of playful acrobatics and rough housing with brothers. How she dreaded the fight scenes indicative of XWP. Yet her training with a martial arts master revealed to him an "amazing" student with a mind "so wide open" and adaptive "she learned so easily" on her own, practicing with weapons in her left hand, dedicated to improving through toning, flexibility and meditative exercises. Lucy agrees there was "nothing they showed me that I couldn't do."
Alexa, on the other hand, needs motivation to sweat - e.g., bicycling to solve a case, jogging or doing yoga ("a lot of farting in tight active wear that early in the morning") to appease her doctor. Still, beyond her long-time practice of yoga (which hyperathletic Xena initially disdained), Lucy clearly worked hard to keep Alexa in shape, looking absolutely fantastic for embarking on a golden future. When a glamorous marketing agent says Alexa must have police connections, Alexa straightens in her chair and responds, "What gave it away? It was the posture, right?"
Lucy's fearless character inspired me to take up martial arts some 15 years ago at 59. I'm still kicking, punching and tumbling. The extra effort pays off in balance, reflexes, and confidence invaluable for mitigating the impact of stress on aging bodies and minds. Hopefully Lucy's come to appreciate (and take pride in) the foundation her Warrior Princess regimen laid for what she's accomplished since. She seems more aligned than ever in terms of family, working for the greater good, experienced and financially secure enough to make projects happen that satisfy her eclectic tastes. In fact, MLIM signals her readiness to plunge into previously unchartered waters of self-reflection.
"Walk through fire. I became the flame. When I'm done here, you'll all know my name."
I recall poo-pooing Lucy's early dismal of assumptions she was anything like on-screen Xena. (I mean, come on. She looked so … real). Until I caught her appearance on a late-night talk show. No! Not possible! A slight, ditzy, self-effacing flower child with a funny accent, prone to giggles? What happened to the staunch woman I admired so? The fascinating, burdened warrior steadfastly embracing ugliness to better both herself and her world? Could I ever reconcile the two? Was it worthwhile getting to know the "other" woman pretending to be my hero?
Fortunately, I stuck with Lucy long enough to appreciate her genuine modesty and graciousness toward all those she credited with creating Xena's appeal. To admire the free spirit, talent, work ethic and willingness to take risks that just as surely elevated the character to world-wide popularity. To this day, Xena to me is flesh and blood. I will never tire of watching her, even in the comedies, musicals or as other characters in the show.
I have diligently followed Lucy's roles beyond XWP, buying the Battlestar Galactica DVDs of her as multi-layered Cylon D'anna. But for me the "wow" display of her acting chops came as Lucretia. particularly in a brilliantly chilling performance near the end of the Spartacus: Gods of the Arena episode "Reckoning." Lucretia dutifully, tenderly ministers to her bedridden father-in-law, whose contempt for her she accepts, but not toward her husband or recently murdered friend. He asks her to tell him she's not the serpent he always thought. She responds, "I am not. I am far worse," before explaining in a calm, ladylike fashion why and how she has poisoned him.
Lucy no doubt pushed the envelope of her emotions and abilities in quite a few projects precisely to tackle something new, different - scary. Heck, she breathed or dodged fire during XWP, braved being an action star while pregnant, with a pronounced belly even a maternity battle shift couldn't conceal. Got jailed briefly for protesting on oil rigs, shimmied as a diva on the televised "celebrity duets" competition. Like a chameleon, she convinces us to believe her transformations. That said, Alexa still surprised me.
Even without initially knowing much about MLIM, I immediately saw it stamped with the quintessential Lucy Lawless I had come to know - the fascination with justice, channeling bits of Judge Judy/Columbo/Quincy; Crowe's "can do" spirit, playfulness or fluency speaking German and Italian; the breezy atmosphere; the familiar (if unidentified) voice humming as the end credits roll. I wondered, "Is all that intentional?"
I later read series creator Claire Tomkin did indeed have Lawless in mind. Lucy acknowledged, "There's more of me …than in any other show I've done.... The humor, the way of twisting a line," the ad libs. "Just say it your way, because it's natural, and that's what people respond to." My Life "much more closely mirrors my own personal interests …. There's a lot of me in the character and that's the advantage of having writers build something around you. I'm a very lucky woman."
She explained further she'd wanted to do "something super honest," "quite unvarnished," that she's "played a lot of roles where there was armor or there's some schtick involved. And at this time in my life what I'd really seek to do is strip that away a bit. I'm hoping you won't be able to tell where the role starts and where Lawless starts. I hope there's convergence there." Wow.
As Alexa, Lucy unflinchingly confronts wrinkles associated with contemporary middle age -- some cosmetic or technological, others related to health maintenance that might slow one's downhill ride to mortality's end. In the season finale, "Mirror, Mirror," Crowe avoids celebrating another birthday. She's insulted when she thinks a young man is offering her his seat at a bus stop. She admonishes the cat not to judge her for squeezing her face to simulate tighter skin.
Lucy fans can recite the serendipitous circumstances that led to her casting as Xena. She often referred to herself as the most visible cog in the well-oiled production. Clearly executive producer Lawless wields far more influence over MLIM. On one hand she continues the collegial, accountable leadership she exhibited on the XWP set. On the other, she's willing to assume the mature "boss" role, to ensure the groundbreaking production aspects learned alongside husband Rob Tapert and a wealth of other creative and technical comrades.
Whatever causes we see in MLIM -- however they're portrayed and by whom -- she's obviously way past demurring, "Well, I leave that to The Powers That Be," accepting she's become where the buck stops. Her overarching vision for My Life? "To give people a little psychic holiday from all the grim stuff, so they can recharge the batteries and go back out there and fight the good fight."
In their recorded XWP commentaries, Lucy often reminds Renee to use "her" or "the character" rather than "you" when discussing TV Xena. MLIM aims to close that distance when it comes to Alexa, to strip away much of the veneer and insulation previously afforded Lucy as an actor, now inviting our perceptions of both Alexa and the "other' woman behind the character. Not sure how far all that takes Lucy toward fulfilling her "do something scary" mantra. I can only urge you not to skip the ride presented by the first season, the next and (Lucy/aka TPTB willing), perhaps three more.