Thursday, July 05, 2012

Life On Mars

I remember reading about this BBC series when it first came out in 2006 and thinking, Gee, that sounds like something I should check out when it gets to DVD. And I recall when an American version of it came out in 2008, that I thought much the same thing. Somehow I never got around to either, but last week, while browsing selections of videos available on Amazon Prime, I noticed that the BBC Life On Mars was one of the new offerings. Best of all, I'd already paid for it in my yearly Prime subscription. (I mostly get Prime for the free shipping. Movies and TV shows are a bonus.) So I watched the first episode and was immediately hooked. If you're not familiar with the series, it follows the adventures of Detective Chief Inspector Sam Tyler, who after being struck by a car in 2006, wakes up to find himself inexplicably in the year 1973. He's been retro-fitted into the time period. He's still a cop, though of a lower rank and he seems to have a history, but he isn't sure if he's imagining all of this or if he's actually been thrown back in time. He's also receiving occasional audio information from 2006 which seems to indicate that he's in a coma in a hospital, but that's been doled out sparingly. What I like about Life On Mars (The title comes from a David Bowie song.) is that while the show has science fiction elements, (time travel, parallel worlds) it's still a cop show. Tyler finds himself cut off from all the tools he was used to in 2006. In 1973 forensic science was pretty basic. No one had heard of profiling. He doesn't even have a computer or a cell phone. His boss is a no nonsense, old school street copper, seemingly patterned after the character John Thaw played in the actual 1970s British cop show, The Sweeney. The two butt heads as Sam tries to hold an ethical center and work within the law, while DCI Hunt would just as soon plant evidence or beat up a suspect as follow due process. The look of the series is a lot of fun, especially if you watched a lot of 1970s cop shows, and I did. All the desks and filing cabinets are battered steel. The phones have rotary dials. Everyone smokes and the squad room has a constant haze. And then there are the haircuts, the clothes, and the cars. I was a kid in the 1973 but I remember all that stuff. The time travel element is interesting. It takes Sam four episodes to do what I'd have done first day, visit the house he lived in as a kid and see if he's there. He ends up having a cuppa with his mother, but doesn't meet himself, as the four year old Sam is upstairs with the mumps. In the same episode he ends up in a disco and you can see his bemusement. He's like, 'I'm in a disco in the 1970s. This is so cool.' Which brings me to actor John Simm who plays Sam Tyler. Previously I was only familiar with Simm from his turn as The Master on Doctor Who. He's very good in Life On Mars, playing a wide range of emotions and making Sam Tyler a decent human being that the viewer cares about. Philip Glenister, as DCI Gene Hunt is also great. Anyway, I'm late to the party on this one, but I'm enjoying it tremendously, so if you too, skipped Life On Mars the first time around, give it a look. Recommended.

4 comments:

Keith said...

I haven't seen the British version, but my wife and I were huge fans of the American version. I'm not sure how different they were. The US version was very Phillip K. Dick in a lot of ways, such as a television announcer in one episode speaking only to Sam and none of the other characters notice. The last few episodes felt rushed, and I absolutely hated the ending. That aside, I loved the show and want to check out the British version.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Keith, according to my pal Cliff, who has watched both versions, they are different enough that each can be enjoyed even if you've watched the other. I definitely plan to check out the US version.

Anonymous said...

I've never seen the US version, but loved the British original. I also loved the 80s-set sequel series, "Ashes to Ashes" (which finally explains everything).

MarkC

Charles R. Rutledge said...

I wasn't even aware of Ashes to Ashes, Mark. I'll have to check that out.