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Life on Mars? More Like Death in Neptune! - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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June 13th, 2007


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10:04 pm - Life on Mars? More Like Death in Neptune!
What if you were a London Manchester cop just minding your own business, and you got hit by a car and woke up in 1973?

That's the intriguing premise of Life on Mars, a British series worth sixteen hours of your life on Earth.

Sam Tyler lays it all out in the credits. Is he mad? Is he in a coma? Or has he traveled back in time? Whatever's happened, it's like he's landed on a different planet. Now maybe if he can work out the reason, he can get back home. (Hee. Now that I think about it, Sam Tyler is rather like John Crichton. The credits are just like Farscape's! "My name is Sam Tyler. Et cetera, et cetera." I can't believe I didn't make the connection until now.)

In 1973, Sam, who in 2006 was a DCI (Detective Chief Inspector), is a DI (Detective Inspector) in a new team comprising WPC (Woman Police Constable) Annie Cartwright, DS (Detective Sergeant) Ray Carling, DC (Detective Constable) Chris Skelton, and DCI Gene Hunt. Annie is the cute friend/love interest who also proves her mettle as a female copper. Ray's basically an unsympathetic arsehole. Chris is the n00b who can barely pour his coffee straight. And Gene Hunt is made of big, blustering awesome. He's the sort of character who gets great lines like "Don't move, you're surrounded by armed bastards!" and "It doesn't take a degree in Applied Bollocks..."

Gene Hunt is a copper who plays by his own rules, but in the name of keeping the city safe. He's confident as all get-out, so he doesn't exactly mix well with Sam, who questions his every move. Initially, he seems to be as much of an arse as Ray, but he ends up being more complex than that, a paradoxical mix of brutality and pathos, integrity and corruption. Also, he's incredibly funny even though he doesn't mean to be.

What Life on Mars does brilliantly is work the fish-out-of-water theme on many levels. Obviously, Sam's a little out of sorts being thirty years in the past, because no one gets his pop culture references (see what I mean about Crichton?). But it's not just pop culture that's backwards, it's detectiving in general. Sam has to deal with solving crime without all those C.S.I. tools, without many of the investigative techniques he's grown to see as second nature in the fight against crime (like taping interviews, for serious). And he has to face the facts that in 1973, police corruption ran rampant, and his innocent Robocop views on the police fall on deaf ears. There are all kinds of ways Sam just doesn't belong in this world, and he's trying to bring sexyback.

But what of home? Although you can read however much ambiguity into his situation as you want (and I'm not spoiling you, as this is just how I felt from watching the first couple episodes), the show (and Sam) seems to come down pretty hard on the "in a coma" theory from the beginning, due to the fact that Sam can hear people talking over him. Another brilliant touch is that Sam doesn't just hear these voices in his head: he hears them on the radio. Or on the phone. Sometimes the television starts talking to him. It's damn freaky and really cool.

It's freaky and cool, but from the first couple episodes, I didn't see the point of it all if he was just in a coma making all of it up. What helped me enjoy the series more was rather than focusing on the time-travel premise, watch it as an entertaining 1970s crime drama with sci-fi elements. Because the show isn't about whether Sam is mad or in a coma or truly back in time. It's about Sam Tyler solving crimes with Gene Hunt and his cohorts. It's about Sam Tyler butting heads with Gene Hunt every episode because they don't agree on how to solve crime. It's about keeping your sense of self in a foreign world.

That's not to say the time-travel premise doesn't add a lot. Sam ends up running into a few people from his future. And Sam's constant references to things that haven't happened yet never fail to be amusing. And, I have to reiterate, the many ways the 2006 world seeps into 1973 are fucking sweet. There are times where it gets all metaphorical in fun ways.

For those into '70s music, the soundtrack is all period. The art direction and music choices really make you feel like they went back to 1973 to film. Oh, and speaking of sense of time and place: it's very, very British, with "Oi! Oi! Oi!" this and "guv" that and "plonk" this and "copper" that.

The creators wrapped the series up in two seasons, and the ending is pretty much lovely and perfect and exactly how the series had to end.

So Life on Mars is a great crime drama, often surreal and occasionally hilarious. I don't know that everyone would love it because it's a fairly narrow niche: take away the trappings, and the basic plot of each episode is "solve a murder" or "stop a kidnapping" or whatever. But it's the trappings and, as is the case with all good television, the characters that make the show stand out. It's not that they're all fifteen-dimensional, but they're a diverse team you like to see work together. I ended up loving the show, largely because Gene Hunt is a fantastic character who's fun to watch, and after settling in with a few episodes, I felt for Sam Tyler as well.

Because when the man in the television set starts talking to you...you listen.
Current Mood: pleasedpleased
Current Music: Placebo featuring David Bowie - Without You I'm Nothing (UNKLE Remix)

(52 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


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[User Picture]
From:cerulgalactus
Date:June 14th, 2007 05:22 am (UTC)
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Yet another show that I've been meaning to check out, and will at some point.
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From:squaringkarma
Date:June 14th, 2007 05:35 am (UTC)
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I've been meaning to check this show out for a while and you make me wanna see it even more now!

Damn you, Cow, damn you. Like I need another show to watch this summer. I already have the other seven episodes of Skins, season 2 of Prison Break (although I am dreading Veronica's impending death), and pretty much all of Friday Night Lights aside from the first episode.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 14th, 2007 05:44 am (UTC)
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I've been meaning to check this show out for a while and you make me wanna see it even more now!
This is me, Gaby. It's what I do!

season 2 of Prison Break (although I am dreading Veronica's impending death)
Why, dude? I hated her. She was an idiot, and a disgrace to the Veronica name.
[User Picture]
From:truemyth
Date:June 14th, 2007 05:42 am (UTC)
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I've watched a few episodes of this but it didn't really grab me. I think I may have been reacting similarly to you in that I'm not so invested in if he's going to get back to the future or not. I really enjoyed how DIFFERENT 45 years is. It's something I'm only starting to realize as I creep closer to the 3 0 myself. Like, you always know that culture changes because you hear about all those crazy things your parents did when they were kids but it doesn't hit until you start to see all the crazy things kids TODAY are doing. Like, kids who don't know what a VHS tape is. *boggles*
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 14th, 2007 05:48 am (UTC)
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Yeah, it's definitely weird to think about how different it was.

It didn't grab me for a few episodes, but I was hooked by the second half of the first season and in love by the end of the second-season premiere.
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From:the_partyman
Date:June 14th, 2007 05:50 am (UTC)
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Dude. I just finished catching up on LOM yesterday! Had been working all the nights S2 aired and hadn't gotten round to em yet.

Great stuff, and such a brilliant finale!

[User Picture]
From:mawombat
Date:June 14th, 2007 06:29 am (UTC)
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Dude, I'm glad you're watching it! I watched all of it in April and blogged about it. I'd love to know if you agree with my comments:

http://mawombat.livejournal.com/156388.html#cutid1
http://mawombat.livejournal.com/153829.html
[User Picture]
From:mycenae
Date:June 14th, 2007 06:35 am (UTC)
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I just started watching Life on Mars this very week! It's excellent and addictive, but I've been trying to be good as this is my finals week, but this post made me decide to take a "little" break to watch episode 4. I'm sad there are only 16 episodes total, but at the same time it means it will be a good, tight show that doesn't wear out its premise. I'm concerned about the David E. Kelly remake that may or may not be appearing as a midseason replacement... America can't quite seem to grasp that "limited run" can be a good thing. (I realize the structures of the industries in the two countries are completely different, especially in terms of where the money comes from. I'm just saying I'd like to see American execs try out a limited run show.)

But show good. Yes.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 14th, 2007 07:01 am (UTC)
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Oooh, episode 4 is really good. I think that's where I started getting more into it.

I'm concerned about the remake too because this really isn't a concept you want to stretch out over 22 episodes in one season, you know? Otherwise, it sort of gets irritating, like "This is the LONGEST COMA EVER!" Assuming they keep the freaky coma sounds. If they lose those and make it seem more like he's back in time (while still allowing the coma possibility), they could maybe go longer with it.

One promising thing is that they've cast the Annie character, and it's Marjorie from "My Big Fat Greek Rush Week." Weird that they've apparently cast her and not Sam or Gene, though.
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From:ora_wai
Date:June 14th, 2007 09:24 am (UTC)
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Man, I watched this when it first premiered in the UK. I need to pimp things better. But yay! You're enjoying it!
(Deleted comment)
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From:homegoddess
Date:June 14th, 2007 11:56 am (UTC)
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This show caught my interest when I first heard about it, but lately I haven't been watching much t.v. Now I have to see it. I like the limited run idea. That way a show will be over and wrapped up before I get horribly bitter.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 14th, 2007 02:32 pm (UTC)
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Oh, totally. You won't even have time to be bitter. There's not a bad episode.
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From:noradeirdre
Date:June 14th, 2007 01:22 pm (UTC)
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YOU'RE NICKED!!!!

(ahem. Just wanted to say that. Needed saying)
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 14th, 2007 02:33 pm (UTC)
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Hee!
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From:harper47
Date:June 14th, 2007 01:33 pm (UTC)
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I like the premise of this and I remember hearing about it a while back thinking I would love this. Is it on DVD? Or is this a BBC show? I really do need to check this one out.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 14th, 2007 02:34 pm (UTC)
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I don't know if it's on DVD yet, but I know BBC America ran the first season already, except it would have been edited and shit, so I would suggest watching the original source.
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From:tamarai
Date:June 14th, 2007 02:02 pm (UTC)
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I watched an ep of this once and liked it a lot, but I hadn't caught it from the beginning so I didn't follow up. I will be checking out for sure now. I really liked the acting.

BTW, this post really exemplifies what I love about your writing: succinct yet perfectly detailed, well-organized but not pedantic, and funny but not for funny's sake. If that makes any sense at all. :)
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 14th, 2007 02:36 pm (UTC)
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Aw, thanks, Tamara.
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From:inigo
Date:June 14th, 2007 02:26 pm (UTC)
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I really can't imagine a U.S. remake of this one, not least because the PC-lobby (as opposed to the P-C lobby) would do their nut. Non-stop smoking, racist and sexist language all over the shop, hard drinking...just can't see it happening.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 14th, 2007 02:36 pm (UTC)
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Heh, and I'm not sure you could let Gene Hunt say "bastard" every other line.
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From:duchessdogberry
Date:June 14th, 2007 02:41 pm (UTC)
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EEEEEEEE!

Finally!

I knew you'd like it!

Now that it has your mark of approval, even more people will watch it and love it and the world will be a better place.

*dance of joy*

And, hee, you went a bit British.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 14th, 2007 02:49 pm (UTC)
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*dances*

Just as long as I'm more right than you.
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From:wildgreentide
Date:June 14th, 2007 03:24 pm (UTC)
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Yay Life on Mars! Great review. (Hee! on the Farscape reference! I hadn't made that connection either, but you're right.) I can't stop thinking about this show, especially having seen the finale -- it's really sticking with me, seeping into my thoughts at strange times, and compelling me to listen to lots of David Bowie.

It's freaky and cool, but from the first couple episodes, I didn't see the point of it all if he was just in a coma making all of it up.

For me, the point of it was the freaky surreality and ambiguity of his situation, which kept him off-kilter and prone to angsting (very prettily, I might add). I didn't come down on the "he's really in a coma, for reals" side as hard as you did; I liked that none of the answers quite fit. It made his situation a lot weirder and scarier, and even more poignant -- and it's why the ending worked so perfectly for me.

*cues up Life on Mars playlist again*
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 14th, 2007 03:42 pm (UTC)
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(Hee! on the Farscape reference! I hadn't made that connection either, but you're right.)
The other characters don't map AT ALL, but it's the same sort of "integrate yourself into this ragtag foreign team" concept.

I liked that none of the answers quite fit. It made his situation a lot weirder and scarier, and even more poignant -- and it's why the ending worked so perfectly for me.
Yeah, I was still searching for evidence that maybe he had really gone into the past and everything was real, because I liked that idea more when he started encountering people from his life. And you're right that there was still some ambiguity (how could Sam know any of this?), even though Sam seemed to accept the coma theory and act accordingly.

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