Monday, March 29, 2010
"Life on Mars": yes, it makes more sense than the Bowie song
For those who haven't seen it, "Life on Mars" is a British TV series starring John Simm as a modern-day Manchester police detective named Sam Tyler who is on the trail of a murderer when he's suddenly struck down by a car. When he wakes up, he finds himself in Manchester...in the year 1973. So, he's either gone crazy, is in a coma or perhaps, is dead. (And dear God, he keeps seeing a creepy little girl with a clown.) As he tries to figure out what the hell has happened to him, he keeps up his police work with the 1973-era Manchester police and has to deal with an entirely different world of detecting, where planting evidence and beating the crap out of a suspect won't necessarily put a guy on the naughty list.
"Life on Mars" is part trippy mind-bending mystery, ala "Lost," and part pure cop story with a weekly case to be solved. It's also a love story and a comedy and an examination of cultural clashes.
If it sounds like a goofy premise, well, it is but the beauty of the show is that it only ran 16 episodes so the series never outgrew the constraints of that goofy premise. Instead, each episode feels like a deliberate, well-crafted piece of a really cool puzzle, building to what I have to say is one of the best endings of a TV series ever.
The acting in this show is first-rate, with John Simm absolutely stellar as the very confused yet still incredibly bull-headed Tyler. As someone who had only ever seen Simm as the Master on "Doctor Who" (and, I'm sorry to say, couldn't stand him in the part), I was shocked at how terrific he is in this role. He does a beautiful job of making you wonder whether Tyler truly is crazy or just a poor man stuck in the middle of a truly bizarre metaphysical accident.
Philip Glenister as Gene Hunt, Tyler's supervisor in 1973, is an absolute scene stealer and a perfect foil to Simm's soulful earnestness. Hunt is a complete bastard but totally dynamic and appealing...and fricking hilarious. The rest of the cast is stellar as well, with special mention going to Liz White as Tyler's love interest, Annie, who's trying to make it as a female officer in a very, very sexist era. Imagine a character equal parts bad-ass and adorable -- that's Annie.
If you haven't seen "Life on Mars," you should. I believe in the quality of this series so much, I've actually made a pact with my husband just to get him to watch it. He refuses to believe that a TV show with such a ridiculous premise can be any good, but he's agreed to watch it if I read at least two volumes of Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series -- which I just completed last week -- and if I complete a full "Buffy" rewatch with him. (We're halfway through Season 6.) I've jumped through a lot of hoops so far to get him to watch this show...and he's going to be damn glad I did when he realizes that yes, his wife knows awesomeness the way Barnum knows clowns.
Now if only someone would release "Ashes to Ashes," the "Life on Mars" sequel, on DVD. C'mon, people, mama needs her stories!