Monday, March 29, 2010

"Life on Mars": yes, it makes more sense than the Bowie song

Trust us, we couldn't pull off these fashions if we weren't awesome...

So during my three-month-long non-alcoholic lost weekend, I cheered myself up by finally watching all 16 glorious episodes of "Life on Mars" -- the good version, not the American version starring Michael Imperioli's overpowering mutton chops. And I have to say, holy cow, what a great, weird little show.

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!

22 comments:

Shan said...

One: So the hubby thinks "Life on Mars" has a silly sounding premise, yet he negotiates you into doing a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" rewatch? That makes me giggle. Lord knows I loves me some Buffster (probably my favorite series of all time), but nothing sounds more silly or ridiculous on the surface.

Two: Y'all sound awesome.

Danielle Renee said...

I love Life on Mars! It's brilliant and odd and oh my John Simm and Philip Glenister are awesome together!
The spin-off Ashes to Ashes(I smell a theme there) is pretty good too. Lots more Gene Genie though sad lack of Simm.

Red said...

7 seasons of Buffy = 1 season of Life on Mars?

On the one hand, watching 7 seasons of Buffy would be fun.

But on the other hand, why do you have to do 10 times more (including the King books) than him for him to watch 1 season of something you love?

It's like the chick flick rule, which is unfair too.

Anyway, if you haven't seen Buffy, enjoy!

sayssara said...

One of the reasons I love Life on Mars is I was living in Manchester in 1973...I was about 3 at the time. The 'retro' attention to detail is amazing. And I keep seeing locations I recognise - some bits of Manchester haven't changed since the 1970s!

The creepy girl with the clown, by the way, was the actual test-card image on TV in those days. We didn't have 24-hour TV then. And we only had 3 channels, in the UK. One of the channels put up that test card image when they stopped broadcasting. The girl who plays the 'test card girl' in the series looks a lot like the original one in in 70s.

Michele said...

sayssara - it was the BBC that used the Test Card Girl...

I've not seen "Life on Mars" - I didn't think much of Simm as the Master either (give me Delgado or even Sir Derek *any* day!!) so I've not bothered watching him in anything else.

Mir said...

I got the region 2 version of "Ashes to Ashes" back when my region-free DVD player was still working... but even after it broke I found I could watch the show on my computer using a freeware player called "VideoLan." Enjoy!

DameRuth said...

Totally agree with you about the epic win that is the British "Life On Mars." I fell in love with it so hard a couple years ago, before it was out in region 1 DVD, I bought both seasons on region 2 from Amazon.co.uk and a region-free DVD player so I could watch them. I've never regretted that, and in fact I have the first 2 seasons of "Ashes To Ashes" on their way to me now from the UK (thank you, tax return money). DVD sets in general (and particularly for home-grown shows) are waaaaaay cheaper over at Amazon.co.uk than they are in the US, and the savings make having a special player worthwhile (not to mention being able to see uncut episodes of awesome shows not yet available on DVD in the US, like A2A and "Being Human"). At least IMNSHO. Your hubby'd better thank you for working so hard to get him to watch something so good; I've never shown this series to anyone who hasn't at least enjoyed it. :)

Quilt Monkey said...

I loved the British version of Life on Mars as well! I thought it had been cancelled after the first season, but to my great excitement, the second and final season aired. Quite a long time transpired in between! The ending was brilliant and very satisfying. I did also sit through the American version which was less than stellar. And had a VERY different ending. In my opinion, Ashes to Ashes was not great, but good enough to keep watching.

Camera Obscura said...

Oh, heavens, y'all, if the only thing you've seen Simm in is "Doctor Who" then you haven't seen Simm at all.

"Life on Mars" is first and foremost, of course, given this blog's readership. THEN you need to go watch the REAL "State of Play" -- the U.K. miniseries, not that miserable U.S. movie remake. Note: bonus Bill Nighy, David Morrisey, James McAvoy, and for those of you who fall in love with him in LoM, Phil Glenister.

If you're into historicals, get ahold of "The Devil's Whore." If you're into kids' novels, get "Skellig." If you're into the origins of Punk music, get "24-Hour Party People." If you're into the heavy stuff, get "Crime and Punishment."

Simm's been doing major-league acting for 20 years now. He just took the Master role so he'd have something his kids could watch.

rmiriam12 said...

Life on Mars was the series to make me break down and get a region free player and buy the series. Now I force all my friends to watch Ep 1-2 and have gotten a lot of people to see it. :)

Such an amazing piece of television. John Simm was terrific, indeed!

Anna said...

Oh yes, definitely watch Ashes to Ashes (Sidereel has online viewing links, or you can get the Region 2 DVDs and strip the restriction super easily). It took me a while to love Keeley Dawes after being in thrall with John Simm, but once I was hooked, that was it.

Thanks CameraObscura for the recs! I will definitely check some of those puppies out.

MK said...

Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes are awesome! I loved Gene and Sam's relationship but Gene and Alex take it one step further.

break said...

About dang time you watched it! Such a good series. I agree that Ashes to Ashes isn't as strong, but it's still a lot of fun. Season three is actually starting on March second, and I'm pretty excited. (Not that I will be able to see it here in America. *cough*, yarr...)

Jen said...

yep, LOVE LOVE LOVE this show - am planning on purchasing ashes to ashes sometime soon - it's just been released here in Aus.

Frisco Squid said...

Hmmm... a time-traveler stuck in Manchester... I like the premise. I don't know if I could watch it, though.

Aging Hipster said...

I've not seen the UK Life on Mars yet - at $60 for Season 1 it is too rich for my blood. Damned economic downturn.
I was rooting for the American version but that WAS the worst series finale I have ever seen. It made the BSG finale seem transcendent in comparison.
Nice to see you back.

The Husband said...

I am sorry but I need to come to my own defense here since she doesn't seem to be doing it.

1. Buffy is HER show. She LOVES it and MADE me watch it. This is our 4th time ATTEMPTING to go through the whole thing. We usually get stumped halfway through season 6. I was not about to stop watching it to watch this show. I will gladly watch LoM's when we are done.

2. She just watched LoM's herself and then started watching them all over again. I want to give her some time before watching it a 3rd time through in less than a month.

3. She falls in love with stuff all the time and tries to get me into it. Dr. Who is a prime example. She first tells me that she won't make me watch it because I won't like it. Then she decided she loves it and even though she says I won't like it she begs me to watch it. What? I did like it by the way. She often reads or gets into things and the issue becomes, "I want to discuss it with you so you have to read/watch." Fine. But when I read or watch something (Dark Tower, The Road, Dexter) she doesn't always want to reciprocate or keeps putting it off much longer. I think I have asked to read the Road 10 times in the last 14 months.

5. I really don't want to watch this show and I thought that making her read 2 books would get me out of it. I guess not as she is almost done with book 3. I tried watching this show once before and did not like it. I don't know how that will change.

FOR THOSE WHO WISH TO SKIM!

She only had to read essentially a 700 page book (which if you know my wife, takes 4 hours)to get me to watch 16 hours of a show I already know I don't like.

Sarah Eleanor said...

Actually I really liked the American Version of this show as well. The complete story arc was excellent but then of course ABC cancelled it. Which is why I can NEVER trust ABC. I want to like Flashfoward but I can't get attached becuase they already cancelled Life on Mars and Pushing Daisies both of which I loved. Stupid ABC! You are making me have commitment and trust issues I don't need from a television network!

SFG said...

ROTFL. You guys are so cute. In a world of gold-diggers, trophy wives, and arm candy, this is a match made in heaven.

Sigh...

Christina M. said...

He must watch Life On Mars! I loved it. Not as much as Ashes to Ashes, but Life On Mars definitely cemented my love of Simm and Glenister.

Vina said...

Both shows are good but LOM is by far the best.And the UK version is the original thanykyouverymuch. The over-simplified synopsis of a time traveller isn't great though,cause this ain't Quantum Leap at all at all.If you remember either decade you'll love them,even if you don't it's still great!!

the last episode of Ashes to Ashes is on in the UK and Ireland tonight at 9pm gmt.Get the tissues out...
WE <3 YOU GENE!!!!!!!!

RRB said...

Sorry, stumbled in here by accident. I have to say though that if you loved LOM then don't bother with Ashes to Ashes. It just isn't as good, the cast are all good actors (check out Keeley Hawes in the Bafta winning Spooks) but somehow the writing is just trying too hard. That said my wife loves Ashes to Ashes for the music as much as I loved LOM for the cars.
As for John Simm in Doctor Who, well I can't think who would have done the role any better but he is capable of far more. Check out "the lakes" for one or his appearence in "Cracker" opposite Robbie Coltrane" (not the watered-down rot you get over in the US). I'm told he's not too shabby in Shakespeare either, his run as "Hamlet" broke box office records here in Sheffield.