ABC - 16th October 2008 - 10.00pm

In the last review, I suggested this version of Life On Mars would need to start to find its own way of telling stories in order to move out of the shadow of its UK predecessor. It would seem with this second episode that the 'mythology' promised by the U.S producers is emerging.

The plot more or less follows the original Matthew Graham script, including the opening chase sequence from the swimming baths, the moral dilemma facing Sam when he realises that Gene's methods of fitting up suspects is ethically wrong but practically effective and, of course, a discussion of the nature of reality. What the writer Brian Oh does here is take the premise and then bolt on sub-plots and new characters to expand, and add complexity, to the relationships already well established by both versions of the show.

The casual violence is beginning to appear, with suspects being liberally beaten every five minutes, but there seems to be a timidity in depicting all the other 'isms' of the era.
Hence, we get what I hope will be two new, continuing characters. The hippy neighbour, Windy played by Tanya Fischer, who comes over as a New York version of Armistead Maupin's Mona Ramsey character. This isn't a bad thing as I feel this series needs to tap into the hippy comedown of the mid-1970s whilst also embracing the burgeoning rights movements for blacks, women and gays. It still hasn't grasped the need to sharply define our modern day, politically correct, socio-cultural outlook against the sexism, racism and casual violence of 1973. The casual violence is beginning to appear, with suspects being liberally beaten up every five minutes, but there seems to be a timidity in depicting all the other 'isms' of the era. But I like Windy as a character and she certainly highlights Sam's innate innocence even if her dippy spirituality is no replacement for the Greek Chorus of the Test Card Girl or the Open University lectures. The little robot thing was weird too and I'm not sure what exactly it is but I suppose it's there as a connecting symbol between Sam and 2008.

The other character that opens this out is Lee Crocker, the district attourney, a rather slimy creature played by Lee Tergensen, who I hope will add a dynamic to the relationship between Sam and Annie, because, let's face it, this is very different from the John Simm / Liz White interplay. The friendship here is much more guarded and it doesn't have the unresolved sexual tension that the UK series had. I think that's down to Gretchen Mol's way of portraying Annie as a slightly colder character. With Crocker insinuating himself into the friendship then maybe we'll get a bit more fire between the three of them. Crocker would be a good foil for Sam but that would then mean that Sam will need to deal with two antagonistic men - Crocker and Ray Carling - and that might be over-egging the pudding.
Imperioli takes Ray's resentment at losing out promotion to Sam and turns the intensity up to 100...
Michael Imperioli also seems to have done his homework and makes a good impact here. His version of Ray is going to take some getting used to. The UK version, played by Dean Andrews, used his bigotry as a way to deflect attention from his feminine side and if you've been following Ashes To Ashes then you'll be aware of the debate over Ray's sexuality. Imperioli takes Ray's resentment at losing out promotion to Sam and turns the intensity up to 100 and there is no ironic, post-modern facet to the character. He's deadpan, it seems. It all depends on where they take the character and I suspect that if they want this particular ensemble cast to work then, as in the UK version, Ray will cultivate a grudging respect for Sam. But Imperioli was far better here than in the debut. Quite what Lisa Bonet is doing in this series is now beyond me. Are they going to have her in every episode as a flashback? For me, her role in this just doesn't fit. It's an attempt to make Maya and Sam a pair of soppy, star-crossed lovers and for me it just doesn't work as a device. It's so far not even helped develop the Maya character beyond the brief scenes in the debut episode that only very tenuously describe the relationship between the two.

Keitel seems to be playing Hunt as a meta-texual version of his bad-boy self.
And Harvey? He's good but he's a much different Gene Hunt. We still haven't got the caustic Huntisms to the fore but he's bringing a naturalism to the role that replaces the irony of the UK version. It's difficult to assess because we see Hunt as a super-ironic extension of Jack Regan whereas Keitel is not really an extension of any iconic character in American TV culture that I can think of. In fact, Keitel seems to be playing Hunt as a meta-texual version of his bad-boy self. However, he and Jason O'Mara are hitting their stride now and their chemistry is developing. It's cemented in that wonderfully playful and outrageous bust up in the hospital whilst gun-victim June lies recovering in bed. It's a straight replay of the same scene in the UK version but it's still brilliantly cheeky. Jason O'Mara is much more appealing in this and is tapping into that fundamentally decent core of the Sam Tyler character. Plus, he's very nice on the eye.

It's a very enjoyable second outing, the tone is settling down and there's something very attractive emerging about the series. I completely switched off from thinking about the UK version whilst watching this and perhaps saw it on its own merits for the first time. There are also some lovely touches in this - the Gilbert O'Sullivan 'Get Down' track playing as Gene and Sam thump each other, Chris Skelton's waterwings, the Starsky And Hutch vibe in the shootout and the legendary Sylvia Miles as the kooky eyewitness Mrs. Salvaggio.

Yeah, more please.

ABC Life On Mars site

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  1. Sounds as if 'Life on Mars' US style is shaping up to be every bit as good as its predecessor. I'm intrigued as to how they can string the conceit out over 22 episodes (and presumably further series if it continues rtaings as well as it is at the moment) as the UK show very definately had a sixteen episode 'shelf life', as many UK shows do. But then, in much the same way as The US Office has expanded beyond the 14 UK episodes, I suppose 'Life on Mars' will be able to do the same. I look forward to being able to see this US version.

  2. FRANK says:

    It's getting there, Paul. The key thing will be what they decide about Sam's eventual fate. The UK series, as far I interpreted it, stated he was in a coma and then committed suicide to 'get back' to 1973. Will the US series follow that story or will they decide he's in 1973 because of some other cause - they'll need to decide if he is in a coma, or a time traveller etc etc.

    So far they've adapted the first two episodes very closely and it will be interesting to see what they do beyond this. Mind you, the ratings took a tumble for episode two...

  3. Lucy McGough says:

    There's a debate over Carling's sexuality? No-one told me! Can I have some info please?


  4. Fun E says:

    I just got into the show and want to see the first 3 episodes but they don't seem to be available from abc-anyone know another site that might have them?

  5. FRANK says:

    Fun E,

    Try streaming via 'Surf the Channel' for the recently show episodes. Link here will at least get you the first episode:

    For other you may have to torrent from various sites. Google the episode title and you should find a number of options.

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