ABC - 12th February 2009 - 10.00pm

Finally, sweet, baby faced Jonathan Murphy gets a chance to shine as Chris Skelton. But it would seem to be too late as viewing figures plummeted this week to just above 5 million from the nearly 9 million who came back to the series at the end of January. I fear the writing is on the wall.

He just ends up looking like a builder (and a very attractive hunk at that) pretending to be Ziggy Stardust
So, this week the show goes for a light hearted caper rather than try and extend the mythology of the last episode and the series as a whole. Chris gets the opportunity to investigate death threats sent to his favourite rock star, Sebastian Grace. Never heard of him? No. Surely it would have been cleverer to try and have Chris meet someone we know, like Bowie or Bolan. Instead, we're given a sort of Gary Glitter meets Kiss meets Alice Cooper figure who is totally straight and goes for the chicks rather than be a disruptive, androgynous, bisexual kind of figure. And did the Americans really get the whole glam thing anyway in the same way the British did? It all comes across as a bit of a pastiche on British pop stars but has none of the threat that you would want from such a maverick figure. Cheyenne Jackson, playing Sebastian Grace, was physically so wrong for the part, even though they obviously wanted him for his singing experience. Yes, I know he's a Broadway baby but he's a big, chunky fella and in this he's sporting masses of hair, masses of glam make-up, muscles, a very big chest, silver stage costumes and weeny blue afghan jackets. If he'd been elfin and svelte, rather than pumped and muscled, a blend of the feminine and the masculine then the cliche would have paid off. He just ends up looking like a builder (and a very attractive hunk at that) pretending to be Ziggy Stardust. Shame, as his performance does have a bit of charm about it, especially when he's in the scenes with Gretchen Moll. Cheyenne is also openly gay. Why not make the Sebastian Grace character gay too and have him come on to Chris? Wouldn't that have been more interesting?

...turns out that the thrust of an experimental helicopter drowned the missing groupie
The plot is also very much a cliche, a bit of a rip-off of Almost Famous and no where near as good on the period detail. Groupie goes missing and the innocent, bumbling Chris believes she's been abducted by aliens and ends up taking LSD. Murphy is actually rather endearing in this and manages to flesh out the shy, bashful young cop and is very amusing in the LSD sequence. A pity they didn't have him be the detective who solves the case as we are clearly into territory that only Sam can endure so that each week he rather predictably solves every case because he's the leading character. It's boring. It is a bit of a stretch to imagine that Chris would have been into a glam rock band but then there are very straight fans of Kiss still breathing God's good air so I suppose it's accurate. The caper, and it turns out that the thrust of an experimental helicopter drowned the missing groupie (yeah, I'm not making this up), is purely there to try and develop characters. Odd, as they've had much of the season to do this and should be getting to the meat of Sam's presence in 1973. The alien abduction nonsense is a red herring, an excuse to draft in Wallace Shawn to do his turn as a goofy strange phenomena expert, and something the writers and producers wanted to toy with and cross off the list of theories Sam has scrawled on his wardrobe door. We know it has everything to do with Project Aries and not bloody UFOs.
...why didn't they cast Imperioli as Gene instead?

The other concern of this episode is to try and find some laughs in the love triangle between Annie, Sam and Maria Belanger. The whole episode turns on whether Gene will find out that Sam's bit of passion in the precinct's filing room was with his own daughter. Cue lots of heavy handed references to father-daughter relationships from Gene and a bit of a cat-fight between Annie and Maria. Maria's a nasty bit of work and tears Annie down a strip or two and all she's after is Sam's body. Yes, we do get a bit of background to Gene's family life and that's fine but it doesn't really help a flimsy plot. Lovely that Chris and Annie go off together to the Sebastian Grace concert and leave Sam on his own. Michael Imperioli continues to dominate as Ray. He's very funny in this episode, coming out with the kind of un-PC remarks that Gene should be trotting out. Come to think of it, why didn't they cast Imperioli as Gene instead? I think he would have made a better job. He's certainly more realistic when he forces confessions out of people by threatening to burn their eyes out with lit cigarettes. Some priceless stuff between him and Donna, one of Grace's groupie's: Donna: "Where did you find this guy, Bob's Stupid Cop Emporium?" Ray: "Honey, how about I lock you up on charges of aggravated dumb slut with no future."

Not a bad episode, somewhat cliched and fluffy, vacillating between cop show pastiche and nostalgia overdose. Entertaining and on the plus side with some great music from Bowie ('Starman') and The Kinks ('Supersonic Rocket Ship') on the soundtrack and an opportunity to showcase both Annie and Chris. Even the Sebastian Grace song at the end isn't bad and the scenes between Annie and an incarcerated Grace were some of the best writen stuff we've seen on the show. But is it too late? Will Life On Mars make it past one season?

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