LIFE ON MARS U.S - EPISODE 14: Coffee, Tea Or Annie?

ABC - 11th March 2009 - 10.00pm

I really enjoyed this episode. It's warm, funny and does a tremendous amount to make us care about pretty much all of the characters. Everyone gets a great moment in the story and best of all it puts the relationship between Sam and Annie centre stage. And Gretchen Moll does some incredible work here as Annie. It's a shame that the series has been cancelled because this episode shows the format working at the height of its powers and the US writing team getting a proper grip on where they might want to take the series. Bit late now, though.

...sees himself orbiting the Earth
Bryan Oh and Adele Lim's script, 'filler' material that actually works, riffs on the original UK Episode 4 from Series 2 and does borrow heavily from the plot. In the UK original, it's Avon ladies selling make-up that are at the centre of a wife-swapping party and a murder hunt. Here, they've substituted flight attendants and pilots. And it works. However, like the original episode, it's very easy to work out the identity of the suspect and both have a slightly anti-climactic ending because of this. It doesn't matter because the journey to arresting the suspect is highly enjoyable and here the director David Petrarca indulges us with a near-perfect mesh of stylised visuals and music cues. The differences are also interesting in that Annie is sent undercover as the deceased Valerie Palmer because she looks identical to her and this seems to have an intriguing symbolism within Sam's alternate reality/coma-verse. There are flashbacks to his chldhood again and we also see Annie/Valerie's face depicted on a magazine from his childhood. This female doubling is a repeated meme throughout the series and adds a fascinating edge to what is essentially a highly comedic episode. And to add to Sam's mystery further watch out for that mesmerising scene where he looks out of the plane window and sees himself orbiting the Earth, neatly paralleling the flashback of young Sam playing at being an astronaut. of the best, visually and musically
It's great for Annie. She gets to go undercover as Valerie, her relationship with Sam definitely shifts in the right direction and she has the courage of her convictions, after doing a rather marvellous bit of police work, to stand up to Gene and demand a future as a detective at the precinct. Excellent character development and full of charm, especially the late night walkie-talkie conversation with Sam and their preparation to go undercover at the swingers party as George and Laura Bush. There's also room in this for a sweet sub-plot for Chris Skelton who nervously seeks Sam's advice on dating which then proves to be successful, offering itself as the innocent alternative to all the kinky goings on at the party. I also loved director Petrarca's visual homage to 1970s culture, initially with all the sequences at the airport and on the plane and especially with that lovely slow motion reveal of the women flight attendants, including Annie, to Shocking Blue's original version of Venus, and then later with the kitchy interior decor of Ronald and Rita's house. He even manages to splice in archive footage of LAX to add a bit of verisimilitude. The episode is certainly one of the best, visually and musically. The conclusion is also pretty life-affirming too, dovetailing Annie's ambitions and Valerie's origins by simply having that fantastic Partridge Family track, Point Me In The Direction Of Albuquerque, belting out on the soundtrack as Sam and Annie talk about Valerie and how similar she is to Annie.

There is a lot to enjoy here, the stakeout in Chris' hippy chic van, the arrest of the knicker fetishist on the plane, the sight of Annie in basque and suspenders whipping an equally gorgeous Ronald (the hunky pilot), Gene bringing a hooker to the party...and though it may not address many viewers concerns, including the Aries project file, the mini-robots, Sam's father and the weird phonecalls and television set moments, it's still a highly enjoyable episode that's camp, funny, sexy (Sam with a 'tache, Ronald in his briefs, Annie in dominatrix mode) and bittersweet. Most of all, it makes us finally fall in love with the Annie/Sam dynamic and it's almost as good as the one established by John Simm and Liz White.

ABC Life On Mars site

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