December 10, 2007


Life On Mars will time travel from the Seventies into the Eighties (PAUL REVOIR, 5th December 2007, Daily Mail)

A sexist copper who favours an orange Audi Quattro has barged his way into BBC 1's new winter/spring schedule.

Philip Glenister stars as the politically incorrect detective Gene Hunt in the Life On Mars spin-off Ashes To Ashes.

His new sidekick, replacing John Simm, is actress Keeley Hawes. She plays a single mother in 2008 who suddenly finds herself in 1981, surrounded by well-dressed criminals and New Romantics.

Other shows in the line-up include The No 1. Ladies' Detective Agency, based on the bestselling novel by Alexander McCall Smith.

Anthony Minghella and Richard Curtis have adapted the book about the unlikely detective Precious Ramotswe.

The programme, filmed on location in Botswana, stars singer and actress Jill Scott in the title role.

The BBC starts showing Season 2 of Life on Mars on December 11th.

Meanwhile, it's entirely fitting that the follow up series features the Gene Genie, because, as it turned out, the show was really about him rather than Sam Tyler in the first place. It's best not to go into too much detail and spoil the series for those who haven't seen it, but the manner in which they concluded its run was immensely satisfying.

The conceit of the original was that a contemporary detective, the uber-PC and utterly metrosexual Sam (John Simm), gets hit by a car and awakens in 1973. There he has to solve crimes and try to figure out whether he's crazy, comatose (which the scripts tilt towards heavily), or time-traveling, while working with a squad of neanderthal coppers. As his foils to either side ofd the gender spectrum we're given Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt (Mr. Glenister) -- the loutish, hard-drinking, two-fisted, crack-the-case-at-any-cost boss -- and Annie Cartwright (Liz White) -- the sweet, zaftig, but determined police woman. Sam is frustrated by Gene's machismo, on the one hand, and Annie's femininity, on the other, but is also attracted by both.

While the cases and the social issues raised by them have a tendency to be wrapped in multi-culti pabulum, the show always always demonstrates an awareness of how cloying Sam's (and our) modern
perspective is. Further, Gene is frequently shown to be more aware of that perspective and willing to use Sam (often unwittingly) where he finds it helpful, in order to change the culture. Likewise, Sam takes advantage of the prevailing social mores when they are useful to the investigations. And, for all the political correctness, the fundamental theme of the show could hardly be more counter-cultural--after all, it's basically an extended argument against euthanasia and for the worth of human life. Sam battles constantly to let doctors, nurses, family and friends -- whose voices he can sometimes hear as if they were at his hospital bed -- know that he is still there and still aware. There's even an episode where he meets the mother of his future girlfriend and tries to talk her out of aborting the baby. The show is a two-year long pro-life sermon.

Even with all the good things going for it though, the series could easily have been ruined had the producers dragged it out -- as has happened with shows like the X-Files, Alias, Lost, Heroes, etc. -- or had they failed to recognize the inevitable conclusion. In embracing it they turn the final episode into truly superior story-telling and give television a profundity it is not always associated with. I'd not want to ruin it for you if you've not seen it, so let's just say that it serves as a sort of rebuttal to Miguel de Cervantes.

This is a show that one of the American networks should just buy and run as is, but instead will buy the rights to, remake themselves, and butcher unforgivably in the process.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 10, 2007 1:53 PM

The main influence of 'Life on Mars' is a '70's British cop show 'The Sweeney' (Cockney rhyming slang - Sweeney Todd - Flying Squad). It was incredibly popular - sort of 'Dirty Harry' set in London but slightly more believable.

In real life their methods fell into disrepute when they started stitching up innocent irish navies for the crimes of the cynical IRA

But the nostalgia remains for cops who get things done

Posted by: mike in europe at December 10, 2007 4:49 PM

You musta missed my comment to this post:
mike in Europe,
First, condolences, hopefully its only a short incarceration. I'm, unfortunately, imprisoned in CA 'til death.
Having seen the original "Dirty Harry" movies on release, cannot understand the analogy of "Life on Mars" to a 70's London coppers series that you describe as, to paraphrase, "Harry lite"?

Posted by: Mike at December 10, 2007 7:13 PM

Glenister is far tougher than John Thaw was, though Simms even resembles the sidekick physically.

Posted by: oj at December 11, 2007 12:34 AM