I havenâ€™t been writing about the BBCâ€™s Life On Mars because it would be criminally unfair. Itâ€™s one of the greatest television shows in recent memory, and except for a brief run on BBC America, itâ€™s been completely unavailable on these shores. No DVDs. No endless repeats on BBC America. Nothing.
The bad news is that ABC is prepping an Americanized version for the fall and itâ€™s going to be awful. So itâ€™s time to break radio silence. Find a torrent site, search Ebay for DVDs and buy a PAL DVD player, or scramble around online anywhere you can and download Life On Mars.
Thereâ€™s only two 8 episode seasons of the British version, so itâ€™ll be quick to pull down. If the powers that be wonâ€™t make it legally available – because theyâ€™re prepping a vastly inferior version – then civil disobedience to the IP laws of the land is the only option.
The premise of Life On Mars is simple. DI Sam Tyler (thatâ€™s Detective Inspector for us Yanks) is an obsessed, procedure loving detective chasing a serial killer in
Itâ€™s a simple gimmick, and the first episode plays out like a goof on the CSI procedurals. DI Tyler is used to extensive lab reports and forensic science tests. In 1973, it takes two weeks to match a fingerprint. Civil rights are an alien concept. Women and minorities canâ€™t be taken seriously as detectives â€“ even by themselves. And DCI Hunt is a garrulous English redneck, happy to beat a confession out of any poor sot in his interrogation room just so he can get to the pub by five.
What unfolds from there is some of the most engrossing television to have aired in years. Imagine Lost if it promised a satisfying resolution without jerking the audience around. Imagine Battlestar Galactica with a sense of humor. Imagine House playing out as a semi-surreal detective show.
Life On Mars is a deftly nuanced show. The overall questions of what is real or imagined never drown the police drama. The culture clash of 1973 and 2007 is deftly handled. The attention to period detail and cop shows from the 1970â€™s is immaculate. Only producing 16 episodes allowed the producers to craft an engaging mystery with a satisfying, but still slightly ambigous ending. And most impressively, all these elements are blended together to create something incredibly unique and satisfying.
If youâ€™ve enjoyed any of the stellar BBC generated productions of the last decade (like The Office or Top Gear â€“ which, incidentally, is my current pick for the best show on television), then tracking down Life On Mars in the original version is imperative. If youâ€™re a fan of quality television, and can appreciate drama like The Wire or The Sopranos for their artistry, then Life On Mars is a must-see.
So when ABC announced that it had the rights to an American re-make, my heart sank. Then I saw the upfront presentation that ABC played for advertisers to drum up their excitement for the show, and I got ill. When that presentation missed the boat with their music cues, I got outraged. The title is derived from a David Bowie song with lyrics heavy on alienation, outrage, and larger than life movie images.
Wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show.
Is there life on Mars?
The ABC presentation keeps the title Life On Mars, but falls back on the goofy, populist disco of KC & The Sunshine Band. â€œGet Down Tonightâ€ would be better served pushing the CBS fiasco Swingtown. The shiny, harmonious, and upbeat disco song is an entire world away from
When the news came down that two weeks ago, when other shows are up and running at full speed for the fall, they were re-casting and changing show runners, all hope was lost. Supposedly the whole cast is getting re-tooled except the lead actor. This obliterates the one glimmer of hope that the presentation showed â€“ casting Star Trek: The Next Generation veteran Colm Meany as the boisterous Gene Hunt. In the BBC series, Philip Glenister was the incendiary star of the show, and one of the most indelible characters that any television series has seen. Colm Meany, aside from hailing from
During the NBA finals, ABC is running promos for Life On Mars that are about as bad as promos can get. Now this is as thankless a promo assignment as it gets. Advertise a show where you can only show one cast member, using a song thatâ€™s completely inappropriate for the feel of the show. Watch for it on Tuesdayâ€™s game 6 and weep. Because they can only show Jason Oâ€™Mara, and since the new pilot is being shifted from LA to NYC, they canâ€™t even show him in action, all you see is a mud colored shot of an indistinguished actor on a dull background.
TV promos donâ€™t get worse than this. And TV series canâ€™t go off the rails any worse than this. The original pilot presentation is available on the internet, but I wonâ€™t contaminate my site with any links to it. If I can find the ABC promo, Iâ€™ll provide a second-by-second breakdown of everything thatâ€™s horrible about it. And if you can find the original version of Life On Mars anywhere, go get it. Itâ€™ll be the best thing you do for yourself this summer.