LIFE ON MARS
Sam Tyler - Jason O'Mara
Gene Hunt - Harvey Keitel
Annie Norris - Gretchen Mol
Ray Carling - Michael Imperioli
Chris Skelton - Johnathan Murphy
OTHER LIFE ON MARS SERIES
Life On Mars (UK)
SPIN OFF SERIES (UK)
Ashes to Ashes
OTHER TIME TRAVEL SHOWS
A modern detective is hit by a car and thrown back in time to the mean streets of New York, 1973. There he has to deal with the lack of technological crime fighting aids and methods unthinkable today. He also comes into contact with his family when he was just a child and has to discover why he is there and how he can make it back home.
This update of A CONNECTICUT YANKEE AT THE COURT OF KING ARTHUR is taken from the hugely successfulBritish series that took the concept and created a stunning show with strong themes, a touching love story and a hugely popular performance from Philip Glenister as the foul-mouthed but larger than life unit chief Gene Hunt.
This US version fails completely to recreate the Gene Hunt character, who is almost written out of the show along with the rest of the minor characters, and focusses instead wholly on the Sam Tyler character. This is not a problem since Jason O'Mara is an appealing lead and his romance with policewoman Annie Norris (Gretchen Mol) is a strong thread to hang the show on.
The setting of 1973 New York is wonderfully realised and seems to be really authentic in terms of time and place and characters. What isn't authentic is the reason behind Sam's time travelling, which is hinted at all the way through and then revealed in a shockingly poor tacked on sequence when it became clear that one season is all that the show was going to get.
The actual crime story that is presented to Sam in the past is straightforward and almost perfunctory, leaving time to deal with the central time travel aspect.Top
Out Here In The Fields
Sam Tyler And his girlfriend Maya are detectives. They have just tracked down a killer, but have to let him go when he turns out to have an alibi. When Maya goes missing, Sam races to help, but is knocked down by a car and finds himself in 1973 New York and part of a very unconventional teamof detectives looking into a very familiar killing.
Life On Mars (UK) was a very big hit for the BBC, leading to a spin off series Ashes to Ashes, so it should come as no surprise then to find the compelling concept of a modern copper in a time before DNA and computers has been transferred to a very American setting.
The setting is the opening episode's greatest asset as 1973 New York is a vibrant melting pot with great cars and the shocking moment when Sam looks up at the twin towers, intact. It might be borrowed from PLANET OF THE APES, but it's a powerful moment.
Another asset is Jason O'Mara who makes for an instantly appealing central character in Sam, taking the audience with him and making the idea that he could kill a child to stop a future crime very real and understandable. Gretchen Moll also has an impact as the put upon woman officer putting up with the era's rampany misogyny. The big disappointment turns out to be what should have been the show's greatest asset. Harvey Keitel channels the brutal side of Gene Hunt, but there is no hint of the larger than life humour that Philip Glenister brought to the role, leaving a big hole.
The actual crime story that is presented to Sam in the past is straightforward and almost perfunctory, leaving time to deal with the central time travel aspect.Top
The Real Adventures Of The Unreal Sam Tyler
A cleaner at the precinct is caught in the crossfire when the team take down a robber who they planned to frame before Sam refused to let them. As she clings to life, Sam has to expose dirty cops and become the target of hate for everyone.
From the swimsuit chase opening, there is plenty of action and fun in this story, though the big comedy fight moment in the hospital is fluffed and the accent is much more on the cop procedural side of things than the time travel aspect and this particular cop story is too predictable to get by on its own.
Jason O'Mara is still the show's big asset, whilst the rest of the cast fail to make a big impact, which considering it's supposed to be at least a two-hander with Harvey Keitel is a bit of a failure since his role seems to have been pared down in favour of the Sam character. The other members of the team make almost no impact at all.Top
My Maharishi Is Bigger Than Your Maharishi
The investigation into a dead Vietnam veteran takes Sam into the heart of the hippy counter-culture, but also exposes him to a world far more secretive.
The rampant homophobia of the times is the focus for this episode and it would have been a whole lot more impactive had Harvey Keitel and Michael Imperioli done a better job of showing how their attitudes were challenged and changed. There are flashes of humour in the Gene Hunt character, but he remains mainly a boorish thug.
The police procedural stuff is pretty simple and uncomplicated, but the drug and hippy scene allows for Sam to have some flashes regarding his situation and what might really be happening.
The moment when he sees his younger self in the crowd ought to be shattering, but is fluffed.Top
Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadows
Sam saves a woman being roughed up in the street and is shocked to realise that it is his mother, Rose. She owes money to a local mobster and Sam finds that the whole precinct seems to be in the man's pocket. When he refuses the man's bribes, he is targeted for dirty tricks.
Corruption is a subject that has to come up in any cop show and this episode at least shows the mundane, commonplace way in which things can go bad. Looking the other way for the small things in order to clean up the big things might seem like a good idea at the time, but when you're in the small things up to your neck, you cant back out of when it all gets ugly.
The cop story, though, isn't the heart of this episode. That's down to the relationship between Sam and his young mother and the way that he comes to see the real her and the problems that she faced rather than what she allowed him to see as a child. It's a thought-provoking idea and could cause a reappraisal of how we see our own parents. It's also the most emotionally involving that the show has yet managed to be.
This is easily the best episode so far.Top
Things To Do In New York When You Think You're Dead
When a young black girl is thrown from a rooftop by a Puerto Rican, the city threatens to explode. The pressure is on for the police to bring in the killer and the easiest way to do that is to bring him in dead.
The racial melting pot that is New York is the perfect backdrop to this story that provides the best episode of the show so far. Sam is partnered with the man who will eventually be his mentor and that allows for a lot of opportunities for nice one liners. Jason O'Mara desperately performing Vanilla Ice's 'Ice Ice Baby' to a room full of soul brothers has to be seen to be enjoyed.
It can't be ignored that the success of the story is based in a large part on the fact that the Gene and the rest of the supporting cast disappear for a good part of the running time. What was originally a double hander is now firmly about Sam Tyler alone and despite the fact that the stroy is all about racism it suddenly transforms into being about Sam's religious state and gives some very strong clues about what might be happening to Sam, the strongest yet.
There's also a cameo from Whoopi Goldberg.Top
A man takes the inmates and staff of a psychiatric ward prisoner and promises that the siege will be over one way or the other at two o'clock. Sam receives a message from the present that his life support is going to be switched off. The time? Two o'clock.
An armed siege is an easy route to drama, the essential conflict already built in by the very situation. As a result, every police show in history has done its own version and this proves to be be neither different nor exciting enough to justify its existence. There are some tense moments and nice twists, but it still is all just too familiar. It also doesn't make enough use of the built in deadline factor that could really have ratcheted up the tension.
It certainly isn't helped by the fact that the story ends on a poor joke that Harvey Keitel fails to sell and the incipient relationship between Sam and Annie is handled very clumsily right at the end.Top
The Man Who Sold The World
A kidnapped baby leads Sam to a suspect that he can hardly believe, Vic Tyler - his father. Small time salesman and in hock to a couple of really bad people, Vic wants to sort things out so that he can be at his son's 4th birthday party. Sam remembers visions of his 4th birthday party and a woman in a red dress getting hurt. Sam's mother is wearing a red dress to his party.
This is the best episode that the show has come up with yet, blending the many facets of the show together in a finely balanced cocktail. There are Sam's attempts to understand the father he barely remembers and to get him to do the right thing. There is the crime story about the bad guys that Vic is being coerced by and there are the visions that have been flashing through Sam's brain ever since he arrived back int 1973.
The script is great and creates a real and meaningful relationship between Sam and his father, allowing Jason O'Mara and Dean Winters to put in a couple of fine performances to make it work. This means that the shocks that come piling in at the end really work well, even if it leaves us on a cliffhanger that is nail-bitingly gripping.Top
Take A Look At The Lawmen
There is an intense rivalry between Gene and the head of a neighbouring precinct, so when a Russian bank robber kills an innocent bystander both teams race to beat each other in solving the case. Sam, meanwhile, finds a new love interest.
This is a very pleasant, light-hearted episode that starts with a suicide talk down that goes horribly wrong and ends up with a mass brawl in a turkish bath house. It's all a bit silly and immense fun, but underlying the whole thing there is a single question to be asked - what happened to the cliffhanger from the last episode? It is gone, completely ignored as if it never happened. It was such a great cliffhanger that you can't expect to leave it hanging this way without undermining this episode.
There is an attempt to humanise Gene Hunt, which hardly is worth the effort since he's not been that big a character in the show to date and the introduction of the new love interest in Sam's life leads to a fun moment, but considering that he's supposed to be in love with Maya and attracted to Annie it's an odd way to behave that seems utterly out of character.Top
The Dark Side Of The Mook
Small time cons are turning up dead without their heads and Ray Carling's brother Eddie seems to be involved. Sam needs to find out what is going on before Ray gets himself into some serious trouble.
At the end of The Man Who Sold The World, Sam was left with a phone call from someone who knew who he was telling him to go down into the cellar of a house in the middle of nowhere, connected to all of Sam's cases. It was one hell of a cliffhanger that had to be resolved, which made it frustrating when Take A Look At The Lawmen simply ignored it. Perhaps that was the right idea because the answer as to what was in the basement is extremely disappointing.
Michael Imperioli's Ray Carling is a character that has been trying to break out of the background where he has been firmly kept and this story of a brother gone wrong might have been the chance that he needed, but the story is so horribly standard and 'seen it all before' that it fails to raise any real interest. This isn't helped at all by the flashback structure of the story as it is told to internal affairs investigators.
In fact, the only interesting thing to come out of this episod at all is that the people who are manipulating Sam and giving him the phone messages work for something called the Aries Project and hold plans of a surface lander rather like the ones that Sam has been having visions of. They, at least, appear to be real.Top
Let All The Children Boogie
A groupie goes missing and the lead singer of Chris Skelton's favourite band says that she was kidnapped by aliens, probably into the past according to an unconventional FBI operative. Sam is more worried that Gene is going to find out about his trysts with his superior's daughter.
It's easy to wonder if the last two episodes were shown in the correct order because the plot jumps right back to Sam and his affair with Gene's daughter, something that was completely ignored in the last episode. This thread actually supplies the most fun in the lighthearted episode that also sees Chris having an acid trip and Annie trading philosphy with a David Bowie clone.
The crime story isn't very interesting and the solution to it is somewhat out of the blue, provided by the FBI in an info dump at the end. Still, the story of Sam and Gene's daughter manages to keep it afloat. Just.Top
Home Is Where You Hang Your Holster
A raid on a hotel where prostitutes ply their trade brings in a local councilman who just has time to confide in Sam that he is from 2009 and has finally found the way home before he is shot and killed. Gene Hunt locks down the precinct until the killer can be found.
Another ho-hum crime story is enlivened by Sam's visions of the future on the television and his hearing witnesses telling him things that he cant' be hearing. There is a Wizard of Oz theme running through it all with Judy Garland singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow and the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland makes an appearance. These are hints to what is really going on, but remain meaningless at present.
The The occasionally amusing story of Sam and Gene's daughter finally runs its course, but the main asset is the time that is spent with Ray and Annie in a battle between a misogynist dinosaur and a liberated woman.Top
The Simple Secret Of The Note In Us All
Gene's latest case is the death of a prominent newspaperman and is being played out in the full glare of press interest. He wants it squeaky clean, so it's a bad time for Sam to go after an apparently respectable suspect based on what he knows of the future.
There's something of Out Here In The Fields in the idea that Sam can prevent a future killing by dealing with a bad guy in the past, but that's mainly supporting what is otherwise a straightforward crime story set in the art world.Top
Revenge Of Broken Jaw
A group of subversive anti-imperialists target police with bombs, killing men known to Gene and possibly part of an unofficial squad dealing with undesirable types. They haul in a professor they believe to be involved, but can they get her to talk?
A straightforward police story with virtually nothing about Sam's time travel dilemma at all. It's an OK story, but isn't exactly going to blow anybody's mind. This is supposed to affect Gene deeply, but you wouldn't know it from Harvey Keitel's performance.Top
Coffee, Tea or Annie
An in-flight stewardess is killed, the second one in near memory. This one looks very much like Annie, so she goes undercover and discovers a ring of wife-swapping swingers. Which of them could commit murder?
It's nice to see Gretchen Mol changed out the policewoman's uniform and into something a little more stylish, not to mention her underwear. The wig makes quite a difference as well. It doesn't make her a competent stewardess, though, and it stretches credulity that none of her co-workers pick up on it. Jason O'Mara in a 70s 'tache is also fun.
The whodunnit is given away by the stunt casting, but Sam has a couple of flashes to do with spaceflight, his childhood and a magazine. More clues that don't yet mean a lot.Top
All The Young Dudes
Sam goes undercover into the Irish community in order to catch a criminal kingpin. Instead, he finds himself involved with the man's sister leading to potentially fatal consequences, especially when his mother shows up.
This is a pretty good undercover cop going falling for a member of the family that he is investigating and getting caught in a conflict of interest. The fact that Sam's mother just happens to live next door now is a step too far.
Things are enlivened by good performances from Peter Greene as the villain and Paige Turco as his sister. There is a really excellent cliffhanger ending.Top
Everyone Knows It's Windy
Chris is lying close to death on the operating table and the rest of the team go after the shooter, only to find him dead and a witness identifying Sam as the killer.
This would be a bog standard crime drama with the police officer framed for a killing that everyone knows that he didn't do were it not for the fact that the motive for the killing and Sam being framed is all wrapped up with the Aries project and the little robot mars explorers that seem to be put inside everyone.
As a result, it all goes very well before unravelling completely at the end.Top
Life Is A Rock
Sam gets a call that if he can carry out three tasks then he will get to go home. The first is to save his younger self from his father in the mysteriously empty town of Hyde.
The makers of the show were clearly aware that it had been cancelled and cobbled together this season finale to explain what was really going on and the ending is novel even if it completely undermines everything that has gone before and leaves the audience slack-jawed with just how awful it really is.
SPOILER ALERT - don't read any further if you don't want to know.
The ending is just tacked on at the end in the clumsiest possible fashion, though this explanation was clearly what the writers of this version had in mind all along since the British version didn't give them a definitive answer. The fact that it was all a computer-generated dream created by a faulty system just renders the whole series inconsequential and a waste of time, something that it really wasn't.
LIFE ON MARS comes to a terrible end, but has enough going for it to be remembered postively, if only for the two central performances by Jason O'Mara and Gretchen Mol.Top
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