19 July 2006

Life on Mars

Once every few years, someone gets television right. Interesting characters, clever stories, and sparkling dialogue. Sometimes, early promise doesn't last for the long run, as in "The West Wing" and "The Gilmore Girls". Sometimes, the quality never fades - "The Shield" and "Cheers" being two that jump to mind. When a new show holds out promise of quality like this, we need to embrace it.

"Life on Mars" is such a show. It is insistent and demanding and one of the most original (television) ideas in years. Sam Tyler is a 21st century detective on the hunt for a serial killer. His estranged girlfriend, a fellow detective, follows a lead without backup and is abducted by the killer. Feeling responsible and powerless to save her, Sam pulls his car to the side of the road to compose himself...and is promptly struck. Waking up disoriented and confused, Sam finds himself in 1973, a detective on transfer to Manchester.

Here's where "Life on Mars" becomes more than its pitch. Though convinced he's in a coma (there's certainly evidence pointing to that,) for the most part he accepts the virtual as real and functions. While in many ways this is a fish out of water story, Sam is neither lost in his setting, nor more capable than those around him. His ways are different; they are not always better.

I've never been to Manchester, and certainly not in 1973; however, the city is a vital character here. The sterile, modern city Sam leaves is nothing like the messy, dirty, vibrant city in which he finds himself. The difference is obvious from the moment Sam wakes, and like "The Wizard of Oz", the explosion of color stands in sharp counterpoint to the monochrome world he's left behind.

David E. Kelley's producing a pilot for ABC based on the show, but I doubt it will compare to the original.

"Life on Mars" premieres on BBC America on Monday, July 24. And don't ignore the music.


Earl of Donutshire said...

And I understand no additional make-up or CGI work was needed for the 2006 Manchester to play the younger 1973 version of itself.

R.A. Porter said...

Not a bit. Apparently, the Beeb's time traveling tech, while wrapped in a '50s Police Box, is pretty state-of-the-art. They just pop the whole production crew in and film on location back in '73.

Earl of Donutshire said...

Hah, I hope we weren't watching the same 'best of 70s' on VH1 last nite, timely tie-in to the Paris haiku:

'Yeah apparently the Police Box was like Paris Hilton: small, but very easy for a lot of people to get into.'

R.A. Porter said...

I've always found Hiltons have very soft, though too small pillows.

Earl of Donutshire said...

And not enough rack space...

can I say this on a family blog?
three syllables: ram-a-da.