Life On Mars US: Season One

Life On Mars US: Season One


Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Rather ironically, Life On Mars seems to be stuck in a time-loop that won't allow it to die. Though the finale provided much Bowie-assisted satisfaction, we've since had the disappointing spin-off Ashes To Ashes and now comes a complete remake courtesy of the yanks. However, after David E Kelley's LA-set pilot was widely slated, sweeping changes were made (moving the action to New York, a new production team) to see if there was, indeed, any life left on mars.

While eventually taking its own path, the initial premise is the same. After an accident, modern-day DCI Sam Tyler (Jason O’Mara) mysteriously wakes up in 1973. Struggling to comprehend what’s happening to him, Sam is then told that he’s a recent transfer about to begin working under prehistoric copper, DCI Gene Hunt (Harvey Keitel). Unsure if he's insane, lying in a coma or somehow back in time, Sam decides that if he can find out the reason, he'll be able to go home…

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Sadly, it's not a patch on its predecessor. Sure, those who never watched the BBC's version might find something here they like (there are some positives), but for fans of the British original, it feels like a lighter and more comical copy with some old geezer that looks like Harvey Keitel.

However, perhaps the biggest problem is that the creative team don’t know when to stay faithful to the brilliant source material. Episode-wise, the best ones are those that don’t go verbatim and try to cram an hour’s worth of Brit plot into 40 minutes, the score music isn’t a patch on the UK’s atmospheric mood-enhancer and the we-know-the-future gags don’t have nearly the same effect. As for the head-scratchingly out-of-place denouement, you’ll feel like you’ve woken up on another show, never mind another planet.

And then there’s 1973. Where Seventies Manchester was initially a grotty, smoke-filled nightmare full of poor policing, political incorrectness and inadequate forensics (and that was just Gene), here it’s a groovy, disco-haven full of big-haired hippies. While John Simm travelled to the era you imagine your parents growing up in, our hero here wakes up in a funky cop show.

On the plus side, the soundtrack is full of fantastic songs (The Hollies’ Long, Cool Woman In Black Dress anyone?), Sam’s cover names are always worth a chuckle and we do get the occasional moment of true eeriness (the mental patient sharing Sam’s vision, the councilman who also claims to be from the future). Furthermore, though O’Mara doesn’t touch Simm and accepts his circumstances too easily, he’s impressive and deserves to move on to better things.

Less successful though is Keitel’s TV debut as Hunt. Miles away from Phil Glenister’s charismatically macho sex-symbol, the former Reservoir Dog might thrive with fresh material and still have the most brilliantly-contagious laugh ever, but when he coughs out lines like “you’re surrounded by armed b**tards”, he couldn’t be further from the Gene Jenie. Elsewhere Gretchen Mol brings heart to Annie and Michael Imperlioni is superb despite frequently looking like he’s come from a fancy dress party.

While there are a few redeeming elements, the Americanisation of Life On Mars is inferior to the original in practically every way. Though newcomers might enjoy, fans will find it’s like listening to a cover of your favourite song.

Reviewed on: 19 Apr 2009
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US version of the retro UK cop show about a copper stranded in the past.
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Director: David Petrarca, Gary Fleder, Michael Katleman, Michael Pressman, Alex Zakrzewski

Writer: Bryan Oh, Adele Lim, Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, Scott Rosenberg, Tracy McMillan, David Wilcox, Sonny Postiglione

Starring: Jason O'Mara, Harvey Keitel, Michael Imperioli, Gretchen Mol, Jonathan Murphy

Year: 2008

Runtime: 480 minutes

Country: US


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