james debate
james debate

Monday 20 October 2008

Well the show has finally made it's real debut. In fact there have been two episodes already and I have seen them both. Life on Mars is a somewhat risky remake of the absolutely sublime British original by the same name, and there has been a lot of critics bemoaning the decision to remake the series.

Many of you regular readers will remember my pained review of the absolute travesty that was the first pilot released back before the summer. Since then, my already pessimistic views on this remake were plunged to new depths, and it seemed highly unlikely that this show would last more than a few episodes, if it was ever broadcast at all, and certainly could never call itself fit to shine the shoes of its source material.

So believe me when I say that it is with a great sigh of relief that the final version of the show has come on leaps and bounds from the first one that was such an embarrassment. As a major fan of the original series it is very hard to write this without constantly referring back and comparing with the British version, which is not really fair to either show. I will try not to do this too often for the sake of the readers, who quite frankly would probably find it tedious of me.

I'll very briefly recap the general premise of the show for anyone who has never seen it and may wish to do so. Sam Tyler is a cop in present day New York who is in a car accident and wakes up in 1973. Surrounded by the politically incorrect and generally archaic police force of the era, Sam attempts to fight bad guys, 2008 style, whilst trying to figure out what has happened to him and how he can get back home. The Americans' first attempt at this was a disaster, how does this one fare:

To begin with, the Cast has had almost a complete overhaul. At first it seemed a strange decision to change everyone in the cast aside from Jason O'Mara, the actor who plays Sam Tyler in this version and was probably the worst of a very bad bunch of performances in the first pilot. Indeed I still have to say that he doesn't really look right for the part, but he certainly seems to be growing into it a bit, and the director has done a lot to make him look as much like John Simm (from the English version) as possible, most notably changing his hairdo so as to make him look smaller and less of a musclebound moron than he was in the first pilot.

It is also a delight to see the characters of Chris and Ray reintroduced into this iteration, who played a deceptively big part in the backstory and general ambience of the English original, so much so that they weren't deemed important enough for the first pilot. Here they make a comeback and look like they'll do the show proud (although Chris is far too handsome and competent looking to have the same effect as his British predecessor). Ray is bang on for the role, except he's perhaps not quite as repellent as he should be.

Annie is a big big improvement over the actress from the first pilot, who looked like such a modernized, confident feminist that she seemed an even bigger fish out of water than Sam Tyler. This new girl is still a bit too 'swimsuit model' attractive to really make the role credible and certainly doesn't carry the same entirely wholesome and real candor that her british counterpart Liz White had, but it is certainly an improvement.

Now on to the one and only Gene Hunt. This was certainly the hardest role to cast, as no one could ever hope to replace Philip Glenister's immortal performance in the original. However with Harvey Keitel they have done a far better job than frankly anyone could have imagine. The veteran tough guy actor of Mean Streets fame brings his own take to the role and carries it off with the brute force and unilateral confidence that is required of the role, whilst being a pretty good actor at the same time. The only issue is, one can't help but feel that at 69, Keitel may be a little bit too old to really look credible in the role. Watching him in a fistfight is like watching someone punch some poor old man (and then get the shit kicked out of him by said old man). Had Keitel been 10 - 20 years younger he'd have been perfect.

Thankfully the writing is also far better this time around. Really there's not much to say except that it's not as embarrassingly bad as it was before. It is perhaps a little heavy handed at times, but that's America for you. The humor and intelligence of the original certainly is present in small doses here, and very well adapted for the different culture and setting (the image of the world trade centre in particular is used to great effect). However it should be noted that the episodes so far have pretty much been carbon copies of the British original first two episodes. The real test will come when they start to write their own plots, which they will have to considering American seasons last 20 odd episodes compared to the 8 episodes in each of the British seasons of Life on Mars.

Further more the direction is certainly worthy of praise, with the pacing and artistic direction comparable with some of the best American tv shows, and a very well chosen soundtrack, well chosen for stylistic and mood related purposes. Again, I hate to keep mentioning the British show, but in this first episode there are a lot of camera shots that are really taken directly from the original, and some really feel a bit more flat here than they did before, which is a shame.

Overall I am very pleased with the improvement here and look froward to the next episodes with great optimism. It may not replace the original but it does an extremely capable job bringing it's own unique take to the premise, and in the end that is what will determine whether or not this show is a success for years to come.


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