Lib gets a life!!

May 15, 2008

Life On Mars

Filed under: Télévision — Lib @ 11:18 pm
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My name is Sam Tyler. I had an accident, and I woke up in 1973. Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time? Whatever’s happened, it’s like I’ve landed on a different planet. Now, maybe if I can work out the reason, I can get home.

Life On Mars, 2 series, 8 episodes of 52 minutes each. By the way, small digression for those who don’t know the difference between series and season: a series is more of a British concept. They usually have 6 (Spooks), 8 (Life On Mars, Ashes To Ashes) or 13 episodes (Doctor Who, Torchwood). Season is an American term, because most American series have about 24 episodes and follow the seasons – when it’s actually Christmas, it’s also Christmas in House MD.

Anyway, this is not the point. The point is, do you know this fantastic British series, produced by the BBC, which is Life On Mars (LoM from now on, shorter)? If not, you should check it out first thing in the morning. Right now, even, if you’ve got a bit of time to spare. Much more important than clicking the refresh button on your Facebook page again. Once you’ll see the first episode, you’ll be hooked.

Sam Tyler is a cop, he lives in 2006 and he’s a bit uptight, to say the least. One day, he gets hit by a speeding car. When he wakes up, David Bowie’s song is playing on a tape in his car where there used to be an iPod, and he realises that he’s landed in 1973. When he read the script, John Simm wondered how they’d pull this off. They did. Brilliantly.

First, there is the clash between two eras: Britain – Manchester, to be more accurate – before and after Maggie. 1973 is full of shit, whereas 2006 is bleach clean. In 1973, cops hit before they ask. In 2006, they record interrogations to prove they didn’t hurt the suspect. No wonder Sam is longing to go home.

Then, there is the clash between two characters, two visions of the world. There is Sam, discreet, meticulous (to the point of annoying sometimes…), always careful… He thinks before he acts, Sam. And he acts by the book. Evidence comes first. His world is turned upside down when he wakes up in 1973, but he is not willing to change, to adapt. Such an experience would be hard for anyone, but it is maybe harder on Sam, because he is so self-righteous that he finds it difficult to admit that there could be other truths than the one he believes in. This adventure is sent as a trial to him, so he can put himself to the test. Each series is a revealing experience. In the first one, Sam is confronted to the events that tore his own family apart – he then thinks that he’s been sent back to 1973 to fix things. This is his first trial. In the second series, it’s himself that is put to the test, in shape of a dilemma: which will he choose, 1973 or 2006?

Sam’s character could be boring, annoying even, if there weren’t for these sparks of intuitive genius he has. He is a brainy character, but going through what he had to experience does teach him that gut-feeling is a good thing – even though it sometimes gets him to end up in his boss’s car boot. In these moments, he brilliantly uses his rational mind to serve his gut-feeling, and even his DCI has to admit it – Sam Tyler is a good cop, even though he is a right pain in the arse.

DCI Gene Hunt. Sam’s antithesis. He is all what Sam Tyler isn’t. Big as life, racist, homophobic, politically incorrect. Don’t think before you strike. Suspects will spill the beans way quicker if you hit their heads on the floor and kick them in the nuts. Gene Hunt is from another world, a world where John Wayne is king of the jungle and where the lawman is always right. DCI Hunt would rather be a marshall in Texas than a British cop in Manchester. But he is not a heartless brute only. He loves his city, and he has to keep Manchester’s streets tidy – even though he has to crash a few skulls on the way. He keeps calling his DI’s, morons and slapheads, but if one of them is hurt on duty, he’d move earth and sky to punish the offender. Gene Hunt drinks too much, but he always knows when to say when. He is outrageous, but deep inside, humanity tells him right from wrong.

This confrontation between two radically opposed visions of life is built on great situations and fantastic scripts. LoM could be another cop series, but this 21st century DI lost in a seventies’ police station, where his colleagues are barely aware of forensics and where crimes even have changed faces, gives each episodes a new twist to it. Constantly, Sam is made aware that he has to solve cases with basic means. That’s how he realises that technology isn’t it all – he has to use his intuition too.

And the dialogues are brilliant. To be honest, I find it really difficult to like something if the dialogues are not great – my literary education that kicks in, probably. I have no problems here. The dialogues are sharp and witty, hilarious sometimes, always spot on. Gene Hunt gets some of the best lines in the history of BBC shows. I’d like to share a few examples with you:

Gene and Sam, the eternal misundertanding:

Gene Hunt: Right, we pulled a bird in, Dora Keanes. She was the last person to see the victim alive.
Sam Tyler: Is she a suspect?
Gene Hunt: Nope, just a pain in the arse.
Sam Tyler: Okay, alright, brief me in full. What do I need to know?
Gene Hunt: [Slightly nonplussed] She’s a pain in the arse.
(Episode 1)
Gene Hunt: You think you know everything, don’t you?
Sam Tyler: I know the stench of rotten apples.
Gene Hunt: Yeah? And I know your slag is lying through her teeth and do you wanna know why?
Sam Tyler: Yeah, why?
Gene Hunt: Steven Warren is a bum bandit. Do you understand? A poof! A fairy! A queer! A queen! Fudge packer! Uphill Gardener! Fruit picking sodomite!
Sam Tyler: He’s gay?
Gene Hunt: As a bloody Christmas Tree! Mind you, he is a little touchy on the subject, being a twisted Catholic with an elderly mother and all, so I wouldn’t go mentioning it to him… You challenged his authority so he stitched you up like a kipper. Pretty girl appealed to your vanity as the only decent sheriff in Dodge City. Slipped you a Mickey, tied you up and bounced on your ding-a-ling.
Sam Tyler: Why?
Gene Hunt: I suspect the answer will lie in the post. Photos, you idiot.
(Episode 2)

Spoilers, now.

During both series, the big question is, which one is it? Is Sam mad, in a coma, or back in time? Actually, the answer is not that hard to fathom: from the beginning of series 1, a lot of clues point in the same direction. In 2006, Sam is lying in a hospital bed, in deep coma, constantly oscillating between life and death.

The las episode is, in a way, Sam’s epiphany. In order to go back to 2006, he has to betray his team, his new friends. Not that much of a dilemma, it seems, as that team of his is, after all, a creation of his mind. Or is it? The show never gives a definite answer.

And there is more. Back in 1973, Sam has changed. He’s found out more about himself. And he’s realised that he likes this new him more than the old one – and so do we, actually. He comes back for Annie, of course, because he’s promised that he’d see to her. But not only. He owes it to himself, too, to the new him that he has become.

LoM is a great show. It is original, well-written, full of endearing characters. Honestly, I’d like to find something wrong about it, because it would give more credit to this review. But I can’t. I’ve loved it from Episode 1 to the Finale. I watch it quite often, and I never get tired of it. Once again, the BBC’s pulled a brilliant series out of their sleeves. They even made a spin-off out of it, Ashes To Ashes. But more on that later.


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