Thursday, March 05, 2009

Sepinwall on TV: 'Ashes to Ashes' review

In today's column, I review "Ashes to Ashes," the sequel to the original British version of "Life on Mars." Despite finding the idea of a sequel kind of sketchy, I actually found myself enjoying it more than the original (and more than the American remake, which will wrap up in a few weeks). Not sure if it'll wind up in the regular blogging rotation (the original "Life on Mars" never really lent itself to weekly reviews), but I'll probably do a separate post for the premiere tomorrow Saturday night.

21 comments:

Dan said...

Hm. I'm kind of surprised you liked it. How many episodes did you watch?

For me, a big problem with ATA is that (with audiences and Alex armed with "the answer" to the mytharc, via LOM) it all feels a bit too... well, safe. There's no danger of hurting real people, changing history, etc. It all hangs on the thread of Alex surviving her apparent gunshot to the noggin and waking up.

So, it's just an excuse for some '80s fun in place of LOM's downbeat, grimy '70s setting. Superficially it's easier to be entertained by, I guess -- especially if you haven't seen LOM. But I find Gene/Alex less interesting than Gene/Sam.

Toby O'B said...

Does she call them figments? I remembered it as constructs. Oh well. I enjoyed the series, not as much as the original 'LoM', but any excuse to get Glenister back as Hunt was fine by me. And even though I've already seen it, I still plan to DVR it each week to visit her version of the 80s again.

El Marpla said...

she calls them figments and constructs

I am loving ATA, and it´s interesting how they could make a pretty different show with basically the same idea. The dynamics between the characters is very different from LoM

Alan Sepinwall said...

Hm. I'm kind of surprised you liked it. How many episodes did you watch?

I've seen the first four.

For me, a big problem with ATA is that (with audiences and Alex armed with "the answer" to the mytharc, via LOM) it all feels a bit too... well, safe. There's no danger of hurting real people, changing history, etc. It all hangs on the thread of Alex surviving her apparent gunshot to the noggin and waking up.

But I don't know that we do know the answer. We know that something happened to Sam both times he almost died (or died), and we know that something similar is happening to Alex, but we still don't know exactly what, nor do we know if/how she gets back. The interactions she has with her parents in the episodes I've seen suggests that Alex can, in fact, change history, and so maybe this isn't just a coma fantasy.

Beyond that, I just found Alex a more appealing character than Sam, who once you got past the initial shock at the situation was kind of a pill.

Kathie said...

This show looks interesting, I already have it set up to record. It's on the BBC network, so it's British, and therefore different. I don't get British humor.........my husband says girls don't understand Monty Python.....we'll see..........

Alan Sepinwall said...

Note: I got the date wrong in two different ways in the column. "Ashes to Ashes" debuts Saturday night, not tonight and not tomorrow.

Norgard said...

The interactions she has with her parents in the episodes I've seen suggests that Alex can, in fact, change history, and so maybe this isn't just a coma fantasy.

Wasn't the same true of Sam? I believe in the second series premiere, Sam was -- in the real world -- attacked by Marc Warren's gangster character. In the fantasy world, Sam puts the guy into a psychiatric institution in the end, and then he learns that in the real world he was actually attacked by a mental patient. That seemed to imply that he did change the past.

That said, I had the exact opposite reaction to Sam/Alex. I just couldn't stand Alex. There's this scene early in the pilot when she arrives at that hostage situation and complains that they can't expect her to to her job because she's got her daughter in the car -- they were probably going for exasperation at her job taking over her life, but to me it came off more as incredibly selfish. The fact that they have her taking the past as a fantasy theme park doesn't exactly lend itself to dispelling that notion.

Karen said...

Hmmm. I liked LOM a lot more than you did, Alan. Partly because I find John Simm just completely compelling, and because the surreality elements really appealed to me: the little girl on the television, the children's show characters, the mysterious phone calls and occasional hospital chatter.

I loved Philip Glenister, but I loved Simm more. So, we'll see. No reason not to give it a chance!

mjryan said...

I found the previews through Time Warner On Demand and liked what I saw. I've never seen Life on Mars in any carnation, however, so my opinion isn't being influenced by what went before.

Alan Sepinwall said...

because the surreality elements really appealed to me: the little girl on the television, the children's show characters, the mysterious phone calls and occasional hospital chatter.

There's quite a bit of surreality in this one, too. The difference is that Alex is ready for it -- and in some cases going out of her way to find it because she hopes it will give her clues to get home.

Kensington said...

Alan, do you get any sense that Ashes to Ashes will have any more longevity to it than Life On Mars? Can they keep this one going longer? Is there any reason they should?

Ali said...

"do you get any sense that Ashes to Ashes will have any more longevity to it than Life On Mars? Can they keep this one going longer? Is there any reason they should?"

I always thought the reason that LOM ended was that John Sim Lived in London and they filmed in Manchester (or vice versa)and he was getting tired of the commute so gave up the show. Still having the rest of the cast they came up with the idea of doing ATA.

I love ATA, not quite as much as LOM, I think the chemistry between Simm and Glenister was better- and at times Alex is a bit irritating, all to often the damsel in distress. Although I may just be saying that as I'm a girl and have had a crush on John Simm since The Lakes!

Anyone have any Idea when/ if it is cumming back? It has been quite a while!

Nicole said...

I liked LOM more than ATA, but I think Alex improves as the show goes along. I also didn't get the sense that we really know for sure that Alex is in a coma.

Gene is a bit different in ATA, but if time has actually passed from 1973 to the 80s, it would make sense that he does. I miss the car though.

Keeley Hawes does a god job as Alex, and she has an added connection to the "real" world with her daughter, so I don't think this could play out the same way it did for Sam. I do get tired of her off the shoulder and white jacket ensemble though. It's clear UK shows have smaller budgets because she wears that a lot in the series.
(I hope that isn't considered a spoiler).

Anonymous said...

I loved LOM and adore John Simm. (OT: First saw him in State of Play, a great BBCAmerica miniseries about to be wrecked by Ben Affleck, etc)
Even though he is not part of ATA, I have to give a chance because of Glenister and the whole time traveling plot. (Aren't most of the rest of the squad still with him?) I would like to know if he has evolved from his time with Sam Tyler.

spiderpig said...

Beyond that, I just found Alex a more appealing character than Sam, who once you got past the initial shock at the situation was kind of a pill.

Alan, you just broke my heart a little there. I loved John Simm as Sam. He was way better than Jason O'Mara in the US version (which btw I'm glad finally got put out of it's misery). Simm's played Sam with humor and heart. His performance led me to seek him out in another BBC mini-series called State of Play which I would recommend to anyone.

Dan said...

Undoubtedly ATA improves on LOM in a few areas (giving Alex a daughter in '08, for one thing), but it is very obviously a means to bring back Gene Hunt and fool around with '80s iconography. LOM was poetry, ATA is a song.

Both are entertaining for different reasons, but I just felt ATA lost a vital sense of mystery because LOM already explained what's going on. They'll have to be very clever to make ATA's mytharc just as compelling, without destroying LOM's hard-work.

The jury's out, because nothing in S1 says it's anything more than a sillier LOM clone with a female lead and Gene playing a caricature of himself.

Damien said...

The original British LOM was compelling viewing and a classic in the making. I loved every aspect of it and the main characters were perfectly executed – real drama with flashes of retro humour. It was pretty much praised by everyone that saw it.

ATA, on the other hand, was a train wreck! I stopped watching after about four episodes. I just couldn't stand Alex with here smarmy, smart-ass attitude, her ridiculous outfits (just coz it was like the 80s, y'know, and everyone wore clothes like that, including police officers!).

It was a hokey parody of LOM, with all the other characters, like Gene, becoming ineffectual caricatures of their former selves. And, as has been said before, Alex knowing that she was in a coma, completely sucked any suspense out of it.

Sorry Alan, but I couldn't disagree more with you about this one.

Anonymous said...

simm is great in state of play

BigTed said...

I really liked the British LOM, partly because it seemed kind of low-key and my expectations weren't that high -- which is why I'm looking forward to ATA.

But after watching the first few episodes of the American version of Life on Mars, I now have five more on my TiVo, which I'm thinking of deleting. I wonder how it got so dull so quickly -- and why didn't the American producers step up the drama (not to mention the sci-fi elements) to make use of their higher budget and fantastic cast? It seems as if they had a great concept and pretty much wasted it.

Dan said...

I think a problem with LOM:USA is that the sci-fi concept in the UK original was primarily a means for the writers to create a '70s cop show. They're on rcord saying they just wanted to do a cop show that could be politically incorrect, a la The Sweeney.

LOM:US is actually more interested in the sci-fi stuff, and the '70s backdrop hasn't been compelling enough in its own right. It has a bigger budget, but LOM:UK *feels* like it's in the '70s.. LOM:US is a TV show with Harvey Keitel and some fancy moustaches.

Anonymous said...

I have been watching the second season while studying in Norway, you will find it even more interesting when they start making references to Sam and intertwining him back into the story.