Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Life on Mars: Voice of the future

Dark days ahead for this blog, I fear. The studios now seems determined to break the union, which means the strike could go on a really long time (not that anyone but critics care, but the mid-winter TCA press tour just got canceled), and most of the shows I follow are either out of episodes or almost out. For the first time that I can remember on a weeknight in-season, my DVR didn't have anything set to record in primetime. I briefly pondered watching ABC's two-hour bloc of "According to Jim" and "Boston Legal" before deciding to be kinder to myself by watching another "Wire" episode, then introducing my wife to McLovin and "Superbad."

Thank God, then, for "Life on Mars," which returned to BBC America's lineup tonight. I'd already seen the premiere, but at least it gives me something to blog about for the evening. Spoilers coming up just as soon as I throw some punks off a rooftop...

I hadn't realized how much I missed Gene Hunt until he broke down the door of Tyler's apartment and boasted that their next case was "as big as Shelly Winters' ass!" Between that entrance, his response to Sam's question about whether he keeps a reporter in his basement for random beatings ("Don't have a basement") and, especially, him threatening to torture cremains to make a suspect talk, it's safe to say they didn't soften up ol' Gene for the second season.

It's also safe to say that they haven't lost that tricky balance between spoofing the cliches and political incorrectness of '70s police dramas and embracing them. Gene provides the comic relief, but he also keeps these stories grounded because you believe he existed back in 1973, while Sam provides both the pathos and the fantastical elements that open every other part of the show up for questioning. Is Sam really in the past? Is he crazy? Some combination of the two? Will he have a crossover with "Journeyman" in the series finale?

I watched all of season one in a rush a year and a half ago before it premiered here, and the episodes have blurred in my memory since, but I think this is the first time Sam has been this overt in his talk of the future (except with Annie) and his attempts to change it. I'm curious to see whether Gene took any of Sam's ranting seriously or if he dismissed it as yet another eccentricity of his second in command, but with the series' end coming with this batch of episodes, I imagine Gene will have to confront the future at some point.

As always when I write about shows that have already aired in another country, I'm going to ask that we keep the discussion contained to the episodes as they air here. No spoilers or even loud hints about what's to come, got it? The one thing I think is fair game is to discuss how the original British cuts differ from the abbreviated versions that are going to be airing on BBC America. I believe my screeners (which I'll be watching one at a time, so I'll be guaranteed at least one interesting scripted show per week for a while) are the original cuts, but I imagine some of you who already watched the show will be doing it again on BBC America. If you want to mention important or memorable scenes that got chopped, feel free -- just so long as you're talking about this specific episode and not something that's going to play out three weeks from now.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

It looks as if BBC America is running two new episodes in a row each Tuesday night. Which is nice, but it means the entire second season will be over in a month.

Is there any information about David E. Kelley's American version of the show, or if it's even going to air? I imagine the crime plots will be more complex, but they'll lose the murkiness that seems so in keeping with the early-'70s setting.

Alan Sepinwall said...

It looks as if BBC America is running two new episodes in a row each Tuesday night.

Are they really? D'oh!

See kids, this is what happens when you rely too much on screeners.

I'll try to get caught up on the second episode sometime today, but everybody feel free to talk about it here in the meantime.

leor said...

this goes back to season 1, but when I originally heard about the show, I read that the producers had consulted with police about the Gene Hunt character, fearing that they had taken him too far. when the police consultant read the script, he said he was surprised at how TONED DOWN Gene Hunt was!

i love this show...we had it on BBC Canada earlier this year, so i won't spoil anything for you folks!

K J Gillenwater said...

No, they are not showing two episodes a week. If you noticed last night, the 8 pm show is an 'encore' and then the 9 pm show is the new one.

I adore this show. I loved the first hour more than the second, however. I think because there was more going on with the 'future' and what exactly was going on with Sam.

The part with the phone call from the Hyde number really has me stumped. He is there to do more than one thing?

Also, did anyone else notice that there was a mention of "Annie going a long way" or something to that effect? I am so curious to find out if there is an Annie in the future or not. And if they will have some kind of relationship in the past or not.

Thank God for BBCA, or I would be bored out of my mind for the next few weeks. Oh, and I'm also looking forward to the 2nd season of "Torchwood" to start at the end of January!!!

Alan Sepinwall said...

No, they are not showing two episodes a week. If you noticed last night, the 8 pm show is an 'encore' and then the 9 pm show is the new one.

I adore this show. I loved the first hour more than the second, however.

So, wait: they showed two episodes last night but will only air one a week in the future?

My brain hurts. Time to call someone at BBC America.

K J Gillenwater said...

Yes. Last night was two episodes...maybe to 'kick start' the new series. But they definitely showed the 8 pm episode as being an 'encore' and the 9 pm as being the newest.


Toby O'B said...

The episode that led off last night at 8 pm was not an encore, even if they called it that. It was the first episode of the new season. And my DVR wouldn't have picked it up if it had aired already, as I've set it for first run only. So it was the first two hours of the second season to kick off its run in America.

Just took a look at the episode description at epguides.com, and I can easily see what was cut out - a whole scene with Harry Woolf which could have prepped us for his appearance in the second hour.

Lots of Who-folk running about in these episodes - Marc Warren (Elton in "Love & Monsters"), Yasmine Bannerman (Jabe, "The End Of The World"), Kevin McNally (from the old series in "The Twin Dilemma"), and of course John Simm who played the Master at the end of last season.

I wish Tennant was able to do an episode of this show as well. (And if he did, I won't know until I see it - I held myself back from seeing it in an alternate version. But because of the edits, now I wish I did!)

Eric said...

Alan, on a strike-related topic, are WGA writers forbidden from writing professionally for other media during the strike? Should we be looking for novels by some of our favorite screen writers in a years time? Should Marvel, DC and Top Shelf be dialing up more than the usual suspects, and finding out if say, Ron Moore, has ever had a hankerin' to write a graphic novel? And when are we going to see a dozen or so writers, maybe led by a "Big Name" (maybe one with the initials Joss Whedon) take a flyer on creating a new media production company to get stuff directly to the web or DVD without going through the studios? I imagine the recent Babylon 5 direct-to-DVD was a disappointment, but that's probably because A) it was 5 years too late, and B) it sucked. (Note: I was a huge B5 fan, and I still can't emphasise B) enough.)

Tom said...

Thanks for the seal of approval, Alan. I will definitely TiVo this one.

As for the strike (or should we be calling it a lockout now?) I'm not sure the AMPTP is trying to break the union, per se. But they are definitely trying to break the balls of the WGA leadership. It also seems like the media congloms are using this 'labor action' as the pretext to radically change the process by which they develop scripted shows. (See Bill Carter's column in today's NYT.)

It all adds up to a long, cold winter. Sigh.

Karen said...

@Eric, I had dinner over the weekend with a friend who used to work for DC Comics, and she said that the publishers are getting flooded with offers from striking screenwriters who are interested in writing for the comics. I don't know how successful it would be, as, say, Joss Whedon's success at it has more to do with his being a fanboy from way back than his simply being a writer.

On to "Life on Mars," though--the BBC cuts seemed particularly egregious, didn't they? Abrupt commercial breaks, rejoining the action later with no sense of continuity. It's brutal that we can't get the DVDs here--I don't like relying on anything other than official means, and that means I'm getting screwed for my honesty.

Sam is getting more messed up, isn't he? In both episodes, his desire to accommodate the future he knows tended rather to ensure things got worse than got better. Sam clearly never watched enough episodes of Star Trek, or he would be more careful with the time-travel paradoxes.

I was glad that Annie made WDC, and glad that the rest of the team welcomed her the way they did--their abuse of her was in keeping with their abuse of each other, so she was, in a way, accepted.

Sam coming so far out of the closet, though, with his time travel story, seemed risky, and the manifestation of an actual human at Hyde 2612 seems just bizarre. I'm really looking forward to seeing where they take it--and how long it will take Sam to get an address for that phone number.

K J Gillenwater said...

Toby, Sorry I didn't make it clearer. Yes, this week was two new episodes. NEXT WEEK the 8 pm show will be the 'encore.' Sorry for the confusion there.

Only one new ep a week from now on...

Alan Sepinwall said...

Only one new ep a week from now on...

As confirmed by someone at BBC America, so all confusion is over. Have to finish a review of the "Extras" finale movie -- the British are just saving my hash this week -- and then will get around to watching last night's second episode.

Anonymous said...

Alan, you chose right on skipping According to Jim. On a whim I watched two episodes and was just stunned by how lame, tired, hackneyed and cliched it was. It's like something out of the late 70s/early 80s.

What makes it so disappointing is that something unique and creative could have been done with either of the plots I witnessed (Jim becomes a media sensation for being a troglodyte/Jim resists spending a fortune on guinea pig surgery) if only the characters had been allowed to have a modicum of brains, but at every possible plot point, the writers chose the most obvious and uninteresting advancement.

Case in point, one episode spends an inordinate amount of time with Jim and his wife arguing on television, and the joke is supposed to be that they're pretending they don't know each other. How is that funny? How much more interesting would it have been for the two of them to acknowledge who they were and then see where the argument went once everyone was on the same page. Maybe it wouldn't have led to creative genius, either but at least it would have allowed the characters to act like they weren't functionally retarded.

Anonymous said...

Journeyman, cancelled:


Anonymous said...

So the good strike news is Lindelof and Heinberg may finally finish their comics commitments?

Also, Alan, have you considered doing another series on DVD like you did with Freaks and Geeks? I'm still catching up on that (regular season resumed and took up all my TV time about halfway through), but it was a fun diversion.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

"Also, Alan, have you considered doing another series on DVD like you did with Freaks and Geeks?"

I think I made this suggestion in an earlier comments thread, but I'd love to see you do Slings & Arrows. A box set of the complete series comes out in February, which could even make it timely...

Anonymous said...

My DVR at the first of Tuesday's two episodes. Does anyone know if it is available online? It doesn't look like BBCA is repeating it anytime soon

Karen said...

I forgot to mention my favorite line of episode 2, when Harry Woolf says of Malone, "He'd be my nemesis, if he knew how to spell it." The delivery was pretty sweet as well.