Friday, October 17, 2008

Life on Mars, "The Real Adventures of the Unreal Sam Tyler": Sink or swim

Quick spoilers for "Life on Mars" episode two coming up just as soon as I explain to the show's writers that a metaphor is not the same as an analogy, and vice versa...

That one linguistic pet peeve aside (and it would have been funny if Imperioli had whipped out a dictionary later in the episode to win the argument with Sam), this was another solid episode from the remake. Not deep in any way, but fun.

In particular, my spirits were lifted by the use of Mott the Hooples' "All the Way From Memphis," which is both a great tune (particularly the piano intro they kept featuring) as well as one that hasn't been used to death in other early '70s period pieces. If they can keep doing the Cameron Crowe thing of finding unheralded but terrific music from the era, it's going to go a long way towards holding my affections.

I liked Sam listing all the possibilities he could think of, and that his fixation on "real" vs. "unreal" helped him crack the case. Imperioli's desire to punish Sam for stealing his promotion is already more interesting than anything the original Ray had to do, and a better use of Imperioli than in the pilot. And Harvey Keitel's obvious enjoyment of this role spills out and infuses itself into the whole show.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

The music really makes the show. I hope the characters get less repetitive or multidimensional. Otherwise, I am starting a drinking game; every time Hunt punches or threatens to punch Sam, drink. Every time Nonuts tells Sam to "stop talking like that," drink.

Anonymous said...

I've never seen the original so I've got nothing to compare it to...but so far this is the first new show that kinda holds my attention. I'm at least interested enough to invest a couple more weeks of my time into it.

A couple things bug me though. The mystery last night was easy to solve (as soon as Harvey got upset about June I knew she was involved in the crime). And I'm getting pretty tired of watching enough Harvey and Jason beat the crap out of one another.

Also, I think perhaps the acting is better than the writing...some of the dialogue is way too precious (which also bugged me about "October Road" and since it's the same guys involved I shouldn't be surprised).

Harvey Keitel, Michael Imperioli, Gretchen Mol, and Jason O'Mara definitely do a lot with what they're given. And I give them a lot of the credit for holding my interest.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but as a rabid fan of the original, the ABC version is lousy.

The brilliance of the BBC original was that both Sam Tyler and Gene Hunt had utter disdain for each other and that created a strong battle between right and wrong. Tyler wanted to do everything by 2006 standards and Hunt felt that keeping the public safe trumped everything else. As the show progressed, each found a respect for the other.

Plus the actors were engaging and, maybe because it was unlike anything I had seen before, it was a real mystery about what was exactly happening to Sam. The ABC version does not give us subtle about what has happened to Tyler and becomes very bland. Also, Kietel seems very old and Moll and Imperioli seem miscast (although that could be my bias from the original).

Nicole said...

I also really liked the original, but don't hate this one yet. I think like what happened in the US Office, the US Life on Mars needs to really go in a different direction from the original, because Gene and Sam are so physically different in this version from the original that they can't play on the Gene - "physical intimidation" and Sam - "deductive reasoning" dynamic.

The flaky neighbour needs to go... weren't flower children in the 60s?

Alan Sepinwall said...

The flaky neighbour needs to go... weren't flower children in the 60s?

Not exactly. Just like "Mad Men" is showing us that the early '60s were really a continuation of the '50s in terms of style and attitude, hippies were even more prominent in the early '70s than they were in the late '60s.

Christy said...

Don't know the original, but I'm surprisingly seduced by this one. And I love watching Jason and Harvey beat up on each other.

Nicole said...

Historically accurate or not, she was still annoying.

Anonymous said...

This is the only new show I'm watching, and while this one was not as good as the pilot, it was still thoroughly enjoyable.

Great cast really makes the show

Shawn Anderson said...

I too, applaud the use of "All the Way to Memphis." Not only is it slightly obscure, but the song draws a nice parallel to Sam's plight. In the song, the protagonist is a rock star who's guitar got sent to Kentucky and he's stuck in Memphis lonely without his axe and trying to track down his guitar.

The example of the Office is also very apt here. Both series are starting out sticking close to the original until they get their footing. I'm hoping the show gets picked up for the whole season if for no other reason than to see if they move Gene and Sam's relationship (slightly) to a place that better suits the talent of Keitel and O'Mara.

Anonymous said...

I'm finding that most of what I like about the show is taken directly from the British original, despite the high-powered acting talent in this version. And what I don't like -- the overwritten speeches, the clunkier ways in which 2008 seeps into 1973, Jason O'Mara's stolidity in a role meant for someone more vulnerable -- needs to be at least improved upon before I can really enjoy it.

Pamela Jaye said...

so far this is the first new show that kinda holds my attention

don't hate this one yet

wow... what a great TV season this is

Pamela Jaye said...

PS - enjoyed Sam doing a differential on what's going on with him

Anonymous said...

I hate to say this, but I just think Harvey Keitel is too old for this. When John Simm takes a swing at Philip Glenister, it's kind of funny, but when Jason O'Mara takes a swing at Harvey Keitel, I cringe.

I've been a huge fan of Harvey's but now I can't stop thinking that they should have stuck with Colm Meaney, or maybe even someone younger.

Also, I think the BBC version was more gutsy and fearless in a way this version should also strive for but so far isn't. For an example, in the BBC version of last night's opening scene (the foot chase), everyone was wearing unflattering speedos and nothing else. The actors all looked foolish, and that was part of the fun. In the American version of the same scene, Harvey Keitel's wearing a shirt, and there's nothing embarrassing or foolish about Jason O'Mara's attire.

Show some guts, guys, literally and figuratively. Let yourselves look stupid. The audience will laugh and appreciate it.

That said, I continue to find Michael Imperioli's handlebar moustache mesmerizing.

A.H. said...

I do like the musical choices, and don't mind some of the little plot tweaks from the original.

I do miss the stolid threatening physicality of the UK Ray, and the mentoring relationship with Chris.

However, this show's biggest problem is the great big empty vacuum of charisma where Gene Hunt is supposed to be. Makes me sad. Creepy, shriveled, old troll Harvey Keitel is no Gene Hunt.

Dan said...

Sam's list is taken from the pilot of Ashes To Ashes, the BBC Life On Mars "sequel", btw. Overall, I liked this episode, but everything I liked came from the BBC original. Still not sure about Keitel, but a few of the quirkier bits were fun (the robot, the door reflection, the cloud talk, the kooky neighbour).

Anonymous said...

[Turned out long...]

I feel a little worried in talking about this in relation to the original, without spoiling things a little for those who haven't seen it. With that warning in effect, I'll note that USA Sam's explicit list of possibilities is a little longer than UK Sam's, whose opening narration asks "I am mad, in a coma, or really back in 1973?" (paraphrased). [On preview an overlapping commenter has more on that list.] Furthermore, the little robot has no equivalent in the UK, and opens up more science-fictional possibilities. Actually, the robot suggested two things to me: one was The Prisoner, which also has a what's-going-on-here thing going on and has little bits of incongruous machinery doing stuff out of the corner of our here's eye. The other is the Bad Robot logo: this is, after all, a what's-going-on-here show on the same network as Lost. All in all a nice touch.

Another thought is one that I also had about the original, which is that the bit about the drawer full of plantable evidence is part of an implicit stance that police lying/planting evidence/worse is safely in the past.

OK, more: the shootout was nicely scored with 70s-police-show-style music.

Finally, the original tried to make each story something that meant something about the past in relation to the present. For instance -- this one will have no equivalent in the US so I'll spoil it -- a murder that's related to football (soccer, of course) fan rivalry turns out to have its point in Sam's rant towards the end about how it starts here and ends up in systematic "football hooliganism" which leads to games where the fans are literally penned in during the game, leading to the famous collapse of the stands at a game where almost 100 people were killed. (He's not that clear, of course, but the audience gets it.) Anyway, this story didn't do that, and as the first non-pilot episode I think they should have tried to do something that's not just old-police vs. new-police.

Anonymous said...

This episode does not bode well for the series. It appears headed in the same tired direction of the BBC series: a plain old vanilla procedural with a few token anachronisms and trippy sequences to remind us that Sam Tyler is from the future. Sigh. As someone mentioned earlier, this series could have or should have gone the route of Mad Men, i.e. carefully recreating a period of time that is rich and textured and not layered with temporal stereotypes alone. For whatever reason, this series appears headed down the Swingtown route, i.e. based upon the modern perception of the era than true history. This could have been a very gritty show about man and the past. Instead, it's just Cold Case with a better soundtrack.

Anonymous said...

I spend the show trying to decide if O'Mara reminds me more of a young Mel Gibson, or a current Jeffrey Donovan.

Anyone else? Or just me?

I have nothing deeper than that to contribute, because this show isn't gonna be that deep.

JakesAlterEgo said...


O, Nicky Sobotka. Things will never work out for you.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I'm done with this show. I kept fast forwarding out of boredom. The plot is too obvious and some of the characters are miscast. I don't feel the weight of Sam's situation, and Hunt is not menacing enough. Imperioli is okay. The only cast member I feel is right for their part is Gretchen Mol. And also, the post processing is awful. It's looks like they got the guy from "CSI: Miami" to do it, another show I cannot stand to look at. Too much yellow and orange. Shouldn't New York be more hues of blue?

"Life on Mars," consider yourself off my Season Pass.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I get it. BBC version rules above all else. Consider that noted. Can we not talk about this show in the context of what it is now?
I am already finding the fighting between Sam and Hunt to be tiresome, but I did love the fight scene in the hospital room. I can also say, even without comparison to the original, that I am not loving Harvey Keitel in this role. H ejust doesn't fit, but I am willing to look past it.

Anonymous said...

In reply to anonymous at 7:37 on the 18th -

Sorry but your belief that this series is headed in the same tired direction of the BBC series and "could have or should have gone the route of Mad Men, i.e. carefully recreating a period of time that is rich and textured and not layered with temporal stereotypes alone" doesn't hold water.

You are either an American who couldn't possibly recognise all the period detail in the BBC series (and there are too many to list) or completely grasp the gulf that exists between 70's Britsh police and the present day. In fact, I'd go so far as to say a lot of tiny, fun stuff would be lost on a Brit who didn't grow up in 70's.

Or you are Brit who, by that same token, can't fully apprieciate the American series' timeframe.

K J Gillenwater said...

I really liked this ep a lot. In fact, I think the US version is already doing a better job of the emotions Sam is running through. His emotions that come out when he finds the 'robot' in the park were very real to me. I am starting to very much like Jason O'Mara in this role. I feel for him being trapped in this strange new place and feeling very lost and alone.

I thought the conversation with the fruit loop neighbor was also poignant.

I like Harvey Keitel. I don't see him as 'too old,' but rather the crust cop type who'll never retire b/c he thinks he's as tough as he was 20 years ago. I know plenty of dudes like that.

Still don't like Gretchen Mol much. Sigh...I hope she grows into her character b/c right now I just don't have a lot of sympathy for her like I did for the original Annie.

Unknown said...

As a big fan of the British version, I'm perhaps a bit more picky about this series than I should be. But, for me, the big problems are the ways in which the writers are shoehorning references rather than actually trying to make us feel like it's 1973. I forget which character mentioned Roe V. Wade, but I guarantee in 1973, that was not a reference everyone would have gotten. Oh, yes, Americans all knew abortion had suddenly become legal, but the name of the case was not on everybody's lips until several years later.

And then there was the Michael Imperioli character wanting to rush home to see Laugh-In because he liked that Goldie Hawn. Laugh-In was history by 1973, and Goldie Hawn was only on the first season, anyway, if I recall correctly from actually living through that era.

Of course, "All the Way To Memphis" can make anything better, but the Gilbert O'Sullivan song could have been left on the cutting room floor. I was inspired after the original "Life on Mars" ended to do five weeks of radio shows on music from 1973, and I don't think I repeated any artists. There is a wealth of great music from that year alone, not to mention the years immediately preceding it.