Thursday, October 09, 2008

Sepinwall on TV: 'Life on Mars' & 'Eleventh Hour' reviews

Today's column reviews the latest British remakes in a season that's been full of them: "Life on Mars" and "Eleventh Hour." The latter put me to sleep; the former is surprisingly not terrible, but that may simply be because my expectations were so low. (And I still have no idea if it's an idea that can work long-term, as opposed to 16 episodes in England.)

Feel free to use this post to comment on either show after they air tonight.


Anonymous said...

Here's how Life on Mars can work long-term: have Sam decide he's actually happy in 1973 and doesn't want to go back. Then it's just a cop show set in the '70s and they don't have to worry about addressing how he got there until the last season when he suddenly decides he wants to go back to his own time.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I just read your review and I guess you can ignore what I said above. But I disagree and don't think there's nothing wrong with doing a straight-up '70s cop show that doesn't have the time travel gimmick.

Brien said...

Sounds like the best thing about "Eleventh Hour" might be its choice of music for the commercials promoting it (Radiohead's "Lucky").

That was almost enough to make me want to actually watch the show.

Steve B said...

My worry about Life on Mars is that it will turn into what Mad Men isn't. The reason I like Mad Men (beyond boring stuff like good writing and acting) is that it doesn't treat its era condescendingly. It's easy to look back at a time period and poke fun at the antiquated ways in which people had to live. Mad Men kind of lives in the moment. It feels as if it was written in the time period in which the action takes place.

I think the reason most shows set in the past grow tiresome is becuase the novelty of comparing today to then wears off quickly. Jokes like no cell phones or Diet Coke won't be funny after a few episodes. In order for Life on Mars to work, it will have to embrace the era, not use the show as a way to point out how much better or easier life is today.

Nicole said...

It's good to hear that the revamp is better than the original US pilot that was out there. I actually didn't mind the 1970s cop show aspect of the original UK series because it was still about the developing respect between Sam and Gene. The over reliance on science to solve crimes, which happens far less in real life than people think, is refreshing and so this might work, for a while. If it does get cut off early though, it will be frustrating for those who follow it and want an end.

I don't know if I am interested in Eleventh Hour, even if Rufus Sewell is in it. The original with Patrick Stewart was fine, but not spectacular either... it seemed like a vague ripoff of a US crime drama so this is entirely derivative.

Unknown said...

Speaking of Keitel and gritty cop dramas, you should check out Bill Hader's take on Bad Lieutenant here. Not bad, and the very end makes it all worthwhile.

barefootjim said...

I'm all over the map on this one. I really loved the British version, which I though had just enough time-travel / coma disorientation to leaven the straight cop stories.

Plus, I kinda liked those cop stories, which were also throwbacky to the stuff I grew up on.

However, I also really liked the fact that the British series had a definite ending: give me 16 great episodes and done over 24 great episodes, 55 middling eps and 21 crap ones any time.

And, I saw the original pilot, which was just crap. However, since this version has people I like (Imperioli, especially), and good reviews, I'm going to try it as if it's a totally new show.

Anonymous said...

Anybody see Rufus Sewell in the BBC America broadest of "updated" Shakespeare series that aired a few years ago? He and the divine Shirley Henderson did a "Taming of the Shrew" that was an absolute scream and pretty poignant too.

(Also in the series: Damaian Lewis doing Benedick as a pompous TV personality and and James McAvoy doing MacBeth as an ambitious chef. Great stuff!)

Anyway, Sewell's got great comic chops. I was hoping he'd get to use them in this TV show, but that was before I knew it would be on CBS.

Anonymous said...

I am just excited to have a show my husband and I can both agree on watching! I think the last one was Third Watch a few years back! I am think LoM is going to be good. The cast is good enough to have me really psyched!

Matthew said...

Just out of curiosity - did you see the pilot with Colm Meaney? I personally thought Meaney made a good Gene Hunt, and the main problem was the fact that his character seemed to be constrained because it was on a network - he couldn't drink, smoke, swear, be too violent, etc. But it sounds like Keitel does a lot better - or at least has greater baggage to allow us to see those caractristics even if they can't show iy to us.

And although I didn't intially see the point of the move to NY (other than the practical element of getting tax-credits) since the location was the least of the episode's problems, calling up films like The French Connection makes the move suddenly make a lot more sense.

Anonymous said...

Alan, other than Colm Meaney, who was in the cast of the original pilot?

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if the original BBC Life on Mars will be offered on DVD or iTunes in the U.S.? Currently it appears that you can only order the Region 2 version at BBC or Amazon UK.

Anonymous said...

One of the ads for Life on Mars breathlessly declared "LISA BONET RETURNS TO TELEVISION!"


The Cosby Show ended 16 years ago. While it's not like Bonet hasn't been acting during that time, does anyone REALLY think she's a draw?

As for The Eleventh Hour- Marley Shelton as a bodyguard? Seriously? That's like Jasika Nicole as an FBI agaent.

Anonymous said...

I think that the British version probably isn't available due to music rights. That always seems to be a holdup with shows like that.

Anonymous said...

I've only seen a few minutes of the UK show, but I actually saw the entire first US pilot. I actually didn't think it was all that bad. But it definitely had room for improvement, so I'm glad they were able to fix it.

Since someone asked, the first US pilot starred:
Jason O'Mara as Sam Tyler
Colm Meaney as Gene Hunt
Lenny Clarke as George Randall
Rachelle LeFevre as Annie Cartright
Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen as Maya Robertson

I also think it's funny how much they're playing up Lisa Bonet in the commercials. First, because she's not a regular and it doesn't seem like there's much they can do with her in the long run. And second because one of the commercials I saw mentioned her and completely excluded Gretchen Mol.

Anonymous said...

I like the fact that the actual star of the show is receiving last billing in the commercials.

Pamela Jaye said...

I got this
from my brother just a bit ago. are you still employed?

more later. i'm watching Grey's and then I'll choose between ER and Mars if I have time (and i checked to make sure nothing conflicted out, moved to saturday, or vanished - SNL Thursday had vanished, but it's back in my list now. think i'd better check again.)

Oaktown Girl said...

junkeragentseed - thanks for the Bill Hader link!

Nicole said...

I've been a fan of Rufus Sewell since Middlemarch so I'm a little sad to see him in something so mediocre. He was a good Charles II and not a bad villain in A Knight's Tale.

I've been pestering BBC Canada to get the NA version of the Life on Mars Series 1 and 2 DVDs for ages, and the music rights issue is still unresolved. Neither series is that old and so I cannot understand why the lawyers didn't secure international rights at once. This is where copyright law gets ridiculous - and they wonder why a black market is created.

Christy said...

I adore Rufus Sewell, but 'Eleventh Hour' is a snore. I won't get caught again.

Nicole said...

Just caught Life on Mars and this was a thousand times better than the pilot I saw online. I love Colm Meaney, but Keitel seems a better fit and makes Jason O'Mara seem better too. Philip Glenister is still the iconic Gene Hunt, but this version is distinctly American instead of a bland version of the UK original. I'm not sure if it will last, but this cast seems to have much more chemistry

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the pilot of Life on Mars tonight -- the first new show of the season that I can say that for (Fringe was only ok IMO). I like all the actors, the 70s cop show vibe, the un-p.c. dialogue, and the gender politics. The music featured good selections, and I loved seeing a NYC that reminded of the city I moved to in the 80s. 1970s NYC has a lot of dramatic possibilities, historically speaking, that could resonate with the current political / economic situation. And playing up the homage to 70s cop dramas would be entertaining when combined with today's production values, and the looser restrictions on dialogue on today's TV.

Pamela Jaye said...

re: Sam ordering Diet Coke - obviously he never saw Back to the Future, or he would have known to order a Tab.

comment reading to follow. I've watched three shows since 9pm and i should be unconscious soon, which won't happen if I read the rest of the comments.

(although I *was* hoping that Krista Vernoff would post her blog at greyswriters (must check again)
Sounds like Shonda has figured out what's wrong and i'm hoping that both she and the Chief won't forget.

R.A. Porter said...

I see some people actually watched. I started to. Got right up to the teaser out. That big old shot of the WTC did me in.

By that I mean...
1. I screamed at my television because the show runner wasn't nearby for me to punch in the throat.
2. I *immediately* stopped my DVR recording.
3. I turned off the TV to cool off for a while.

The problem, singular, with the original American pilot was Jason O'Mara. So in typical H'wood fashion, everything good was dumped and he was kept. And then they moved from LA to NYC so they could beat me over the head with the WTC. Really? Something too subtle about a "coming soon" sign for a highway or highrise? Or is that not deep enough?

I think you summed it up nicely in your review Alan, when you said about the towers, "just showing them without comment makes the rest of the show seem less relevant." I don't know if there *was* comment after I turned it off. Don't much care. Because the show wasn't suddenly going to veer left and become about Sam hunting down the 16-year-old son of a Saudi businessman.

Here's a fuller, just as bitchy version of my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I am of two minds about LOM... I enjoyed the show overall, and while I wasn't affected by the first WTC image to stop, as was r.a.porter, I do agree with his sentiments.

The first WTC scene would have been much more effective had Sam broken out in tears and been unable to speak. As it was played, the scene was just tone deaf.

The second, final night shot was utterly gratuitous. Since they had to move from LA to NYC (why???) they really need to have a show devoted to Sam trying to stop 9/11 from 1973.

And Imperioli needs more to do than just crack wise...

Anonymous said...

Here's the thing with the WTC shots, up until the first time Sam sees the towers it could all be an elaborate prank that someone is pulling on him. I mean just make a copy of the sign..move Sam to some disused property and change his cloths... but there is no way that anyone could fake the WTC being there. Thus, the towers are there to show that this "really is" 1973 and the final shot just serves to highlight that.

And why do you think that they will have some eppisode about Sam trying to prevent 9-11. I mean beyond anything else, how could a detective in 1973 stop an international criminal terrorist organization from carrying out a plot some 30 years later. I mean is he going to fry to saudi arabia and kill Bin Laden or something?

They are using the WTC as a reminder that this is defaintly not today.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Here's the thing with the WTC shots, up until the first time Sam sees the towers it could all be an elaborate prank that someone is pulling on him. I mean just make a copy of the sign..move Sam to some disused property and change his cloths... but there is no way that anyone could fake the WTC being there.

And if they had used it that way, I would have had less of a problem with it. But Sam spends several more scenes in the episode not believing where/when he is.

If they wanted to use the WTC the right way, then have him arrive in the past, wander around looking at the hippies and afros and whatnot and be skeptical, and then have him look up at the towers and realize just what's happened to him. That would have been a hell of a moment. Instead, they wasted it.

R.A. Porter said...

@alan, a scene like that, where the writers and Sam had earned a reaction, might have moved me. They hadn't earned anything by the end of the teaser.

Anonymous said...

Alan, I'd love to see your reaction if you woke up in 1973 and went to work and found Jerry Krupnick at your desk!

Anonymous said...

What a waste of Lester Freamon.

Pamela Jaye said...

a few minutes ago I happened to notice the Life on Mars ep title. I laughed, having heard the song in the show last night. I never heard the song before it was on that episode of House... I like it. (though I can't remember which group it's by? the Who maybe?)

also, i liked the switch from his iPod to his 8 track with the same song.

alas, this show won't have Katie and the marriage, which was an aspect of Journeyman I really liked. Then again, it doesn't seem he will be going back over and over.

in the meantime - she talks to him over the radio? is that like the talking elevator?

Pamela Jaye said...

Thus, the towers are there to show that this "really is" 1973

or 85, 97, 2001... I know, that doesn't help

I didn't have a problem, but I think the poster here had a better reaction for Sam (whose name is going to bother me, the Quantum Leap fan) than the one he had. Esp if he's *from* NYC.

15 minutes in, he's going off about "why he's here." If he really *has* been watching too much Quantum Leap, he could have at least *said so.*

K J Gillenwater said...

I really liked "Life on Mars." I though the switch to Harvey Keitel was a fab idea. He's the perfect 70s cop...down and dirty. And Michael Imperioli! Is that ALL his own hair??

I saw the original BBC version of the show and just hearing the song "Life on Mars" brought tears to my eyes. I just kept remembering the very last episode.

I think Jason is fine as Sam. He just looks like your average Joe.

I didn't see a problem with the WTC moment.

Not 100% sold on Gretchen Mol. I liked the original Annie so much. But I hope she improves.

Cool show, good vibe, great music (I like that they picked lesser know music rather than blast us with every 70s hit known to man).

Pamela Jaye said...

i didn't see the original pilot, but Rachelle LeFevre is gorgeous

Anonymous said...

Unlike the jaded here, I really sort of enjoyed the pilot, at least once I figured out how to watch it online. O'Meara strikes me much the way John Simms did when the UK series aired here; airy, vulnerable, our of touch, and scrabbling desperately for balance.

I don't claim to understand all of the nuances the UK show got at, but I totally agree with the upthread commenter that the remake has put a totally American imprint on the show. For better or worse, I guess, but it's there. In that sense, I can definitely appreciate the move to NYC, which elsewhere I've argued was probably a mistake. (Manchester is not NYC; at best it's Chicago, and at worst -- or at least more accurately -- it's Cleveland or Pittsburgh. Or Rochester. But not Jersey City or Trenton -- sorry, Alan.)

But damn if the pilot (caught online because the TiVo effed up) doesn't capture all the weirdness of the original but translated into a domestic context. I can't argue with those who wonder whether the series can really last more than 16 episodes, or who complain -- yes, I'm thinking of Alan here -- that the invocations of the WTC are out of place. I choked up at the Tower shot just prior to the opening, and I suspect I'm not the only one.

Maybe it's an expectations game, as I so totally expected the U.S. version to suck mightily that any sign that it doesn't seems to make everything shinier. I just really thought the new pilot hit most of the emotional notes that it needed to. And at heart this is nothing if not an emotional show, because logically it makes absolutely no sense. As in, none at all. There's suspension of disbelief, and then there's having it skyhooked by a Sikorsky; in the case of Life on Mars, there's really no alternative. Skyhook or bust.

That said, the skyhook can be a hell of a ride, and I'm really curious to see where this show is going to take us.

JMC said...

I really enjoyed it, and I'm a fan of the BBC original. I wonder where they're going to take it. The WTC didn't faze me a bit... and I'm a guy that on 9AM a particular morning was watching the towers spew smoke across the water as I was heading to an appointment in Red Hook Brooklyn. I refuse to watch those 9-11 movies, but for some reason in this show using the WTC as a land- and *time*-mark is fine by me. Sam is convinced he's imagining all this, so for folks to scream it's unrealistic to have a bonafide NY'er not immediately buy a ticket to Saudi Arabia and kill a young Bin Laden just doesn't make sense to me ATM.