Thursday, April 02, 2009

Life on Mars, "Life Is A Rock": Space oddity

While I gave up on the American "Life on Mars" four or five episodes in, for the sake of completism -- and my fondness for the ending of the original series -- I checked out last night's series' finale, and... hoo-boy. Spoilers for both US and UK finales coming up just as soon as I shave my mustache...

So... where to begin? I guess with a quick recap of the UK finale for those who didn't see it, just to point out how strangely and awfully the US ending went wrong.

In the last episode of "Life on Mars" UK, Sam is caught in an ambush with the rest of Gene's team when he suddenly wakes up back in the present. He's told it was all some kind of elaborate coma fantasy, and sees that several figures from that fantasy (notably the Internal Affairs cop trying to bring down Gene) were based, "Wizard of Oz"-style, on people from the hospital. But after being back in his old life for a while, Sam discovers that he doesn't fit in, that he can't really feel anything, that he has no emotional connection to the 21st century anymore. And so -- as the full version of the Bowie song plays, just like it did in the pilot -- he goes up onto the roof of a tall building, jumps off, and...

...finds himself back in 1973, saving Gene, Ray and the others from the bad guys and committed to spending the rest of his existence in this weird place, not caring if it was a fantasy, or Purgatory, or something else entirely.

That is an ending. Whatever problems I may have had with the original show (which, like the remake, sometimes trended too closely to being an actual '70s cop show instead of a pastiche of one), I will always love it for that last episode.

I knew the American producers had a different take on the "mythology" of where/when their Sam was. I wasn't expecting a rehash of the original finale (though, based on the reaction this morning of several disgruntled "Life on Mars" USA fans whom I told about the old ending, they might have been better off copying it wholesale). But I also wasn't expecting anything as dumb and/or as insulting to the viewer as the ending we got.

The short version, if you didn't watch and are just curious how it ended: After a kidnapping case that sees Gene killing Sam's dad to save adult Sam's life, Sam more or less told his mom who he was, Annie (who figured out where Sam was in time to save him) got a promotion to detective, and Sam decided that he was sent back in time to meet and fall in love with Annie, and that he didn't care about ever going back to 2008, at which point he...

...finds himself several decades into our future, waking up from two years of hibernation on a NASA spaceship heading for Mars. He's not a cop from 2008 at all. That's just a fantasy cooked up by the ship's computer to keep his mind occupied during the travel (the astronaut version of Ray, sadly mustache-free, selected an elaborate island sex dream), and the trip back to 1973 was a glitch in the system. "Gene Hunt" is not the name of a person, but the mission they're on to find out if there was ever life on Mars, and Harvey Keitel is on board as Major Tom, astronaut Sam's dad.

Words fail me.

It's one thing to say that 1973 wasn't real, or even that the present-day material wasn't real (as the UK finale briefly suggested in a head-fake to the audience), but to say that neither was real? That none of what the viewer watched for these 17 episodes mattered? That it was all a very literal joke on the series' title?

Well, if I was someone who had actually ridden this particular train from beginning to end, sad that the ratings weren't strong enough to keep the show around, I would be furious about this. As it was, I was pretty mad that I stayed up after "Lost" just to watch it.

And the really maddening thing is that, until the idiotic, obnoxious twist ending, the finale was actually very good. I have to credit some of its power to the extensive use of Elton John's "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" -- like the original finale's use of Bowie on the rooftop, it gave scenes like Sam and Annie's kiss, or even Annie's unlikely promotion, some real weight. And the scene where we see Sam in the present-day, reading "Gulliver's Travels" to an old woman whom we assume to be his mom (as he promised her in 1973), but who turns out to be Annie, was lovely, even if it wound up mattering not at all in the grand scheme of things.

I'd like to think that this was a case of the writers being so frustrated with the cancellation that they were venting their anger at ABC with this stupid ending, but based on how early and often we saw the miniature Mars Rover, I have to assume this was their plan all along, which... wow. Just wow. Even the final shot, of 1973 Gene's leg preparing to step onto the Mars surface, seems less an attempt to give this silly explanation some ambiguity than it feels like someone's idea of a memorable closing image, meaning be damned.

I'm mad. How about you?


Clevelle said...

I don't know Alan. As someone who never watched the UK series and dropped the US series in an effort to cut back on television, the concept of the US ending sounds the most intriguing. But of course, conception and execution are two very different things.

Unknown said...

Not that mad, actually. I watched every episode of the show knowing it wouldn't end the way the British series had, and appreciated not being left hanging.

Yes, it's an oddball ending, but it was an oddball show. Maybe if it had gone longer, the Mars aspect might have been made to fit better. But really -- with the time they were given, I think they did their best.

Ryan said...

Not mad at all. As someone who's never seen the UK version, this felt completely in step with everything the US version has done (for better or worse).

Anonymous said...

I watched every episode of the US version and none of the British one, and I'm so glad you came back for the final episode. I mean, I'm sorry for your sake, but I'm glad to be able to read here that someone else felt the way I did. I was mad...and the only other review I've seen so far compared this favorably to the British ending.

BigTed said...

I thought the idea behind the ending wasn't too bad. (Although it did seem as if someone just woke up one day and said, "Wait, I just realized what our show is called!")

But the execution was horrendous, from the awful puns ("She missed 'er Hyde!") to the it-was-all-a-double-dream nonsense, to the idea that Sam's vicious thug of a father trying to kill him was really just Sam's own private psychodrama about "fighting" with his real father -- fellow astronaut Harvey Keitel!?

The best thing about the British series was its moody, dreamlike symbolism. This ending made everything so literal that it was just another sci-fi concept, and a used and trite one at that.

On the plus side, it certainly made me happy I didn't waste any more time watching new episodes of the show.

David J. Loehr said...

Stunned. Amazed. Until I remember how pedestrian and on-the-nose "October Road" was. Then it makes sense.

The UK ending was thrilling because it took you where you least expected, it genuinely surprised you.

The US version takes the title literally, because the writers are apparently incapable of anything more creative than that.

Mad? Not really, I didn't have much invested in it. Sad, though. Sad that so much time and money went to making this.

David J. Loehr said...

In fact, I'm surprised that Sam's name didn't turn out to be Adam, with a fellow astronaut named Eve. Cue theremin music.

Bob Timmermann said...

At least there wasn't someone looking at the whole ending scene through a snowglobe

Dea said...

As someone who hasn't seen the original series and who did watch this whole series, I admit I was a little WTF at the ending, and was discomfitted by the idea that everything I saw over the season didn't really matter. Who was the caller, who was the old man, etc.? For that matter who was Vic? For someone who had such a major role in Sam's 1973 life, I was surprised he didn't get a 2035 role.

That all said, this morning I'm remembering the sillier aspects - all the Bowie song references, the Obama Presidency Dynasty, etc. So yeah, I didn't love it, but since I had only invested several hours instead of several years in the story, I'm willing to give it a pass. I am also going to Netflix the original, though, as that ending does sound more satisfying!

Anonymous said...

I was horrified. Absolutely horrified.

I didn't want to believe good to wake up and read that I wasn't alone in my reaction.

Before the finale, I was already imagining all the different ways the show could end, fully not expecting them to follow its BBC version.

But wow...just wow.

I think the ending is just disrespectful, not just to the original show, but to the present ensemble cast, and especially, to its fans.

marc b. said...

The ending explained those little rover robot things and what more could someone want from this show? It was clear after one episode it wasn't going to come close to being as much fun as the British version!

A few of us kept watching with a little hope and I think we got what we deserved for sticking around. The ending was ridiculous and awesome and having said that, I feel like I'll never have any TV watching credibility again.

Anonymous said...

I didn't think it was the best ending, but I didn't think it was the worst. I think everyone expected one of two endings, 2008 is real or 1973 is real. This gave us an ending that was unexpected. I don't believe it was on Sam's mirror list of possibilities of what's happening to him.

No matter what ending they chose, some people will be upset, and some will be okay with it. It's really subjective.

Bob Timmermann said...

If Hunt was really Sam's father, then who was the Maggie Siff character supposed to be?

Bob Timmermann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Alan-- I did watch the whole season due to the strong cast and novelty of the premise and I too was mad. (what's with some of your readers who enjoyed it? i mean come on.) the writers proved they could do nothing original with that "twist" and I took it as a giant flipping of the bird to the viewers. life on mars was meant as an allegory not a literal journey. to make it literal takes away all the deeper meaning and ambiguity for idiotic effect. I agree with you -- it made every moment from 2008 and 1973 meaningless and all time invested in the characters a total waste. was similar to and worse than pam ewing dreaming the whole bobby death fiasco on dallas. the UK original ending much more intelligent. and the shame was that had they ended in 1973 after Sam's choice to stay with Annie or then even involuntarily going back to 2008 it would've remained interesting and the moments around Sam's mother and Annie's promotion were nicely handled only to be rendered meaningless. after enjoying the season and especially gretchen mol, michael imperioli and jason ohara with that ending I'm glad it's not coming back as that was insultingly stupid.

DonBoy said...

Well, I see how I should be mad, but I'm not. (By the way, I hadn't noticed it last week, but the name of Peter Gerety's 1973 FBI man from last week turns out to be Frank Morgan, who of course played the Wizard of Oz.) It's the Tommy Westfall thing all over again, and I handle this the same way that I responded to that: when you have enough of a self-contained realistic fiction, and then you tell me that there's "really" an outer fiction, it doesn't actually change anything. After all, you don't rewatch old St. Elsewheres with a new understanding based on the Tommy revelation.

Similarly, the only way to ever watch either incarnation of the show is to react as if 1973 is real. If they'd really told us that 1973 was a dream, we wouldn't have liked that either. And it's actually a venerable SF trope that if a character doesn't know which of two experienced realities is real, probably neither one is. (After all, how often are you fully awake but not sure if you're dreaming or not?) Two Philip K. Dick stories came immediately to mind when I saw the spacesuits.

So if Keitel is called "Major Tom", is that because the 2035 characters are Bowie fans, or is Bowie in 1973 and 2008 not actually real? Uh oh.

On the specifics: "President Obama" stuff lame, "Keitel's my dad" sort of lame, "Gene Hunt" kind of clever. Gerety plus computer-Windy put me in mind of Holly, the floating-head computer from Red Dwarf. To the earlier commenter who thought "missed 'er Hyde" was stupid: I liked it, precisely because it's the kind of dream-pun that doesn't mean anything. Maybe that's just me.

Ah, someone else already called the Tommy comparision.

rhys said...

Wow, what a horrible ending. It almost sounds like a joke. I guess it was April Fool's huh? Sheesh.

Anonymous said...

I, as well, gave up after the first couple episdoes but wanted to see how it ended. The President Obama thing was cheesy, but the Major Tom shout out to Bowie made me laugh.

katlogan said...

This was just as bad as the St. Elsewhere finale. Lazy, just lazy. If you're going to be lazy about it, why not go ahead and borrow from a good ending instead? (BTW, I LOVED the ending to Newhart. I thought it made the whole series even funnier)

leor said...

Alan, i think your "wow...just wow." comment says it all. i watched every episode of both the UK and US versions, and enjoyed them both. but this ending had my wife and i shaking our heads in disappointment. too literal and out of nowhere, and as several people have stated, it meant that many events throughout the series were completely irrelevant.

just another American show about a character with daddy issues...

Hugh Jee From Jersey said...

I wasn't horrified, surprised, or insulted by the ending....all the clues were there, and it had closure...a rare thing indeed for shows that are considered to be a "failure", in terms of gaining a wide audience acceptance.

At least the principle characters weren't sitting in a diner listening to JOURNEY when the screen fades to black.

I went into greater detail on my blog entry...along with spoiler alerts.

Now DAMAGES...that ending WAS an insult to the intelligence of anyone who stayed with it this season....that one did make me mad.

Andrew said...

Is the takeaway from this finale that closure isn't always a good thing? Sometimes, ambiguity, even if it's intentionally frustrating (like few seconds of The Sopranos, or Kara's ultimate fate on BSG) is more emotionally engaging than a ridiculous explanation.

Alan Sepinwall said...

At least there wasn't someone looking at the whole ending scene through a snowglobe

But at least the "St. Elsewhere" ending, which a lot of people despised for playing a similar "none of this mattered" note at the end, was at least trying to make some kind of comment about the way we watch TV (note that Tommy Westphal puts the snowglobe on top of the TV set when he goes to dinner). This was just a joke on the show's title, with no deeper meaning.

Marc said...

Wow Alan, I usually agree with you but I thought this ending was fantastic. Everything made sense even WINDY and how Ray always called him "spaceman". Plus they were really looking for LIFE ON MARS

BigTed said...

So if this was all a dream-within-a-dream, here's what we've learned about astronaut Sam (along with, perhaps, the computer that's in his head):
-- He's obsessed with crime and violence, and constantly dreams of getting beaten up.
-- For some reason, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of '70s culture.
-- He has major mommy issues and even more major daddy issues -- all the more reason to send him on a years-long space flight with his (apparently estranged) daughter
-- He has the hots for his female commander, which he deals with by imagining her as a powerless, put-upon flunky in the early feminist era, whom only he can help reach her potential. Which we're supposed to believe will lead to the two of them having a beautiful friendship in the present.
-- He imagines his computer as a hot young hippie chick -- or, even more disturbing, the computer imagines itself as a hot young hippie chick.

BigTed said..., his apparently estranged father.

bill said...

I'll add my vote to Donboy's comment. Never saw the original UK version and enjoyed watching this week to week. Didn't think it was necessarily worse than only one of the realities being imagined or it being some sort of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" -slash- "Jacob's Ladder" payoff.

Pleasant diversion after Lost.

Fronti said...

I had no problem with how they wrapped it up. Yes, there is some cheese in there, but I think the writers were forced to rush some things that may have worked better if they had the time.

What Life on Mars showed is a flaw in US TV. Why can't we here in the states just do episodic TV in a way that allows for a story to be told completely without worried about canceling, or stretching to open ended number of seasons.

ED said...

All I can say is, these are the same guys who gave us October Road. I blame all of us, for actually believing they might know what they are doing. We never should have assumed they knew what they were doing. Shame on us, Shame on us. If they ever get a development deal again the studio heads should be fired.

Anonymous said...

I'm OK with the ending. After getting jerked around for years by the writers of "Lost", I'm just happy that I wasn't left hanging!!!!!

Whiskey said...

I wasn't really mad, more like I felt totally flat. This show had become the show I watch with my husband while I do other things, and now I'm glad I didn't invest much in it because the ending wasn't at all what I'd think of as creative or imaginative. In fact, I think Big Ted's last comment sums it up nicely for me. I feel like I should've finished watching the show with some fondness for Sam Tyler, and now because of this ending he's just an insecure dweeb to me.

I'm really enjoying Ashes to Ashes on BBCAmerica... and a little bummed you're not doing writeups on it, Alan. Why is that? I thought you enjoyed it?

Otto Man said...

I think it's clear that the writers are (a) pissed and (b) Simpsons fans.

Hi, Poochie. You look like you've got something to say. Do you?

Yes, I certainly do! (Poochie's mouth stops moving and Meyers' voice is heard) I have to go now. My planet needs me.

The whole cel with Poochie on it is moved upwards. A screen shows some handwritten text: "Note: Poochie died on the way back to his home planet".

Wow, Poochie came from another planet?

Uh, I guess...

Anonymous said...

I watched all the U.S., and most of the UK, versions of "Life on Mars." I found the UK version very good, but I liked the actors on the U.S. version, overall, better, though the story-lines on the UK version were more logical less typical cop show. There are definitely things to recommend both. Still, the US version of "Life on Mars" became one of my favorite shows this season and literally the only show on my DVR I'm currently "caught up" with.

I'd say the UK ending had a lot more style, and made a lot more sense. But, after watching, the U.S. ending I wasn't at all offended. Did it feel a little rushed and piecemeal? Absolutely! It was also creative and, if not exactly, clever certainly nothing I could have ever predicted. (Let's face it, when they said they weren't going to ape the UK version ending, clearly their best option was gone. They weren't really going to make their lovable main character crazy, a drug user or anything else that would alienate him at the last minute.)

I liked the little in jokes (Sasha or Malia as "President Obama") and, in the moment, thought the final five minutes was just fine and did, at least, match up to everything the show had shown. No major plot holes; other than that whole "you're going to die at such-and-such time" hostage episode which was taken almost scene from scene from the Brit version.

Did I love the ending? Not really. But it was good enough and I did appreciate the closer as a loyal viewer.

Magicmark said...


Did anyone else notice that Lisa Bonet was credited at the beginning as a Special Guest Star? Unless I missed something, she wasn't in the episode at all. Could this have been a trick by the writers to use the credits to fool us into thinking we'd see Sam in his 2008 by the end of the episode? If so, it was brilliant. Too often the credits ruin a surprise (i.e.: Daniel Dae Kim's name appearing regularly on Lost's opening credits after his character had been apparently killed). Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Anonymous said...

The series was good, but the last 10 minutes, ouch!! I have not seen the UK version yet, but had read a quick wikipedia summary when the US one started to realize that the UK concept was indeed interesting.

I was equally let down by this ending. This is in no way a critique of the series, and the 17 hours (minus the 10 minutes) was a time well spent. It is just they could have used a bit more imagination, or they could have been loyal to the original concept. Like sticking to the original storyline would have canceled the show or what?

While on the topic of series enders and season enders - why is it that every show on television needs a season ending cliff-hangers or a surprise reveals? Isn't there a way for good storytelling without doing all these? If you look at The Wire or The Sopranos, well they did have some surprises, but they mostly built towards a climax with 10 episodes of good storytelling all leading to what the season's theme was. There was never a question of them pulling a rabbit out of the hat.

And even though I liked it then, I rue the day I and so many others saw The Sixth Sense.

DonBoy said...

Magicmark, I had the same thought. On another forum it was suggested that Bonet's voice was heard during the fade-to-future sequence, but I like it better with the other interpretation.

Tom said...

Just picture what must have been going on in the writers' room when someone said, "You know what would be cool? MARS. They're on a mission to Mars..."

To paraphrase Gene Siskel, this is a case where a show about the making of the show would be a whole lot more entertaining than the show itself.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Ausiello interviewed the showrunners in advance of the finale, and they said Bonet was originally in the episode "for a half-second, and then she got cut. I guess union rules means she still gets her credit.

puddy77 said...

I enjoyed the show and will imagine it ended right before the big space reveal.

Either that, or Sam wakes up in bed with David Bowie who proceeds to apologize for hitting him with his car, but hopes the wild peyote-induced bacchanal made up for it (looks around the room to see the modern cognates of the 125 in various states of dress and stupor)...

Unknown said...

The reveal was a flop in my opinion, but it didn't make me mad. I've watched the both the UK and US versions start to finish, and as the US version burned through the plots of the UK version I wondered when it would introduce elements that would extend the story beyond the original. But I gave up on the expectation that the American producers could pull that off some time back and kept watching because was enjoying Michael Imperioli's performance.

His 1973 character was given a beefy monologue about the meaning of life in the finale, and he nailed it. As far as I was concerned they should have ended with that, Sam's decision to say in 1973, and the kiss between Sam and Annie.

The rest was a just a neural stim. A terrible, terrible neural stim.

Toby O'B said...

Magicmark, Lisa Bonet could be heard as Sam was waking from his suspended animation. It was a replay of an earlier line in which she said something to the effect about letting him go.

Afterwards I thought it might have been fun to find Bonet playing the second President Obama (and I'm glad we never did find out if it was Sasha or Malia).

The original series is in my Top Ten of all time shows. That last episode tears me open. I came into this series expecting to hate it but I found myself enjoying the way they took various plots and characters and twisting them to get a new interpretation.

(By the way, Imperioli is an improvement over Dean Andrews as Ray. Keitel never came close to Glenister as Gene, but I eventually just put that aside and enjoyed his "cranky grandpa" attitude.)

A lot of people here have never seen the original version (or so it seems from reading the comments), but I know your readers are really intelligent about how they view TV. However, I don't have that faith in the general TV audience in America, and I'm pretty sure they never would have accepted that original ending for this version.

So, going in knowing it would be anything but that, I was okay with this ending. It looks like they began inserting the needed clues around the time they were coming back from that ridiculous break, so that there was plenty for everybody to go back and see how it was leading up to this.

I think it was far more imaginative than most other shows may ever go for, and in a way felt very American. Not sure I can explain that, so I'll just let it go.

Never saw the show going beyond a season without falling apart/losing even more of its audience, and being cancelled without any payoff - I don't think it ever should have gone beyond this many episodes. So I'm just happy we got some kind of closure to it.

'The Prisoner' ran 17 episodes as well, and so many people hated its ending that McGoohan had to leave England afterwards for a time. The comparison ends there, of course.... 'The Prisoner' was GREAT TV (my all-time favorite show), but this was at least decent in its execution. I'm happy with how it turned out.

james said...

Never watched the show but it sounds like a cool idea...all depends on the execution, if they leave hints here and there.

Karen said...

If Gene Hunt = Major Tom = Sam's father, and Sam slept with Gene Hunt's daughter... eww. Or are we just not supposed to think about that?

Spent the ending going "What? Is this a joke?" I really enjoyed the show, and I'm not angry about the end, but just sort of... let down. I like what I've read about the end of the UK version.

Liked Imperioli's "It's the freakiest show" line, though. As someone old enough to have bought the 45 of "Life on Mars" when it came out in 1973.

Karen said...

Oh, and by the way, 2009 Annie wouldn't have been that old. Can't these people count?

Nicole said...

They should have kept Sam in 1973. Adding the literal Life on Mars ending was just too lame for words and it ruined an otherwise decent adaptation. I second the praise for Imperioli's work because he was better than the original Ray. Gretchen Mol was also able to make her Annie different from the UK version. I even got used to Jason O'Mara's Sam.

Comparing the last ten minutes to the UK scene where Sam is on the roof realizing how the present sucks and having David Bowie's Life on Mars start to pipe in is such a great television moment. It sums up everything about Sam's ambivalence throughout the series. The essence of Bowie's song is captured in that moment.

Here, the writers actually put them on Mars, which is not the point of the song. I thought the actors even seemed a bit embarrassed in their spacesuits.

Now I didn't hear which Obama girl is the president, but isn't there a minimum age limit?

Paul Gibney said...

I would have been so much happier if they ended the show right after Sam gave his "No, I'm staying here speech" on the phone and never tried to explain why he was there. Maybe show him walking back to Gene's office then fade to his retirement party in 2008 or something.

I got a chuckle out of the Mars ending; but it was a rueful chuckle.

Brendan McCarthy said...

Magicmark --

Unfortunately you can't use someone's name in the credits as a red herring. As Alan stated, there are strict union rules when it comes to that kind of thing.

As for Daniel Dae Kim: Even if Jin had actually died, his name could still appear in the credits. For one, it could have been in his contract. And two: sometimes showrunners do it out of respect for actors who have been on the show for a while. Michael Imperioli's name appears in The Sopranos credits through the series finale, yet his character died four or five episodes before.

Didn't watch the end but sounds disappointing. Posting here because I missed Lost and I'm too afraid to continue scrolling down the main page.

Unknown said...

I've been waiting to hear your take on it.

My reaction was "And then he woke up? Seriously???"

I wrote a multi-chaptered science fiction story when I was in grade 7 and couldn't figure out how to end it so I used the "And then I woke up" card. But I was 12 and it was early in my writing career.

I expected much better from this show. It kind of makes me mad that I invested the time I did in watching the episodes.

Anna said...

Mad? I can't breathe, I am laughing so hard. A friend of mine told me about this ending last night, and i thought she was joking. Wow. Who are these idiot showrunners and why do they have jobs? A mindfuck alone does not make for a show. What does this ending have anything to do with the themes and the message of the rest of the show?

Anonymous said...

Furious? No. I figure I'm being punished for such a good BSG finale. It's frustrating, silly, and doesn't make much sense and I would have been fine with them totally copying the UK version. But it was what it was and now it's over.


Zack Smith said...

Alan, thanks for blogging about this!

The show would have ended better if it had just stopped with Sam turning down the voice on the phone. But nooo...

Here's what insults me: The creators apparently worked out this new ending far in advance. From the beginning, actually. So it's not a cheat. But it's still DUMB.

I give them credit for going so completely over the top. But what a dumb, ridiculous ending!

The thing is, the emotional beats were all right in the show. The relationships between the characters were well-done, and the period music was well-chosen. And the over-the-top dialogue from OCTOBER ROAD was toned down enough that it didn't feel as jarring.

If they'd just stuck with a character piece and didn't rely on a serialized SF element, it would have worked so much better...

At this point, I feel like a serialized show that relies on A! BIG! SECRET! just doesn't work. I prefer like on BUFFY, where you'd have one storyline for one season, and then character elements that would carry over year to year.

Alan, listen to me. The guys who did the US LIFE ON MARS have a two-hour pilot in production now called HAPPY TOWN. It is the same thing as TWIN PEAKS, but played more or less straight, without David Lynch's guiding hand. I have read the script for this. It is painful.

Alan, pray. Pray that it is not picked up. Pray that none of us have to visit HAPPY TOWN. You have been warned.

Yes, ABC might give these guys three shows in a row. I am baffled.

Anonymous said...

I think you are being too charitable in your comment that the rest of the finale episode was good. The whole thing felt like a rushed, slapped together attempt to bring the series to a close... which, i guess, it kind of was. The only thing that made it any good was the really stellar (and entirely wasted) cast. The speech at the end about "we live on a rock," if you read it on a page, would be exposed for what it was -- completely trite and cliche. Imperioli saved it from being laughable. Unfortunately, even Harvey Keitel couldn't save the awfully written scene in the car when Sam hints at the truth of his predicament. What should have been one of the most important moments of the series was awkward and borderline nonsensical. I knew halfway in to this episode that we were not getting a decent ending.

Unknown said...

I read an article a few days indicating this ending was their plan all along.

If this is really true, it is nothing but a big middle finger to those of us that follow shows with these big story arcs, where mystery and trying to figure everything out is fun. Could you imagine if the 'waking up from a dream' answer was the ending to Battlestar, Lost or even Harry Potter? [shudder]

Ashley said...

It's one thing to say that 1973 wasn't real, or even that the present-day material wasn't real (as the UK finale briefly suggested in a head-fake to the audience), but to say that neither was real? That none of what the viewer watched for these 17 episodes mattered? That it was all a very literal joke on the series' title?

That is exactly how I feel. I watched every episode, because while the bad parts were definitely there, the good parts were really good. And yes, I was furious with this ending. It just cheapens everything, you know? Like, what's the point.

And I get that they were trying to clever and that all of what happened was astronaut (SPACEMAN!) Sam trying to work out what he really wanted, but seriously. What a cop-out. I'm so angry.

bsangs said...

Mad? Heck no, I loved it. It was crazy, weird and completely unexpected - and I was watching from Day 1. I want to eventually see the British version though. Although if it's the same crowd complaining about the American verision of LOM that tells me how superior the British version of The Office is (it's not), then I'll take their carping with a grain of salt.

The only thing I'm mad about is that LOM was cancelled. Dull, repetitive shows like CSI and its clones continue to thrive, but try to go out of the box a little bit and it's the kiss of death for a show.

Too bad it wasn't on cable. Oh well.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the ending was a bit of a cheat, in that the viewer was not given warning we were basically watching "Total Recall", not Kojak.

I do think the limited series can succeed on TV, due to the rise of DVD sales. In that arena, a well thought out 13 or 24 epi run with an organic ending can stand on its own and still get a return on investment on investment in the aftermarket.

Actually, the nets should just sell the time to producers for a cut of the aftermarket. Instead we are going to get more reality shows and a Jay Leno strip. Broadcast TV is dying.


DonBoy said...

Total stray thought: I suspect that the creators do not know the difference between Aries, the ram, whose name was on the toy company last week and also somewhere in the space ship, and Ares, the Greek name for the entity that the Romans called Mars. Unless that was supposed to be subtlety.

Ed said...

I guess I don't understand what Alan meant by "the present-day material wasn't real (as the UK finale briefly suggested in a head-fake to the audience)."

What head-fake? The tv girl skipping down the alley? If that's it, then read this. They were just messing with you on purpose. This is what the creater of the BBC version said at

The final moments of Life On Mars featured the scary Test Card Girl – “none of this is real” – skipping down the alley to switch off our TVs.

“It was written in the full knowledge that the show, and that episode, would be analysed to pieces, because we obviously knew by then that it was a show that people liked to analyse,” revealed Matthew.

“And that last moment is really me saying, ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s just a piece of television, it’s just a story and it’s come to an end.'

"It is an in-joke, but it's certainly not meant in any way disparagingly or arrogantly.

"It's just supposed to be, 'That’s enough of that, off you go, do something else now, we’ll turn the telly off.'

"I felt that was very much in the spirit of the show."

Maybe it's just me, but I really didn't like the BBC ending at all. It's one thing to be in a coma and your mind skips a beat and you think your back in 1973, but it's an entirely different thing to believe that someone can throw themselves off a building, presumably die from impact, thus allowing them to smash through the space-time-coma continuum and land back at the exact moment where you left off. It's ludicrous.

In that same article, he descibes the BBC ending as “The truth is, when I wrote it, what I was trying to say is that’s he’s died, and that for however long that last second of life is going to be, it will stretch out for an age, as an eternity for him. And so when he drives off in that car, he’s really driving off into the afterlife.”

What rubbish.

Honestly, I like this ending so much better than the BBC version, except when people point out the sleeping with his sister thing.

Anonymous said...

Zack, wow that's painful just to READ.


Anonymous said...

Can we also note that even the elder Obama girl would be only 37 in 2035, having been elected in 2032, making her 34, and therefore ineligible under our Consitution, which has a minimum age requirement of 35.

I vote for pissed writers phoning it in. I would have lived with a return to 2008 where Sam looks up a 65-ish Norris and reconnects with her, that would have been just dandy.

Ed said...

One more thing, I think it's just as likely that Michelle Obama could be finishing off her second term in 2036. She would be 71 in 2035, and that's very possible to conceive of her being elected at age 64 in 2028.

Justin said...

I liked the ending, as compared to the BSG ending, which I thought was terrible.

Rather than saying that none of what happened to Sam Tyler/Hyde, the entire 1973 sequence was Sam's way of working through his personal relationships with the people that comprised the clue, especially and most significantly his father and Gretchen Mol's character.

So rather than just being a 'it was all a dream' ending, it actually had some emotional resonance.

It was an earned ending.

Michael said...

Something I caught last week, but never got around to mentioning anywhere. The detective talked to Sam about watching Angie Dickinson on "Police Woman", but that show didn't start until September 1974 while this show was set in 1973.

Toby O'B said...

Regarding the identity of 2035's President Obama:

1) Couldn't the Constitution be amended to allow for someone younger to be President by then?

2) Is Michelle Obama's father still alive? I never hear him mentioned in the news. The President's father was mentioned by Frank Morgan as not doing well back in Chicago, which is why she wasn't there.

Anna said...

Ed, the head-fake Alan was referring to is when the DCI from Hyde told Sam that 1973 was the real world and that he had amnesia and created a delusion that he was from 2008, and then the DCI took him to the cemetery and told him his name was really Sam Williams and they took the name "Sam Tyler" off of one of the gravestones there to make his new identity for his undercover operation with Gene's division.

Ed said...

Thank you very much, Anna, I had forgotten that scene.

But I'm going to have to go with what the creator said about the future being the reality and that Sam died and drove off to the afterlife.

Anonymous said...

I didn't watch every episode of this series. I watched the first few episodes, caught an occasional episode in between, then watched the finale.

As such, I can't speak for constant viewers, but for me... I liked the oddball ending.

It was fairly clear from the beginning that the '70s experience was imaginary. One reason I didn't bother to watch most of the show was that I had assumed that if they ever ended the show (and half the shows never even bother), they would fall back on the predictable "wakes up in the hospital" ending towards which they seemed to be heading. One way or the other, he was going to "wake up" from the '70s dream.

As such, I was pleasantly surprised by him waking up on a future Mars mission instead of on (modern day) earth - particularly given the show's title.

If nothing else, one has to enjoy the irony of the fact that the answer to the mystery was sitting in front of our faces all this time ("Life on Mars"), and we didn't see it.

Hoosier Paul said...

I watched every episode of this show, and enjoyed it quite a bit, but I only found the finale mildly baffling and annoying. I think the short length of the series, and the fact that we've known it was canceled for a while now, helped lower my expectations.

However ... if this show had gone for two or three seasons, and then they had pulled this ending? I would be furious.

Sean said...

Hey, most shows of this kind don't even GET to have a proper ending (Pushing Daisies, Eli Stone, Daybreak), so just the fact they could do something that was wacky, but interesting, is worthy of some appreciation in my book.

I think if we had been allowed to spend a few seasons with these characters, instead of 1 short one, the ending would've been more resonant than outright bizarre.

Unknown said...

I think if we had been allowed to spend a few seasons with these characters, instead of 1 short one, the ending would've been more resonant than outright bizarre.

My wild guess is that this show was headed for Mars by the end of season 1 even if it had been a better success and renewed for next season. Mars would simply have been the cliffhanger instead of the ending. Next fall they could have brought the characters back anywhere and anywhen they pleased, maybe even on the holodeck in the 24th century, hoping we'd find it all so very clever.

Kenrick said...

i haven't seen either incarnations. life on mars looked like a well-made show, but when my roommate suggested the possibility that the guy might just be in a coma, i decided not to watch it.

so apparently, that was the UK ending. it's somewhat poetic in a sad kind of way that he'd find his coma life much more fascinating than real life, but it's also... kinda pathetic.

i think the us mars ending could be much more interesting, especially from a scifi perspective. if they made the point that he's supposed to learn and experience something to prepare himself for mars along the way, while he's in stasis, that could be very cool.

anyway, since i didn't actually watch the show, you can pretty much ignore my comment.

Unknown said...

Some great posts here. My thoughts:

- How long before TV Squad comes up with a Top Ten list of series/season endings?

- Disappointed in the ending? OK ..... Mad? Pissed? Come on, people. That's like complaining about bad oral sex (is there such a thing?).

- Count me as a bit disappointed. But they could've done much worse.


Nate said...

I'd like to register a non popular vote that I really got a kick out of this ending... and found it rather... Newhart-esque.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the fictional Obama presidency in 2035: the episode specifically referred not only to the president's father, but her sister as well. Making it pretty obvious (I don't feel like googling Michelle to see if she has a sister - I know I've seen her brother) it is one of Barack's daughters they were referring to. Lazy writing.

I was also impressed with how NASA had evolved - would an astronaut with a pony tail be allowed now?

Michael said...

I was also impressed with how NASA had evolved - would an astronaut with a pony tail be allowed now?

Women astronauts with long hair usually put it back in a pony tail. If you don't, the hair tends to expand out in all directions (no gravity). They pull it back so it doesn't get caught in anything.

Here is astronaut Karen Nyberg last summer with her hair in a pony tail, vs loose.

Rachel Oakley said...

Two days later, and at random points during the day I still find myself saying, "They were LITERALLY looking for LIFE on MARS?"

It's the stupidest thing I've I've ever seen, and I've seen the movie "Super Babies: Baby Geniuses 2."

Sarah said...

MAD. Very very mad.

As someone who really enjoyed the US version and was extremely disappointed with the cancelation, this is how they ended it? With a "Dallas" ending? It was all a dream? He dreamt it in 2035?

I would have been thrilled if the show ended with Sam choosing to stay in 1973 and the viewers never finding out what was real (1973 or 2008) but this?

The more I think about it, the more annoyed I get.

Joe Cobb said...

Stunned and saddened. It was a great show, with a fantastic soundtrack.

But to end on such a horrible, ill fitting, and campy note will leave me scarred.

Chuck Nottheshow said...

It was horrible...beneath contempt. I thought it was a weak effort at a hasty wrap-up before reading in EW that it was planned all-along (hence the mini-Mars rovers)--I could forgive haste but not an obvious hack job. The panning shot of the cast in spacesuits preparing to walk on Mars made me sad for the actors--and frightened for their agents. Good show, decent final episode, and phenomenally awful ending.

Anonymous said...

I quite enjoyed the Mars ending for it's Twilight Zone twist. I DID NOT see that coming. Also it was worth it to see Gretchen Moll in futuristic styled black hair.
I enjoyed the characters immensely and it was a great little ride that came to an ending on it's own terms. Unlike so many shows that just stop.

Anonymous said...

From Jan:

I watched the BBC version and loved it—especially the ending. I watched the first one or two episodes of the American version and—once again, as I do so often—wondered why we had to remake the British series, which I much preferred. So then I stopped watching it because I had to cut back someplace, and I had found it to be a disappointment. I was curious about the finale, however, so I did watch the entire episode last night. I certainly agree with Zack Smith, who said, “if it had just stopped with Sam turning down the voice on the phone, but noooooo.” The rest of the episode didn’t seem too bad, although they did play fast and loose with time: as someone else mentioned, Annie wouldn’t have been THAT old in 2008, and the whole Obama thing didn’t fit (by the way, Toby O’B—Michelle Obama’s father is dead). The BBC version is coming out this summer on DVD—yeah!—and I already have my copy pre-ordered. I guess I don’t feel like I missed too much not watching the American version—especially after the ending. I agree with you 100 % on this one, Alan.

Anonymous said...

@Tom Sanford, regarding thought #2.

Oh, yes.
Definitely, yes, such a thing exists.

K J Gillenwater said...

Absolutely hated it. Yes, the first 50 minutes were great. Things moved along, maybe too quickly, but that was understandable. I was glad I was getting an ending of some kind...and then...WTF?

That was just plain insulting. And I *would* equate it with the snow globe ending. Because this ending, too, meant the whole season, all the stories, everything, had NO POINT whatsoever. If "Tom" was his dad, then who was the dad in 1973? It just made no sense.

In comparison, the British version made me CRY with happiness and sadness. I felt REAL emotions watching that show. And I thought it was brilliant and brave of them to create such a risky ending.

Thanks, ABC, for just destroying it for me. Thanks a lot.

black magic woman said...

It is technically possible for Obama's eldest daughter to be President in 2035. She couldn't have been elected as VP in 2032 (too young), but if the VP were to step down and she was designated as the new VP and the President stepped down, etc., then she could be Preident in 2035.

Gerald Ford for 2035.

Unknown said...

Alan, you nailed it. It felt like a good wrap-up for the series up until he wakes up in that space pod. That really cheapened the series for me.

It really felt rushed. Ray and Gene even had their long hair tied up in noticable pony tails. And the obama reference, yeesh.

Jason Potapoff said...

Not having seen the UK series at all, I was able to go into this show entirely fresh. Had I seen the UK ending I probably would have reacted badly to the US ending. But since I didn't I was able to take it in stride. I think they could have done a better ending but it seemed to fit with the general silly feeling they flirted with throughout the series.

After watching the show I was left with the feeling that this was a "hedge our bets ending". In that if the show was cancelled then they had a true (if somewhat crappy) ending to the show. But if they returned for a second season then they would have made the whole Mars mission thing a coma induced dream and Sam would be back in 1973.

What likely helped me with this is I wasn't watching the series intellectually. That is I wasn't trying to work out why Sam was back in 1973 or which time was real and which was the dream. I just took that as a way to get us into 1973 and didn't really care for why (much like when I read a Super Hero story I don't spend time trying to work out why a guy can fly or shoot blasts of energy out of his hands, etc. They just can, it's the conceit of the story, trying to work out why just ruins the enjoyment of the story). Quantum Leap taught me that it's best to just enjoy the ride and not try and work out why
the character was sent back in time, is leaping from body to body, etc. Because 99% of the time the reveal is going to disappoint and in some way hurt the impact of the individual episodes. So screw it. The fun in these types of shows is just enjoying the ride and forget about the mystery of why the premise happened. IN the end what makes for a good story are all the beats within each episode and not the big mystery.

Now granted had i watched the UK series, or if the US series had a more serious tone to it (the fact that it had a very tongue in cheek feel to it set up the US ending for me), I might have been mad. But considering how silly the show took itself I never for once took the show that seriously and expected the big reveal to be silly.

But perhaps I was watching the show/getting something entirely different out of it than everyone else.

Now had they done this for Journey Man I would have been pissed. But that one took itself more seriously so it needed a more serious explanation for the mystery behind the premise. But Life on Mars US always had a tongue in cheek tone so this is pretty much on par. Although the highs of the show when it elevated itself to something a bit more serious and even partially intellectual that just reminded us that the show could have been much better had they gone for a more serious telling of the premise. But since they didn't the ending worked for me.

Although less so now that I know that they knew they were cancelled. My acceptance of this ending is based around the idea that they wrote it thinking there was a chance they would have to continue on for another season but just as much of a chance that it was be the series finale so they needed to hedge their bets and have it end with closure but with room to do another season. Considering that they knew the series was going to be cancelled then there's no reason why they couldn't have gone with a more solid ending, like ending with Sam deciding to stay in 1973 as was suggested. Or having Ray and the other cop have died from their shooting, or some other more serious and more finale ending that didn't need to leave room for another season.

Steve said...

Preface: I have not seen the UK version.

I thought the show ended in the only possible manner.

I loved the first half of the season. I thought it was well-acted, novel, and intriguing. However, after the long hiatus, the show seemed to lose its focus. It became a standard cop show, and less about Sam Tyler trying to return to 2008.

The finale ended exactly how it needed to end. Even though Sam was in love with Maya and only wanted to return to her, the focus changed halfway through to his love for Annie and the 125. So he could not just wake up and return to 2008 because the viewers have no connection to the people in 2008.

However, I would have been furious if he just stayed in 1973. The show spent too much time with weird flashes, robots, voices et al for Sam to just decide to stay in 1973. The original premise of the show asks the viewer to find out why Sam's in 1973 and how he gets back, and the show would have violated that premise if he just decided to stay in 1973.

Now, he needed to end up with Annie and in present time. With that, it ended in the only way it could.

I liked the ending. I thought it was clever how it all worked out, and I think it was necessary to tie a bow around a show like this.

Steve said...

don't know why my original comment didn't post.

I think the show ended as well as it could. Preface: I have not seen the UK version and knew nothing about it.

I thought the show was awesome until the long hiatus. It was great to see him struggle to find a way back home to 2008 and to Maya, the love of his life.

After the hiatus, it turned into more of a regular procedural and the show turned its focus towards Sam's feelings for Annie and the 125.

The show left itself with a dilemma. It could not just end with Sam staying in 1973 because it would have violated the original premise of the show: how did Sam get stuck in 1973 and how does he get back. I, for one, would have been furious if he just stayed in 1973 because it would have been a bait and switch. The show was advertising a show about returning home, and then selling an internal realization.

However, Sam also could not just return to Lisa Bonet and 2008. The audience has no connection to her or to 2008, and it would have been meaningless to see Sam wake up in 2008.

So, the show had to figure out a way for Sam to return to "present" or "actual" time, but have all of the characters (Gene, Ray, Annie) be there as well.

I liked the word play of "Gene Hunt" and I thought they did the whole Wizard of Oz homage as well as possible. It worked.

I didn't think it was a St. Elsewhere type ending because the show established from the outset that there was something sci-fi / imaginary about the whole show. He travelled back in time, and there were many noises and sounds and flashes of blinding light that indicated he was in a dream or coma. Hell, there were imaginary robots crawling into his ears!!

So, it's not as if it were a normal show that just pulled the rug out from under the audience's eyes.

I just wish the show never had that long hiatus.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit that i haven't seen the US version of this show, but the UK version and it's ending is so elegant and perfectly executed that I refuse to watch the US version on principal (it's currently showing on Australian TV). The final episode of the UK version takes your breath away and thanks to Alan's review of what sounds like a ghastly remake I won't have to put myself through it. To everyone that hasn't seen the original, see it and it will exceed anything that the US version came up with.