Monday, August 21, 2006

New TV Obsession

"Course, when I was a copper we didn't have cars. We had bikes, and if we were lucky, a whistle. Sometimes we didn't even have trousers. Patrolled hundreds of square miles on our bikes in our underpants on our own...." © since time inmemoriam, my grandfather.

I know it is summer and that I should be outside until all hours of the night enjoying balmy temperatures but I have become hooked on a splendid TV show from the mother country shown on BBC America called Life on Mars. Not only is the show named after my favorite Bowie song and is set in the year of my birth, its also a fantastically mindless cop drama with very few pretentions to real-life relevance. As for a basic synopsis, here's what Wikipedia has to say:

"The format of this show mixes time travel with police drama, with the central character being modern-day policeman Sam Tyler (played by John Simm), who after being hit by a car in 2006 finds himself back in 1973. There he is working for Manchester and Salford Police CID under DCI Gene Hunt (played by Philip Glenister). Over the course of the series, Tyler faces various culture clashes, most frequently regarding the difference in approach to policing between Tyler - a product of a more politically correct twenty-first century approach to policing, where suspect rights and the chain and preservation of forensic evidence are more stringently observed - and his 1973 counterparts, who work in a police force where sexism and racism, police brutality and institutionalised minor corruption are regarded more casually as routine parts of the job."

Believe me, they make it sound much darker than it really is. It is crackingly silly in the way many British dramas used to be, and despite the obligatory moments of violence inserted to help it compete with its slicker American competitors and the obvious attempts at emulating The Sweeney it seems to work. The plotting is inconsistent and trite as the writers fail to balance the now standard issue psychological subplot with their itch to have the characters charge about in unmarked souped-up Ford Cortinas*. The main character, Sam, is a complete drip, prone to humourless interludes about his "mam" and modern policing. The foreshadowing of plot points is so overbearing that the producers would be better served by putting up a summary kyron each episode before the opening credits and allowing more time for Ford Cortina driving. What redeems this show and puts it on my current favorites list is that the supporting cast understand all of the above and therefore go at their scenes like Alan Rickman playing the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood.

There's comedy moustaches and comedy sports coats. There's male costume jewelry and an ashtray on every flat surface. There's the afore-mentioned vintage cars. There's every copper cliche in the book and the added bonus of those clunky time-travel jokes beloved of the Back to the Future franchise (i.e. protagonist inadvertently "invents" a very common modern object while trapped in the past). There's camel-hair coats and polyester suits. There's fisticuffs set to a glam rock soundtrack. It's almost enough to make you forget about the mopeing lead actor and his crappy "is it a coma/is it time travel?" arc. I think I've found a new fave.

If you have the increasingly pathetic BBC America (Benny Hill? Benny Hill? Did I move to Bulgaria in my sleep?) on your cable system or fancy checking Netflix to see if it's out on DVD I highly recommend you track this show down.

(*The Ford Cortina: family car of Clan Weasel for much of the 70s and early 80s)


Anonymous said...

I've been meaning to catch that On Demand. I'll be catching up on episodes. It looked kinda silly in a cool way but it also looked very intriguing. I know I won't be able to catch the pilot episode because it's not displayed on the Demand list but maybe they'll add it in the future.
I've tried a couple of TV shows on BBC on Demand. I didn't like Hex at all!!!!

weasel said...

Hex looked like Buffy without the jokes or Anthony Head.

Anonymous said...

I love it!!!
I think he is in a coma.
Why 1973?
Is the girl and the clown on the test pattern part of real british pop culture?

He is such a likeable character and his frustrations about the lack of available technology is funny and something you dont see much on time travel movies-if this is a time travel show...I don't know....I love that I have questions

the music rocks

Live and let die for the chase scene was awesome
i beleive i too have a new fave

weasel said...

Glad you liked it!

1973 as it was an epoch making year (just ask Listmaker, Mondale, and me).

The test card girl and clown has been around for years (according to spods who actually follow this sort of thing, from 1967 to today, although downtime is much less frequent in the age of 24 hour TV). When I were a wee lad, this lass and her clown would come on at lunchtime to indicate the end of children's (indeed, all) programming until school let out. This could be one of the roots of my morbid fear of clowns.

Sam is a nice chap but a bit of a wet blanket, eh? His boss on the other hand is Andy Sipowicz with senses of humour and irony. And what is it about time travel and the name Sam?