Television Times – ‘Life On Mars’


Although I may be somewhat “late to the game” on this count, this doesn’t make the programme any less amazing.

Me and an associate began watching (she insisted) the first series on Sunday evening. It is now Thursday and we have four episodes left to go of the second series. I LOVE THIS PROGRAMME. Despite not being accustomed to cop shows, and even less cop shows from the 70s, this is one of the best things I’ve seen in ages. I won’t bother with a long description as I’m sure the majority of people know the basic idea behind it, but cop in 2006 (or thereabouts) gets hit by car, falls into a coma, wakes up in 1973. “If I can work out the reason [as to why it’s now 1973], maybe I can get back [to 2006]”, so he tells us repeatedly. He is confused and frustrated, his sanity is frequently doubted and no one really likes him, apart from a female officer called Annie. Sounds odd and possibly very bad, but everything goes back in time, and it’s brilliant.

That’s not to say it is without its demerits. I am not a fan of John Simm (the main actor), and his character (Sam Tyler) is more than a little irritating at times. But maybe this is because GENE HUNT RULES EVERY SCENE HE IS IN.

But why would anyone ever love Gene Hunt? The DCI is racist, sexist, homophobic, violent, bordering alcoholic, not one to think it’s bad to bring a hooker he has just “nicked” to a swinging party, a semi-bent copper who is more interested in results than the right way to get them… It looks bad for him really. However, he is one of the coolest characters ever to be invented. He does, somehow, have a very caring underlying trait to his personality, and you would never feel unprotected if he was heading your team. Indeed, to stand up to him as much as he does, I’m rather surprised Sam Tyler has not been snapped in two a great many times.

The genius behind this programme I feel lies in a lot of qualities that you don’t find in many others. Or if you do, they are very few and far between, and usually only quality is possessed, not as many as ‘Life On Mars’ has. First of all, the script is incredible.

“I’m Gene Hunt. Your DCI. It’s 1973. Nearly dinner time. I’m ‘aving hoops!”

It’s a brilliantly quotable script – a charm only found in things like ‘Black Books’ or ‘Family Guy’. Secondly, the writers have the advantage of writing retrospectively, and the added bonus of hindsight can prove hilarious. Like Sam Tyler introducing himself as “Tony Blair” at a party, and Gene Hunt as “Gordon Brown”, and being able to turn a regular pub into a sports pub for the Grand National (and Sam Tyler tipping that Red Rum would win).  Thirdly, the music is amazing, and it must be a lovely job choosing which of your favourite 70s songs to go on the soundtrack. Fourthly, the unbelievably well-researched costuming and props (etc) make for an exceptionally believable programme, from the fashions of 1973, to the authentic Party Seven can and the cuisine at the time (black forest gateaux and treacle tart etc). In fact I think the only weak thing about it IS John Simm, but he is still perfectly acceptable and probably would be quite good if he wasn’t upstaged by Philip Glenister all the time. A strong supporting cast is a charm, but an overpowering one can be bad. It’s all fine here though, due to Gene Hunt being awesome. I feel the fact there’s only 16 episodes in existence is definitely a bonus – not too many to spoil it, not too few to be frustrating, and just the right number to include the staple cop drama events (ie. bombings, murders, hostage-taking etc)

I am also very happy about the inclusion of historical and political events that occurred at the time – this can also prove to be comical, but also a good reflection on what happened. It is also likely that most of the writers lived through some of the events, so can write a believable portrayal of it based on what they experienced, not on hearing about it many years later.

Although there’s only four episodes of the second series to go, there is still three series of Ashes To Ashes, although I am dubious about this as reviews have stated it is not quite the same or as good as Life On Mars. But it can’t hurt to look, and there’s still the tying up of ends for this series too. It should be watched by everyone. And considering how little I actually like things (and recommend them), you would be missing out not to get involved.

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5 Responses

  1. First, let me say I’m happy you are encouraging people to watch this fantastic TV-show. The contents of your review, however, makes me wonder if you’ve actually seen it properly. To say that the “weak thing” about this is John Simm, makes, I’m sad to say, no sense whatsoever. At least you admit to being predisposed not to like him, which seems to suggest he wouldn’t be able to please you no matter what he did with the part.

    I’m afraid I cannot quite take the rest of your review seriously when you trash a Bafta-nominated performance so amazing that it helped create an instant classic while leaving a huge shadow over the follow-up show “Ashes To Ashes,” despite Philip’s fantastic turn as Gene Hunt. It is purely John’s acting, together with the chemistry between him and Phil, that makes this show work, that makes 1973 seem tangible and not just a fairy-tale world and that makes you actually care about what happens to Sam.

    The realism, subtlety and genuine emotion John bring to this part are awe-inspiring, and I can honestly say I’ve never seen an actor perform as well as this in any TV-show. I had never heard of John before I watched Life On Mars, so this is not fangirl-speak. Several times throughout the first and second season John left me breathless. I find it hard to believe someone could honestly think he was only “acceptable” after this tour-de-force. It makes me wonder what kind of actors you actually like.

    • Frankly (and firstly), I am worried by someone who refers to an actor by their first name only, and then declares it not to be a ‘fan-girl’ speech.

      You’ve never seen an actor as good as this on television? I suggest you watch some more television!

      • Hey genius, she referred to both actors by their first names. Pay attention. And something as silly as this makes you worry? How do you get out of bed each day?

  2. I was merely stating that whilst Philip Glenister appears to actually be Gene Hunt, John Simm is still being John Simm, acting as Sam Tyler. I believe Philip Glenister gives a much better performance, and therefore those are the kind of actors I like.

    • Where oh where to start? If you really think John Simm was just being John Simm, then there really isn’t much to say that will get through that thick noggin of yours. How can you assume who the real John Simm is? Is it Danny Kavanagh from The Lakes or Jip from Human Traffic? Or maybe The Master? I mean, really, how can you know who he really is? As far as I know, Glenister is a big guy with a big mouth, just like his character. LoM isn’t really the show for you. You need a nice, simple good guys, bad guys show that doesn’t require a shred of thought. The creators of LoM have said the show was about Sam’s journey, and not the action sequences. If you don’t get that, if you weren’t unbelievably moved when he leapt off the roof, then really, there is nothing to say that could enlighten you.

      Oh, and if mouthy guys turn you on, please get hold of NYPD Blue. Andy Sipowicz was doing the Gene Genie act from 1993 until 2005. Get, maybe the Gene Hunt character isn’t quite as original as you thought. As an American, I thought Hunt was funny and sometimes annoying, but never shocking. I guess we’re not quite as insulated as are our friends across the Atlantic. But American shows rarely give us characters we can truly care about, characters like Sam Tyler.

      And to set the record straight … I wasn’t aware of John Simm until a friend shared Life on Mars with me. Now I am a fan, massive, in fact.

      Oh, and the fact that you need to clarify that you are not a feminist speaks volumes. Try looking up the word.

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