Television Times – Ashes to Ashes (an introduction).


Or, why I love Gene Hunt.

So. The great debate. Should this spin-off from Life On Mars ever have been allowed to occur – does it taint its marvellous predecessor – or, does it overshadow and outrun Life On Mars, and viewers are very happy that there are many more hours of Gene Hunt to be enjoyed?

As much as I liked Life On Mars, I think I have to hand it to Ashes. This is a hugely controversial point, but I find Keeley Hawes (DI Alex Drake) gives a much more convincing performance than the lead in Life On Mars, John Simm, who plays Sam Tyler. This may be slightly down to the characters themselves, as Alex Drake knows where she is, she has already read about the characters, and she seems, therefore, less insane than Sam Tyler. The viewer is able to relax more in this series, and enjoy the plot lines, the acting, the script – everything really – as, in Life On Mars, you’re not constantly thinking “Oh GOD he’s GOING TO DIE” or “Just shut up and enjoy the 70s maybe?”, and you’re not living in fear that Alex Drake is going to cease to exist because of everything that has happened before. So it is a more relaxing and enjoyable series as a whole, I prefer the performance and character of Alex Drake, and aside from all of that, you still get all the goodness that was first created in Life On Mars, but in the 80s with (potentially) better music. What’s not to like?!

Criticisms have ranged from Keeley Hawes not delivering a believable enough performance (despite being nominated for various awards), to the idea that the writers were just doing what they did with Life On Mars, but more of it, and with a woman. Now I’m not a feminist, but Keeley Hawes does make a decent police officer, and even if you don’t like that, surely the hilarious tension between Alex Drake and Gene Hunt makes for very entertaining viewing? Much more so than the love-hate relationship between Gene Hunt and Sam Tyler anyway.

Now despite the character of Gene Hunt having reformed slightly, he stills retains what makes him him:

“I am just trying to get this man arrested for murder, if that makes me a fascist, then Heil bloody Hitler!”

And despite having written this with only two out of the three original writers, I feel the script is still just as good, if not better than Life On Mars. Ashes also includes one of my favourites ‘romances’ (what a hideous word in this context), between DC Chris Skelton and WPC Sharon Granger (‘Shaz’), which is SO ADORABLE YOU JUST WANT THEM TO RUN OFF INTO A SUNSET. That paralleled with the somewhat explosive relationship between Alex Drake and Gene Hunt is particularly well done.

Basically, Ashes is just as good, if not miles better than, Life On Mars, and since I have now caught up with all available series (within about 2 weeks), I shall be reviewing each new episode of series 3, shown on Fridays, BBC 1, at 9pm. Watch it bitches. Or bastards.

(And I’d like to point out I chose the series 2 trailer due to the awesome driving and genius music, not for the violence)

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.