Tuesday, March 28, 2006

My Review of Life On Mars 1x01: "Episode 1"

Written by Matthew Graham
Directed by Bharat Nalluri

Sam: “What are you doing?”
Annie: “We all feel like jumping sometimes Sam, only we don’t because we’re not cowards.”

With US viewers set to get their own seemingly dodgy version of this show, I thought it was high time that I dusted off the DVDs and started reviewing. A part of the reason why I’m taking on the show is to kill the summer boredom but I also like this show a lot more than I thought I would.

In 2006 we have Sam Tyler, the very man determined to put the likes of Colin Raimes behind bars. Colin has supposedly abducted and killed two young women and given that he’s an incredibly disturbed individual, it’s no wonder that Sam and his girlfriend Maya want this sort of bloke of the streets.

The problem is that Colin has an airtight alibi which is enough to get him out of a police cell. Maya blatantly disobeys Sam in her own determination to get some dirt on Colin. When I watched that scene for the first time, I did primarily side with Maya but I can understand why Sam was so determined to take Maya off the case.

It’s not that Maya is bad at her job; it’s just that her impulsive streak has a downside. The downside being her winding up missing and Sam beside himself with worry over whether or not Colin is planning on making her his next victim. So far into the first episode, all of this stuff wouldn’t look out of place on any other cop shows ever made.

However the only difference here is that Sam gets hit by a car and winds up back in 1973. As a leading man, John Simm is brilliant as Sam and although there are later episodes where he’ll really shine, it’s good that he hits the ground running in his first episode. After all, Sam is designed to be our everyman of the series.

His reactions to being thrust 33 years into the past are pretty natural. Once he realises that mobile phones have never been heard of, Sam makes a brilliant impression with his new colleagues by freaking out and insulting. Okay so if something like that were to happen to me, I’d think I would freak out too. Sam isn’t really here of his volition and he’s also pretty desperate to get out of here as well.

Aside from Sam, the most powerful character in this show is Gene Hunt. Philip Glenister is a bloody revelation in the role and Gene makes a brilliant impression by giving Sam a swift punch into the stomach. Of course, Gene is also politically incorrect in more ways than one, which has made him into something of a hero with TV critics as well.

It doesn’t take much to see that with personalities so different that Sam and Gene would clash. It’s not that Sam is a touchy feely sensitive type of copper but it’s more the fact that Gene’s total disregard for anyone he views as scum or beneath him just appals Sam.

When the interviewing for Dora was going on, Sam didn’t like the way Gene threatened her. Of course like Sam, we could also see Gene’s treatment of Dora to be appalling but the woman was so damn annoying, I actually found myself siding with Gene. In a lot of ways he’s the boss from hell with archaic methods but he’s also an effective force of nature as well.

The interlinking aspects between 2006 and 1973 are the missing women and their deaths. Both have the same patterns and it’s neat to see Sam use his modern day policing in an attempt to figure who, how and why these women are being killed. It’s interesting due to the way it often confuses both Chris and Ray as well.

Sam uses the benefit of Annie’s BA in Psychology to try and explain to his new colleague why this man is kidnapping and murdering these women. It gives Annie a great moment to show off her cleverness even if you’ve got the likes of Chris and Gene undermining Annie as a direct result.

Given the timeline it’s impossible for Colin Raimes to be doing all of these murders but its not impossible for his equally disturbed next-door neighbour Edward Kramer to be doing them. When Dora goes missing and Sam and Annie discover soundproofing in a record shop, this plot gets solved a lot quicker.

It helps that Gene is clever in using gentle persuasion in getting information from Colin’s grandmother Beryl about Edward and while the arrest is a nice touch, you do wonder how this really will impact Sam and in particular Maya. You get the feeling that back in 2006; Maya could very well be dead.

In fact throughout the episode you’ve got Sam hearing voices of doctors talking about his physical state in the real world. Sam raises the questions about whether or not he’s either gone mad or in a coma. It’s hard to actually think which one is likely, although I do like the “travelled back in time” theory as well.

One of the cruellest things in the episode was having Annie’s ex-boyfriend Neil trick Sam into taking extreme action into trying to wake up. I really wanted to punch the guy’s lights out. I think he did it out of jealousy because although Sam acted weird towards Annie, she was quite taken with him.

It’s also down to her that Sam doesn’t throw himself of a building either. Annie makes some perceptive comments about the desire to run away from her problems and there’s even one scene when Annie says something so simplistic but at the same it’s enough to make Sam think that this world he’s been suddenly thrown into is as real as anything else.

Also in “Episode 1”

There was no proper title sequence for the episode even though the cast listing opened things up.

Maya: “Screw the psych evaluation. You used to believe in gut feeling. What happened?”
Sam: “Nothing.”

Going by Sam and Annie’s conversation, Sam was born in 1969. Well he did say he was four back in 1973 so it’s a good guess. John Simm himself was born in 1970.

Sam: “Who are you?”
Gene: “Gene Hunt, your DCI and its 1973. It’s almost lunch time. I’m having hoops.”

Sam: “I was four in 1973. Hit me.”
Annie: “Don’t tempt me.”

Annie is mentioned as a WPC in this episode. I like that Liz White gives the character a nice mix of vulnerability but with a steely side to her as well.

Annie (to Sam): “Soon as I walk out that door, poof, I’m gone. Here I go. Ready, steady. Get some rest.”

Sam (re Dora): “Brief me in full. What do I need to know?”
Gene: “She’s a pain in the arse.”

Matthew Graham mentioned in the Season One DVD extras that Julie Gardner was responsible for this series being commissioned; despite that other time travelling show Doctor Who coming out the year before.

Nelson: “Are you catching flies brother?”
Sam: “Which part of my subconscious do you hail from?”

Sam (re the killer’s motives): “This time you’re positive enough to kiss her.”
Annie: “Only you won’t be.”
Chris: “I look at your lips all day Cartwright. Should I turn myself in?”

I like the use of TV and the Test Card Girl. Both of them add further surrealism to the series.

Sam: “You don’t scare me Hunt.”
Gene: “It’s an interesting point you raise. Allow me to retort.”

Sam: “Follow the yellow brick road.”
Annie: “And what will you find? Mist? A big cliff? A white door?”
Sam: “I don’t know.”

When Sam was looking at the younger Colin Raimes after Edward’s arrest, it did look like Colin might have recognised him.

Gene (to some kids): “Anything happens to this motor and I’ll come over to your houses and stamp on all your toys. Got it? Good kids.”

Gene: “Welcome to the team.”
Sam: “Thanks Guv.”

Standout music: Apart from the obvious “Life On Mars” from David Bowie, I’d also go for “Rat Rat Blue” by Deep Purple and “Baba O’Riley” by The Who.

As opening episodes go, this is certainly a strong introduction. It’s easy to see why this series hailed so much critical acclaim because nostalgia aside, there’s something enjoyable about watching a cop show that isn’t slick, over polished or trying desperately to be too gory. Plus the dialogue alone is just perfect.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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