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Life on Mars (US)


Reviews: 1
Americanized and GutlessRating: 3 likes, 1 dislikes
Having watched and enjoyed the original British series during it's initial run, I looked forward to this Americanized remake. Differences in writing style between British and American television prepared me for the fact that at least some of the subtle layering of story elements found in the original would be missing. I also expected some of the characterizations to be truncated to accommodate the shorter episode length of American TV. What I didn't expect was how much these elements , plus great casting, made the original as great a series as it was and worthy of adaption and the lack of makes this adaption just above mediocre.

The mystery running through the original in it's first season was what had really happened. Did Sam Travel back in time? Is he dead? Or just in a coma? There was suggestions that pointed to all three of these possibilities and it wasn't until the second and final season, when the producers determined that they we're ending the series, that the series began to point to the final revelation of what really happened. This episode gives the answer in the first 30 minutes. The various options are presented as throw-away comments in a conversation between Sam And Annie. There is a feeble attempt to recreate the mystery in the final five minutes, but it seems forced and, as a result, fails. The revelation that Sam is, in fact, in a coma, gives this series more of the same feel as the British sequel to 'Life on Mars' entitled "Ashes To Ashes" where a policewoman is shot in the head and travels back to the 1980's. In that series, the main character works on the assumption that she's in a coma and moments from death. Sam Tyler's confusion in the original is replaced here by the belief that he is in a coma, but can still affect the outside world. The result is no mystery, hence who cares? Add to the disinterest, the fact that American episodic television is 6-10 minutes shorter per episode than British television resulting in truncated stories and you have the episode's next problem.

This episode starts off following the British premiere episode almost scene for scene. Sam Tyler is introduced as the head detective of a L.A precinct in 2007. He has been romantically involved with a fellow officer, Maya, who he has had a falling out with, etc.. There was even some improvement over the original in the fact that when Maya disappears while searching the house of murder suspect, she is there because Sam ordered it. She isn't following her own hunch as in the original. This adds an element of guilt to Sam's character and drives him to solve a series of murders in the 1970's that may be connected to the 2007 case. After Sam is hit by a car and wakes in 1972, the episode more loosely follows the original, but becomes muddle due to 10 minutes less story time. The satisfying ending of the original, in which the future killer is identified and put away for life thanks to Sam and Gene's tampering with evidence to stop an insanity plea, is replaced here by speculation that the killer will get off with an insanity plea. Where the original left Sam with hope that he may have saved Maya, this version with it's watered down justice and coma revelation leaves Sam with an unresolved outcome and the viewer wondering "Why bother?"

The final problem is casting. While the actor and actress playing Sam Tyler and Anne Cartwright are fine, the normally great Colm Meaney (Star Trek Deep Space Nine) lacks the physical presence to play Chief Detective Gene Hunt. He is mean, gruff and tough, but unlike the original where he was feared and respected, everyone smarts off to him, almost goading him. In the original, Gene was the guiding force, in this version, he's a side kick to Sam at best and window dressing at worst.

Even with it's problems, I'll watch a little longer. ABC has announced a new show-runner for the series. They see the need for improvement. I'll give them a chance. In the original, they have great source material to work with.

Review posted on Thursday, June 19th 2008 at 7:50 am

Classification: Scripted
Genre: Crime | Drama | Sci-Fi
Status: Canceled
Network: ABC ( USA)
Airs: Wednesdays at 10:00 pm
Runtime: 60 Minutes
Premiere: October 09, 2008
Ended: April 01, 2009
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