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Walking Through a Sunken Dream: Sam Tries to Figure Out What's Real on "Life on Mars"

Sigh. I was really hoping by now that the writers of ABC's Life on Mars would have stopped cribbing from the original UK series but was sadly disappointed to see that last night's episode ("The Real Adventures of the Unreal Sam Tyler"), the series' second, once again borrowed way too heavily from the original script.

Last night's episode of Life on Mars followed the squad as they attempted to take down the organizer of a series of armed robberies at local check cashing stores, introduced Lee Tergesen as Assistant District Attorney Lee Crocker, and had Gene and Sam coming to blows (yet again) when Sam's plan put one of their own (Heather Matarazzo's June) in harm's way.

To me, this series needs to be a hell of a lot more clever by half as much of the action and plotting seems predictable and pedestrian. The fact that Sam would go to the ADA and tell him that he suspects that the robberies are an inside job and implicate members of his own precinct before even considering the possibility that the "policeman" involved with Kim Trent are in fact impostors was absolutely ludicrous. (As was Sam's belief that Ray would be helping him out.) Sam Tyler is meant to be a brilliant detective with an innate ability to solve crimes; Jason O'Mara's Sam seems just as thick as the crooks he's trying to catch if he can't surmise that the cops are fake or that Ray could have a hidden agenda.

(Aside: Sam's real/unreal bit got real old, real fast, so writers better come up with a better way of expressing his exploration of his new world quickly. And producers would be wise to invest in a little more SFX time to fully render the Red Rover as it looked laughably bad on screen.)

I was waiting to see just when the series' writers would introduce a cliched hippie chick and was surprised to see that it was as early as the second episode. Having her turn up stark naked in the hallway of Sam's apartment building was a little too convenient as was her silly habit of talking to the clouds and the stars (the fact that Sam would keep repeating these gems of wisdom as Truth made me laugh out loud). Silly name? Check. (Windy, no less.) Penchant for putting pot into homemade lasagna? Check. Tendency to wander around in the nude or into a virtual stranger's apartment without knocking? Check and check.

It's clear that Windy is meant to be a potential love interest for Sam while Annie and Lee begin to date (beginning with Grease, no less!), just so we can keep Sam and Annie apart for now. Yawn.

Why ABC was even advertising Lisa Bonet in this week's episode was utterly confounding as Bonet's Maya only rated about 30 seconds of screen time and not a single line of dialogue. Bonet was one of the better things about ABC's reshot pilot and I hate to think of her sticking around the series' set in the hopes of appearing in a single shot each week.

And I am still having problems with Harvey Keitel as Gene Hunt. While I love Keitel as an actor, he's a little too old to take seriously when he's shown running at top speed through Central Park to apprehend a perp. And his use of brute force (such as when he punched Sam at June's bedside at the hospital) come off as more cartoonishly silly than brutal. Philip Glenister's Gene Hunt was a living, breathing ball of rabid energy who was much more physically imposing than John Simm's Sam Tyler; here, it's hard to see why Jason O'Mara wouldn't just squish Gene under his left shoe.

All in all, I was less than impressed with last night's installment and I'm beginning to wonder if I'll even bother to tune in next week. For those of us who've already seen just how brilliant Life on Mars can be, this proved to be a lackluster cover band version of Bowie rather than the real deal itself.

Next week on Life on Mars ("My Maharishi's Bigger Than Your Maharishi"), Gene is on the warpath when a Vietnam vet is murdered; clues lead Sam to some information about his family.


Anonymous said…
"By now?" It's the SECOND episode. I get that you're a fan of the original, but I'm getting a little tired of your rote bashing on anything that's a remake. You don't even seem to like The Office and the US version is far superior to the UK one.
Anonymous said…
@anonymous. I completely agree with Jace. It was a mistake to re-use significant portions of the original UK scripts in developing this series and why should the crew get more than two shots to prove that? Besides they shot one pilot and scrapped it and then shot another one and then aired a second episode that was also pretty flat. It's great that you like the show but I don't think he is showing any "rote bashing" of remakes. I've been reading this site for a few years and he was a huge supporter of The Office for a long time. I gave up on that show last season as the writers blew it all together with lazy writing and ridiculous plot lines. Last night's episode of LoM was equally egregious.
Anonymous said…
I think dramas are really hard to adapt for television. Unlike comedies that can rely strictly on characters or situations, dramas are so plot-driven that its sometimes hard to translate that to the screen. THE OFFICE has done a good job of differentiating itself from the original. COUPLING was a disaster however. I can't really think of any dramas that have successfully been adapted here.

I thought it was an OK episode. Not great and it's not wowing me so far with any tricks but it was pretty decent. I hated the hippie chick but I like that the writers are introducing a DA who could be either a friend to Sam or a rival. That is different to the original at least.
Anonymous said…
I don't know what's worse...the fact that American TV keeps trying to profit by making a cheap knockoff of a quality product or the fact that people (like our friend "anonymous") support them. The American "Office" had a good run but the past season was pretty lackluster and it has never been as innovative and brilliant as the original.

The Americanized "Life on Mars" is just painful. Even if I'd never seen the fantastic original, I would still think that this show was cheesy and clunky.

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