Thursday, March 24, 2011

U.S. Life on Mars, episodes 15, 16, 17, and my final notes

In book terms, I finally finished Knight Life, so I'll have a wrap-up on that posted shortly.  Onto the television...

Episode 15:

Yeah, that’s not at all subtle, writers, using the last name “Bono” as Sam’s undercover alias as an Irish hoodlum… *snicker*

Rose Tyler’s back.  I…yeah, so not keeping a straight face at that one either.  If that name really was a coincidental choice, well, that’s one hell of a coincidence then, given exactly what having a character named that implies in the grand scheme of this show.  Not to mention the wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimeyness of what’s going on.

Episode 16:

Starts off with the song “Satellite of Love”.  I love that song.

*sigh* Chris is always the woobie, isn’t he?

Windy, go away.  You make me miss Nelson more and more every time I see you on screen.  The idea’s good, but I keep finding flaws in the execution.

*perks up* Agent Morgan?  As in Frank Morgan?  We’re winding down to the end here, aren’t we?  *braces self for menace and existential crises*

You know, the Huntlandia joke is even funnier given certain revelations from the third season of Ashes to Ashes.

Wizard of Oz and robot references everywhere this episode.  The tiny nanobots that are there to search out the soul are really pushing the bounds of plausibility.  That was one of the things that I liked about the original show – although the series as a whole would qualify as magical realism, the ground…

Jumping off a building to go home?  Thank goodness they didn’t take that option here. *whistles innocently*

*cough* Anyway, what was I saying?  Oh yes, the original series was so grounded in the dirty reality of 1973 that the magical elements just added to the series, not distracting.

Okay, why the hell are you bringing in elements from the very first episode of the original Life on Mars now at the penultimate episode of the U.S. series?  And why did you wait until now to bring up the relationship between Sam and Annie?  Even though I knew it was coming/had to come if they were following the original plan, it still sort of came out of nowhere.  That’s iffy plotting for me.


Rose Tyler’s back again!  I actually like that she’s been brought back so many times.  She (or her equivalent character Ruth) only had two appearances in the original series, which I enjoyed and made me want to see more of Sam’s family in the past.  So I like that they’re giving me that with this series.  And she just said “Look at those cavemen go.” *snigger* Title drop, anyone?

Gene Hunt’s talking about the 125 being one big happy ass-kicking family.  Knowing what I know about the WTF ending coming up makes that line even funnier (however, leads to some squicky thoughts about events that happened a few episodes earlier involving Hunt’s daughter Maria *shudder*).

“You sure you’re a cop?  ‘Cause you look like an astronaut.” Why does that feel like trying to shoehorn symbolism in?

Hallelujah, Annie finally got her promotion!

That’s an awfully philosophical speech coming from you, Ray…

“Why does it always come back to David Bowie?” *snerrrrrk*

So is Windy like a benevolent version of the Test Card girl?

“Welcome to 1973.” Why, why, why couldn’t you have just ended it right there? *throws arms up in frustration*

“It’s the freakiest show, Spaceman.”  No kidding… *sigh*  Culminating in the world’s worst pun.

I think I’ve managed to pinpoint why I don’t like the ending – it feels like a cop-out to me (pardon the pun).  The U.S. series, like the original, does raise some interesting questions about how to define life, how do we know we’re living, what happens when we find ourselves someplace strange that we really can’t explain within the limits of human knowledge.  And yet, while the U.K. version took these questions to a controversial, but appropriate conclusion (I won’t spoil that ending here because I think everyone needs to watch the original series, but suffice to say it was a risky one that I loved, but I know that a lot of people didn’t like as well) that fit in with the way they had set the series up, the U.S. version skipped that.  They didn’t at all try to answer the questions and instead stated that the whole 2008 to 1973 trip was due to a faulty memory simulation designed to pass the time on the first manned trip to Mars.  Maybe if they had set that up better, had shown something more than just little hallucinations of mini rovers going around this idea would have worked.  However, upon watching the entire series end to end, the Mars Mission ending feels increasingly forced and out of place.  The writers did leave the clues throughout the episodes, so a viewer should have an idea of what could possibly be coming, but I’m not sure if it was the right choice.  I almost wish they would have continued the series so that they could write themselves out of that ending. 

I think they miscast the role of Gene Hunt in the show as well.  The character of Gene Hunt needs to be an intimidating presence, one that’s slightly past his prime but amazingly larger than life (this is especially true after revelations from the final series of Ashes to Ashes).  Harvey Keitel, while a fantastic actor who did the role justice, may not have been the right visual for the role.  Gene Hunt needs to be massive in personality and use that intimidating presence.  In this series he seems to be dwarfed by the other cops around him.  And for me, that doesn’t ring true to the way the character was created.

What I also don’t like is that since the entire thing was a computer program, for lack of a better term, it means that none of the characters as we know them, Sam Tyler, Gene Hunt, Annie Norris (Cartwright in the original), Chris Skelton, Ray Carling, so on and so forth, were really real.  Those characters as we know them were just figments of the imagination, and while as a viewer I still cared about them, it does lessen the impact a bit knowing that nothing really bad could happen to them.  This was also my fear with the third and final series of Ashes to Ashes.  The creators had promised us answers in that series, and I remembered biting my lips and crossing my fingers so hard that they wouldn’t pull an ending that basically made none of the characters real and kept them as ‘imaginary constructs’, in the words of Alex Drake.  To my utter happiness, they did not take that route to end the series.  With that ending we got the answers we wanted, plenty of bittersweetness to go around, and the reassurance that yes, these characters were real.  In some form or another they existed and were alive, which made all the difference to me as a viewer.

Was that cryptic enough for you?  If you want to know more, go watch the two series from the U.K.  They’re some of my favorites, and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Now, that all being said – I actually do think that the U.S. run of Life on Mars is worth a watch!  I had a lot of fun with the episodes and would definitely re-watch them.  They kept the same mix of crime-fighting and semi sci-fi that the original had, and the show’s got a hell of a soundtrack, between the rock songs used and the almost bad cop show/porn flick incidental music at other times.  The characters are fun, and half the time you do want to thwack them upside the head (especially Ray).  Part of me would have loved to hear the Beastie Boys Sabotage playing at some point, but that’s just because of the music video.  I think if I had seen this version first, before the U.K. version, I would have really fallen in love with it. 

I also felt that there was something really relatable about the setting.  To be fair, the show takes place nine years before I was even born.  No matter where I go in my life, however, I do trace my roots back to NYC, the old hometown (as my birth certificate will prove), and this is the NYC of my parents’ generation.  It’s funny, but I could imagine them walking down the street going to school or going out at night while watching this show.  So I like that.  My father would probably pay good money for many of the cars on the screen.  And the houses and buildings on the street in NYC still look the same, even thirty-eight years later.  There’s something familiar and alien about the city all at the same time, which is what I think the creators of the show were going for.

So in conclusion, Life on Mars, U.S. version, is worth a watch.  It’s fun, lighthearted entertainment with just enough of an edge and a twist to make it different.  Is it as good as the original?  No, but it’s a good show in its own right and deserves props for that.  If you want to pretend that the last few minutes of the finale didn’t happen, however, please feel free.

P.S. – watching the deleted scenes with Windy makes me like her better.  I almost feel like the relationship between Windy and Sam could be a show or a book in itself.  Which makes me want to write it.  Hmm, I may have to think on a way to take that relationship dynamic and put it into an original piece.

Monday, March 14, 2011

U.S. Life on Mars, episodes 12,13, and 14

Continuing on with the observations.  I'll be finished with the series shortly, and soon I'll have a wrap-up post as well.

Episode 12:

Tony Crane doesn’t own a casino anymore, but an art gallery.  Not a big deal, but since the character of Tony was such a standout in the original, it’s really jarring.  We have the return of Harry Woolf too, so I wonder how close that’ll veer to the original as well in regards to his plotline.

Episode 13:

A pub called Glenister’s just got blown up.  Not a laughing matter, but I am.  Totally not coincidence, that choice of pub name, which makes me happy.  Good to know you guys aren’t forgetting your roots!

They’ve also nailed the Band of Brothers feeling that was present in the original series with this episode.  The only problem with this is that it’s making the WTF ending come even more out of the blue, because these plot devices that they’re tossing in feel like they’re veering closer to an ending that would be more along the lines of the original.  Not exactly the same, depending on how they wanted to initially define this world, but using that idea (I’d be more specific, but I don’t want to spoil the original Life on Mars for any new readers out there).  I want to know if they knew they were going to get canceled at this point and had to decide which ending to use.

Episode 14:

I want Sam’s car.  Yellow muscle machine with black stripes down the hood? *drools*

Sorry, U.K. version, this is one area where the U.S. version wins hands down.  Whatever car that is, it’s a lot cooler than DCI Hunt’s Ford Cortina.

(According to TV Tropes, the car in question is a Chevelle SS.  My dad would have a field day with that one…)

Aaaaaannnnnd we’ve got an episode set on an airplane with flash cuts to outer space.  Methinks they’ve decided on their ending now…

It’s the key party/undercover girls episode.  Shoulda seen this one coming – and let’s see if I’m right at guessing who the killer is too.  At least they’ve still got Sam going undercover to the party with her instead of Chris or something…  Sam needs to ditch the fake moustache, however.  It looks better on Jason O’Mara than it would on John Simm, but still.  Fake rugs like that are never good.

And it’s Gene and the hooker!  I was waiting for that, hee.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

U.S. Life on Mars, episodes 6 & 10

Leaving the computer open as I watch television means that I end up taking notes as I go along.  I'd like to say that they're highly academic observations as to the foreshadowing of the ending, but what's that they say about the best laid plans?  Here are my notes on episodes six and ten of the U.S. Life on Mars:

Episode 6:

No Windy.  This isn’t a bad thing.  I miss Nelson.  

Love the Moonwalking gag.  Sam’s earned the nickname Spaceman – another clue?  

 Aside from that and a change of setting from a news office to a hospital, this episode seems almost exactly like one from the original first series – despite the fact that there were elements in the episode prior to this that were lifted from an episode in the original second series...

Okay, scratch that, bad guy’s motives have totally changed from the original.

Episode 10:

Is that Kate from White Collar there?

Plot’s starting to diverge from the original by now.  This isn’t a bad thing – stories that work in 1973 Manchester may not always work in 1973 NYC.  Although I’m not sure I’m a fan of the idea of Gene Hunt having a daughter.  Seems like one too many bad fanfics has come to life with that one.

Oops.  Kate’s been abducted by aliens. 

The “Paranormal” division of the FBI?!?!  Seriously?  I don’t know whether to facepalm or giggle with the thought of nostalgia (says she who just rewatched eight seasons of the X-Files not even a month ago…).

Three daughters, Hunt? *sigh*  Veering into badfic territory here.

Ooh, “Starman”.  I love that song.

*points* St. Christopher medal!  The Sam in the original series had one of these, never pointed out but we all knew he had one, so it’s nice to see it make a return here.

Knight Life, Update 3

I have a tendency to use my books for storage.  Often times I'll shove pamphlets or little bits of paper in there, usually with little scribbled notes on them.  So I shouldn't have been surprised to find this in my copy of Knight Life:

I'm pretty sure this business card has something to do with a midnight showing of Rocky Horror about seven years back.  Even if this wasn't in the book to begin with, it makes a strange sort of sense, as one of the girls I went to that show with was the one who told me about this book in the first place.  I'll talk more about Ayesha when I get to the Discworld Series, as she's the one who enlightened me about the great Terry Pratchett in the first place.  Twenty-four books later, not counting the great Good Omens, yeah, it's safe to say I've become a fangirl.

Anyway, back to Knight Life.  I'm currently on page 216, and still struggling.  It's the female characters that are doing me in, I think.  Arthur's great as a man who's out of his time and attempting to adapt to a modern world, and the youthful Merlin is great.  Merlin's always been one of my favorite characters in the Arthurian mythos, so I end up feeling a bit proprietary towards him.  But Morgana and Gwen...Morgana seems one-dimensionally villainous so I have a hard time feeling any sort of sympathy towards her.  As the website TV Tropes says (which I am not linking to for the readers' sanity.  If you want to search it out, on your own head be it.  You will lose days to that website, I guarantee) she's doing it "For the Evulz."  I feel like I want a little more motivation from her in a modern work.  A one-dimensional style character may work in a fairy tale, but not as much in a modern novel.

And Gwen.  Oh, Gwen's trying, I think, but she still frustrates me.  Currently she's swooned in the middle of a fancy dinner.  But still, I will persevere.

Spring is coming...

After the New England winter from hell, I love seeing these little signs of spring finally poking their heads out.  It's a glorious day outside, I don't blame them one bit for wanting to turn their heads up to the sun and following it all day.

All of these were taken right outside my apartment building.  Needless to say, it's a lovely sight to walk out and see.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Knight Life, Update 2 and Episode 4, Life on Mars US

I've finally hit page 160 in Knight Life, and I'm still having trouble getting deeply into the book.  I'll read a few pages here and there, but I'm not finding myself hunkered down for hours in the evening with a low light burning until the wee hours so I can finish before I go to sleep.  I spent many days like this in middle school, reading late into the night when I should have been sleeping by the glowing blue and pink neon light of my telephone (my only excuse for the phone was that it was the mid-nineties).  I'm going to try and make some progress tonight, and with any luck I'll have a more complete wrap-up of the book in a few days.

In more entertaining news, I made it to episode four of the U.S. Life on Mars.  There will be some spoilers for the episode ahead, so if you're trying to stay away from them before watching, turn back now...

This should have been my first clue as to seeing the WTF ending coming.  Let me see if I can recount my reaction from the first time I saw this scene, way back in the fall of 2008.

Sam Tyler: "Hey, Annie, would you mind getting Rose (Sam’s mother) a cup of coffee?"

Me: Hey, come on, her name’s supposed to be Ruth! (Sam’s mom’s name in the original series)


Me: Waitasec…  Rose?  Rose Tyler?  SERIOUSLY?

*cue cracking up and me sending text messages to my Whofan friends*

For those of you who don’t know, Rose Tyler was a major character in the 2005 revival of Doctor Who.  She was also the character that Sam Tyler in the UK series was named after (one of the writers of the show asked his kid for a last name for the character of Sam.  The kid tossed out Tyler after the DW character and the rest is history).  Given that Doctor Who has been covering space and time travel since 1963, I’d say that’s a pretty big clue to where they decided to take the ending.  And I’m an idiot for missing it the first time around, especially considering my great love for Doctor Who.  I have my own TARDIS.  'Nuff said.

So is Windy supposed to be a replacement for Nelson then?  She’s fun, but she’s no Nelson.  Nelson had some great hidden depths that peeked out occasionally like the Mancunian accent slip-ups.  Not seeing that with Windy so far.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Life on Mars vs. Life on Mars U.S. version

I’m taking a divergence from the Bookshelf Project here, but since it’s my blog I can talk about whatever I want.  And one of those things I like to talk about is TV shows.

Before I say anything else, let it be known here that I am a massive fan of the original (U.K.) Life on Mars and anything related to it: the soundtrack, the sequel show Ashes to Ashes, so on and so forth.  I thought that the stories were amazing and doing things in the plot that really pushed boundaries yet played off of cliché at the same time.  Not to mention the absolutely crackling chemistry between John Simm and Phillip Glenister.  And just the sheer wonder that is Gene Hunt.  So the original version will always hold the place of honor in my heart.

However, I had the opportunity to acquire the U.S. version of Life on Mars for dirt cheap, so I decided to buy the whole series and give it a shot.  I’d seen a few episodes of the show back when it was on TV (searching out anything that relates to the original, as I have a tendency to do) and caught the ending that defines ‘WTF’ perfectly.  But being related to the wonderful original, I almost feel like I would be a bad fangirl if I didn't give the new show a chance.  So why not?  I’m hoping that the show actually doesn’t end up being just a blatant copy of the U.K. edition.  I’m about ten minutes into the first episode and they’ve even had identical film cuts to the original so far. 

Life on Mars U.S., I’m willing to give you a chance.  Don’t let me down.  You have the same amount of episodes as the original, so let’s see what you do with that time.  Give me a reason to believe that you actually planned out that insanity defining ending.

Brace yourselves, it’s going to be a bumpy ride…