Life On Mars US Leaks, Sucks

The first episode of the American remake of Life On Mars has leaked to the Internet… and it sucks, but not for the reasons you might expect.

But first… a brief recap from Wikipedia: “Life On Mars tells the story of DCI Sam Tyler of the Greater Manchester Police, who, after being hit by a car in 2006, finds himself in the year 1973. There, he works for Manchester and Salford Police CID as a DI under DCI Gene Hunt. Over the course of the series, Tyler faces various culture clashes, most frequently regarding the differences between his modern approach to policing and the more traditional methods of his colleagues. Mixing the genres of science fiction and police procedural, the series centres around the ambiguity concerning Tyler’s predicament: it is unclear whether he is insane, in a coma, or if he really has travelled back in time”.

The original British series was incredible television, perhaps my favorite TV show of all time. My stomach turned when I heard that ABC was interested in an American remake of the show. I was conflicted: on the one hand, I didn’t want my favorite TV show “ruined” by a crappy American remake; on the other hand, I was happy that millions of people might be exposed to the awesomeness of the Life On Mars story.

So when the first episode leaked online a few days ago, I eagerly downloaded it… only to have major mixed feelings about the U.S. version of the show.

Have you ever been to Disney World? EPCOT? Disneyland? Disney does an incredible job at copying things, down to the seemingly last tiny detail. Many people have gone to the World Showcase at EPCOT and, in the heat of the Florida sun, almost convinced themselves that they’re really in England or Mexico or Japan. But yet, they’re something just “off” about the whole thing. Like Uncanny Valley, there’s just something that’s not quite right about the World Showcase. Even though most people could almost convince themselves that they’re in England… something isn’t quite right. It’s not the obvious stuff – the heat, the crowds of people speaking in American accents. There’s just an indefinable something that lets you know you’re looking at a forgery – a well made forgery, mind you – instead of the “real deal”.

And that’s exactly what the American Life On Mars is like. It’s a Disney-fied version of the original series. Although I have several specific complaints about the American version (which I’ll get to in a minute), there’s just something about the new version that simply doesn’t add up.

Life On Mars US 01
Worst CGI ever?

I guess my first specific complaint is about the CGI cityscapes. Look at the picture above… is it not 100% completely obvious that this person is standing in front of a green screen? The halination – the halo that appears around “real” people when they’re inserted into a digital landscape – is simply awful. It looks so bad, in fact, that it completely pulls you out of the story. There’s nothing worse than being completely immersed in a show, only to be jarred back into reality by awful CGI.

And then there’s the fact that no one apparently smoked in Los Angeles back in 1972 (for some reason, Sam travels back to 1972, not 1973, in the American version). I counted around five cigarettes in the first episode, and of those five, only one person (an extra in silhouette at a bar) actually puts the cigarette to his mouth.  In the other scenes, a person would either have a cigarette in their hand and start to light it, only to start talking to someone, or they’d have a lit cigarette sitting in an ashtray, but never pick it up. Contrast this with the original Life On Mars, where Ray constantly had a ciggie in his mouth, and how the boys would often wind up in a bar so smoky you’d think it was a VW bus parked outside a Grateful Dead show. Look, I get it… smoking is bad, and only evil people like myself partake of the demon weed. But come on, folks – it was 1972 for God’s sake!

I also did not like the “Annie Cartwright” character. In the British version, Annie is a Woman Police Constable (WPC) who is initially only good for fetching coffee, cleaning out empty jail cells and getting her ass pinched 100 times a day. Sam is the only person who believes that she can be a good police officer, and it’s only because of Sam’s trust that the others slowly begin to see her as a competent police officer. “American Annie” on the other hand, is instantly competent and beloved by all her fellow officers. So not only did no one smoke in 1972 Los Angeles, no one was sexist, either. It’s as if a female cop from CSI: Miami or The Wire was added to the show, and everyone in 1972 LA was cool with it.

Life On Mars US 03
Colm Meaney sure ain’t Philip Glenister

And then there’s Gene Hunt. Sigh. In the original series, Gene Hunt was a wisecracking, larger-than-life badass. Although Colm Meaney is a fine actor, he just can’t hold a candle to Philip Glenister’s original Hunt. Not only is Meany not larger than life, Meany’s Hunt isn’t even larger than Sam Tyler! Yes, the new Gene Hunt is actually shorter than the new Sam Tyler. I don’t even know how this is supposed to work! In the original series, Sam would push every one of Gene’s buttons until Gene would explode in a rage, grabbing Sam’s shoulders and threatening him with a good, old-fashioned ass kicking. The tight shots of Gene and Sam – with Gene in a spitting rage and Sam fearing for his life – are seared into my memory. How this is supposed to work when the new Gene Hunt is 4 inches shorter than Sam I have no idea. Meaney’s Hunt also completely lacks the freewheeling spirit and joie de vivre that Glenister’s Hunt had in spades. Being a head detective must be stressful. Glenister’s Hunt took the edge off by having a bottle of whisky in his hand; Meaney’s Hunt would probably have a bottle of Pepto Bismol in his hand.

And lastly, I watched the entire first episode of the U.S. version of the show without knowing who (if anyone) will be the analogues for Chris and Ray. They were integral to the British version of the show, and yet… I don’t know if anyone will replace them in the American version. Poor.

I don’t know. I won’t condemn the U.S. series entirely on this one episode. As I recall, the first episode of the British Life On Mars lacked a lot of the humor that would come later. And the American version is pretty faithful to the original story (although it smacks of “writing by committee”, which is the exact opposite of how British shows are done). The American version lacks the charm of the British version (so far). But the American take on Life On Mars could end up being pretty good.

But still… I just don’t have a good feeling about this series.


2 Replies to “Life On Mars US Leaks, Sucks”

  1. The bad thing about this being released, and I did just watch it, is that this is not what will air in September. ABC wasn’t happy with it and wanted re-shoots. Kelley who I personally don’t think is as great as he and everyone else seems to think, didn’t want to pay for them. I personally think Kelley didn’t care about Life on Mars. He has used this series to keep Boston Legal on for the past few years because ABC exec Stephen McPherson has wanted it. The final deal basically gave Boston Legal 13 episodes to finish it up but Kelley walks away. ABC has hired new producers and writers.

    Having watched the leaked version I agree it definitely had some problems. I’ve read some of the sides for the new script and from what I’ve read it’s going to be awesome. I just hope people who see this version don’t get turned off.

    A few changes it’s going to be New York, 1973 and Ray and Chris are in. I can’t wait to see the new version and I hope that will be leaked especially with the bad reviews for this version.

  2. Thanks for that update, Dawn! Shortly before you posted that, I found this:

    “US version of Life on Mars gets lost in translation”

    As Gene Hunt might put it: ‘If I was as worried as you, I wouldn’t fart for fear of messing myself.’ Unfortunately, the worrying is now being done by TV executives whose American remake of the time-travelling drama Life on Mars is stuck on the starting blocks.

    The hit BBC series starred John Simm as Sam Tyler, a detective who finds himself transported back to the fashions, pop culture and politically incorrect policing of Hunt and company in Seventies Manchester. America’s ABC network had been confident that its own version, based on male chauvinist cops in Los Angeles in 1972, would be a guaranteed ratings winner this autumn.

    But a pilot episode, shot on the streets of LA in lavish period detail, now seems unlikely to make it to the screen. Executives have decided in effect to tear up the show and start again, moving it 3,000 miles east to New York. Its writer-producer has quit and it is believed several cast members will be replaced. ‘The series has already suffered an exceptionally bumpy ride into the future, even by the Alice in Wonderland standards of television programme development,’ the Los Angeles Times noted.

    Life on Mars would not be the first UK show to get lost in translation, following in the wake of flops such as the US incarnations of Cracker and Coupling. But after recent successes such as The Office, which achieved the leap from Slough to Scranton, Pennsylvania, British shows are now more fashionable than ever, with the thriller Eleventh Hour and the comedy Gavin and Stacey among those bought by American networks.

    The stars of the Life on Mars pilot are not American, but Irish. Tyler is played by Dublin-born Jason O’Mara, a former Royal Shakespeare Company actor who appeared in TV series including Monarch of the Glen before breaking into American TV. The role of hard-drinking maverick Hunt, memorably played by Philip Glenister in the original and reprised in Ashes to Ashes, is taken by Colm Meaney, best known for The Commitments and The Van and as Chief Miles O’Brien in Star Trek: The Next Generation. A trailer on the internet shows Hunt welcoming his new recruit with a punch in the stomach.

    The LAPD setting may have been purely expedient, as most of America’s TV production industry is based in or near Hollywood. But a crime-ridden New York may strike more of a chord with audiences familiar with gritty Seventies movies set there such as The French Connection, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and The Warriors. Life on Mars’s move has also been eased by New York state’s recent decision to treble the tax credit for film and television productions shooting there. A source close to the programme said many of the parts would also be recast, although O’Mara’s position is not believed to be under threat.

    David E Kelley, the writer-producer responsible for hits including Ally McBeal and Boston Legal, secured the rights for Life on Mars and wrote the pilot screenplay, but has now walked away. Kelley, who is married to the actress Michelle Pfeiffer, declined to comment last week. The remaining producers now face a race against time to complete what is ABC’s only new drama of the season.

    The Bafta-winning British series already has a cult following in the US after being shown on BBC America. Matthew Graham, its co-creator, said of the US version: ‘It’s been an incredibly convoluted journey. They took on a big job and there were different opinions on where to go. It’s been a tortuous process.’

    He and his fellow writers have had little input apart from a two-hour meeting with Kelley. ‘At the time we thought he took what we said on board, but I don’t think he did in the end,’ Graham said. ‘I think they should go further away from us; otherwise the danger is you look like an imitation.’

    Equally unclear is how American English will translate some of Hunt’s most memorable one-liners: ‘Don’t move, you are surrounded by armed bastards!’

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