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.
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.
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.