David Bowie crosses the ocean with panache

20 Mar

I just finished watching the US version of Life on Mars (starting off my Spring Break by marathonning old shows) and ohmygod that was such a better resolution than the UK version!

Life on Mars is a little obscure, so I’ll summarise: The premise of the show is that a detective in present day (2008ish) gets hit by a car and winds up in 1973. . Hi s name is Sam Tyler. He doesn’t know why or how or how to get back or if he’s dreaming or in a coma or just insane. He works as a detective in the past, dealing with the differences in the time periods. He has weird interactions with himself as a little boy. He uses the best aliases (Tom Cruise, Luke Skywalker, etc). And he deals with time travel in the tongue-in-cheek/Marty McFly way, making references to things he probably shouldn’t, which makes the show fun!


I love the many things they kept the same about the US remake: Sam’s goody-two-shoes, by-the-book personality doesn’t jive with the way they do things in 1973; he wears the same clothes: that shirt with the ridiculous 70’s collar and a leather jacket; he has an adorable, but weird romance with Annie; he has an adorable but weird father-son/bromance with his boss; he’s really really confused about why he’s in 1973; he has awkward interactions with his family; he uses police techniques from the future…

But they also added so many little things that made the show different and more American: for instance, one of the first differences Sam notices about the 1973 world is that the Twin Towers are still standing; you also get all these tantalising references to politics of the time, with references to how honest Nixon is when you know that Watergate is lurking.

In the end, like US The Office remake, the US version of Life on Mars went in its own direction and emerged as a show that was good on its own merits, rather than just coasting on the waves of the original’s success.

Where the UK version was this super-surreal experience, where the viewer was just as confused as the main character, if not moreso, the US version toned it down quite a bit. Not to say that you didn’t understand US!Sam’s confusion and disorientation and wonder about the mystery of his apparent time travel, but you weren’t immersed in the experience as much as in the UK version. I actually liked it better this way because the viewer got to do just that, observe and empathise, but wasn’t necessarily forcibly perplexed and befuddled by the weird of the show.

And, without massive spoilers, let me just say that the US version’s ending was so much more satisfying than the UK one. After two seasons of confusing and contradictory theories about why Sam was in the past, the UK series finale is bittersweet and only sorta resolves the issues. You never really know if he was dreaming or actually in a coma and if he can go back to 1973 or if he’s dead or what. The season finale of the US version, on the other hand, gives an explanation and conclusion that actually explains everything and ties all the weird and confusing elements of the show up in a neat little sci-fi bundle. It’s satisfying and was (at least to me) unexpected and clever!


It’s only 17 episodes, and is on DVD and Netflix. Watch it when  you need a quick time-travel fix.

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