Sunday, February 5, 2012

Life on Mars

(This post is part of a series on the 14 Top TV Dramas You've Never Seen)

We continue our countdown of The Top TV Dramas You’ve Never Seen with Number 13, Life on Mars. I’m referring to the original UK series, not the lackluster American remake.

Detective Sam Tyler (John Simm) has a near fatal car crash in 2007 and wakes up in 1974. Is he dreaming? In a coma? Dead? Or is something else responsible? Tyler has to solve the biggest mystery of his life while reprising his role as a police detective in the politically incorrect racist and sexist 1970s. Tyler uses his knowledge and techniques of the future to solve crimes in the past, as viewers try to discern clues about his present dislodgement in time.

Philip Glenister steals the show as DCI (Detective Chief Inspector) Gene Hunt, who views police brutality to be a job perquisite and often clashes with Tyler, who calls him “an overweight, over-the-hill, nicotine-stained, borderline alcoholic homophobe with a superiority complex and an unhealthy obsession with male bonding.” Hunt takes it as a compliment. Tyler favors forensic evidence and modern investigative techniques to Hunt’s heavy-handed style. Still, the two develop a grudging  mutual admiration and friendship.

Most of Hunt’s witticisms are unprintable here, but these may suffice: “If you were Pinocchio, you would have just poked my eye out!”....  “He's more nervous than a very small nun on a penguin shoot.”....  “Drop your weapons! You are surrounded by armed bastards!”  When Hunt orders a detective to arrest the landlord of the Trafford Arms, the detective asks on what charge. "Think of something on the way," Hunt replies. Later, he notes, "In a bizarre twist of fate, the landlord was arrested this afternoon... on suspicion of cattle rustling."

The answer to Tyler’s time travel mystery isn’t revealed until the finale of Ashes to Ashes, the sequel to Life on Mars, (yes, both series titles come from David Bowie songs and his music can be heard throughout the series). Ironically, Tyler does not appear in the sequel. I would include this show on the Top TV Dramas list if for no other reason than the last episode of Life on Mars (Season 2, episode 8). The last 20 minutes were the most original, dramatic, emotional, and mind-blowing I've ever seen on television.  Even though it didn't completely answer the question that had nagged viewers for two seasons, it was riveting drama.

[Spoiler] Tyler abandons his friends and lover amidst an ambush and gun battle in 1973 in order to return to 2007. Sitting in a boring police procedural meeting, someone points out he has cut his finger on his pen. He is surprised; he hadn’t felt it. He recalls asking the bartender in 1973 how you know something is real and his reply was you just feel it. Tyler bursts out of the room, climbs the stairs and stands on the rooftop, breathing in the fresh air and taking in the view of the city. His expression changes. He has made a decision. He knows what he has to do. He runs. Toward the horizon, toward the blue sky, until he nears the edge and then he leaps. The screen goes black. And then…  But why give it away? Watch the series for yourself (make sure you watch the original U.K. version and not the American remake, which had a completely different ending).

Below, you'll find links to the show's listings at the Internet Movie Database,, an episode guide, a fan Web site, a clip from the series hosted on YouTube, and a link to purchase the DVDs on Amazon. The clip I've chosen is from the finale and takes place after Tyler has returned to the present and it ends five minutes short of the conclusion of the series.

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