Who here hasn’t watched Life on Mars? Because really, if you haven’t, then you’re absolutely without a doubt missing out. Now I did once write a short article on this, but I think giving a full fledged review would be helpful. I’ve never actually reviewed a television programme in full before, but it’s good to branch out. If this is too difficult then maybe I’ll have to go for specific episodes.
Obviously based off of the David Bowie song of the same name, Life on Mars is a BBC drama that was broadcast from the 9th January 2006 to 10th April 2007. Not only that, but it was followed by a spin off, Ashes to Ashes the following year. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we’re only going to be focusing on Life on Mars for this review.
The story follows Sam Tyler (John Simm), a by the books London copper who is hit by a car and sent back to 1972. That sentence alone is probably enough to get you to start watching this show. When waking up in 1972, he has to team up with fellow officer Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) who is basically his complete opposite. There are a number of supporting characters including Annie Cartwright (Liz White), Ray Carling (Dean Andrews) and Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster).
Let’s make special mention of how engaging Simm’s character and performance actually is. For the entire duration of both seasons we know only as much as Tyler knows. It’s excellent. We’re kept in the dark but so is the character himself. As Sam learns the twists and turns in his fate, so do we. Everything is clear, anything you absolutely need to know is presented clearly. There is no presumption that you should know certain things without being told them.
Really what I’m trying to say is that the narrative is engaging and not confusing. It’s not basic, but at the same time isn’t complex. They’ve managed to find the perfect medium between the two. Without a doubt some parts of Life on Mars are intricately crafted and prepared for further instalments, but at the same time they can be enjoyed as their own little thing. I’m not saying you can watch this show in any order you like, but it’s definitely something that is easy to follow.
For the most part, the show contains a unique plot every episode. There are over arching series plots, but there is a mystery or new case to every episode. Given that they’re self contained, you’d be surprised at how effectively lengthy they are. By lengthy I do mean it in a good way. The plot is good enough that it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome and nothing more is desired. Obviously this can be put down to how well written the show is.
To judge how well written the show is we can simply base this off of the relationship between characters. Without a doubt my favourite character is Gene Hunt, named after the Jean Genie song by David Bowie. He’s cool, off the chain and honestly he’s the best part of the show. Presumably that’s why he made such a good transfer into Ashes to Ashes. His off the cuff remarks and blatant representation of everything wrong with the 1970s was magnificent.
Sam Tyler and Gene Hunt is one of those brilliant pairings that we rarely see in television shows. The two of them are up there with Mark Corrigan and Jeremy Usborne from Peep Show (2003 – 2015) in how highly regarded I consider them.
A big arc of the show is that Sam’s by the books method don’t conform with the abrasive nature of 70s policing. That isn’t something that gets wrapped up in the first episode, it remains a problem throughout. For me, it was my favourite plot line because it wasn’t always mentioned but always noticeable. Other plots included that BBC error message girl appearing with a balloon. That didn’t haunt me at all, why would it. My God was that genuinely freaky to see.
It’s not all positive though, nothing in life ever is. A couple of episodes for me really just don’t add much to the narrative. They weren’t bad episodes at all, they just felt a bit out of place. I’m not expecting perfect episodes the whole way through but it’s still something to consider.
Oddly, for a TV Show, it has a truly unbelievable soundtrack. Now this may just be because I love music from the 70s, but the majority of the songs were fantastic. David Bowie, Elton John, Thin Lizzy, Wings and the Electric Light Orchestra are only a few of the songs featured throughout. God why do I know so much about 70s music. I would listen to music from you know, this year, but it’s all autotuned shit. Thankfully none of that appears throughout the entire show.
Life on Mars to me is a very interesting bit of television. It comes from the golden age of BBC broadcasting. A time where both drama and comedy seemed seamlessly easy to make. I think you’d agree that twelve episodes spread over two seasons is a formula that has worked for sometime now.
A brilliant formula that couldn’t have been acted any better. It’s led to numerous quotes, spin offs and it has such an impact on drama shows of today. Simm and Glenister are once again an absolutely fantastic on screen pairing. To be fair when are they not? If anything, Life on Mars provides yet another glimpse into how well the two work together.
If anything, Life on Mars is the perfect drama show that only highlights how great the BBC used to be. The problem for me is that, I don’t think I could watch it again. All the twists and turns are already known to me. It has the same problem I had with Breaking Bad (2008 – 2013) the second time through. Although the show is a lot of fun any time you watch it, it’s difficult getting the same experience after you’ve watched it so many times. But to be fair the same is true with any television show.