Is it enigmatic, or is it from Barnsley?
, 29 Apr 2007
On hearing that the second series of Life On Mars was to be the last somehow the expectation quotient went up , after all if this was the final series then the writers had to bring the whole story of Sam Tyler to a definitive conclusion .....or did they . After all it's considered the province of writers to leave an ambiguous ending where they see fit, though I often think it's just lazy writing or that they genuinely haven't a clue how to conclude their work. The American series 'Lost' is a pertinent example of this .
Series Two was always going to struggle to match series one which felt audacious , fresh and exigent and the first three episodes though covering pertinent and composite issues such as racism , terrorism and an old staple of sci-fi -corrupting the timeline felt a little jaded and lacking the innovation of previous episodes. In fact it has started to feel like most other cop dramas , though obviously a very good one. Episode four where Sam( John Simm) and Annie ( Liz White) infiltrate a swingers network under the pseudonyms Tony And Cherie Blair and where Gene Hunt ( Philip Glenister) crashes the first party so they have to introduce him as Gordon Brown see's the drama truly regain the impetus from last series.
With a truly exceptional 'Camberwick Green' pastiche starting episode Five where the team investigate the disappearance of a young girl the series hits it's stride with the lines really starting to fizz between the characters Hunt: 'Look at her ,she's as nervous as a very small nun at a penguin shoot '. Episode six introduces a very topical element of casual anti Muslim sentiment from members of 'C Division' 'They all look the same to me ' says DS Ray Carling (Dean Andrews) though it's cleverly flipped on it's head when a Muslim says the same thing about white people. There is also the quite brilliant moment when Annie says as they crowd round a body lying on the floor 'Boss there's a viscous yellow liquid leaking from his ear' to which Gene Hunt replies 'No that's a drip from my fried egg buttie love ,well done Miss Marple' . Episode seven has Gene Hunt accused of murdering a suspect and started to drop tantalising hints about how Sam Tyler's predicament would resolve itself with the introduction of Frank Morgan (Ralph Brown) who may or may not have some connection with Sam's life in 2006.
The final episode is an absolute tour de force of complex, tense drama as our expectations of what has happened to Sam are ripped to shreds before our eyes and them cunningly reassembled in something reminiscent of what they were previously. It's difficult to explain without giving the game away and even though Sam's final act slightly defies credibility (But at the same time harks back to the very first episode) or should i say the manner of his achieving it does, it brings the series to an emotionally satisfying and oddly moving conclusion. Some will view it as an ahem...cop out more 'Vanilla Sky' than 'Fight Club' but I feel it's very well handled giving the audience what they want , or what I assume they want, but without resorting wholly to cliché or gross sentiment. I also detect a hint of social commentary in Sam's reaction to modern policing by committee and his preference for the rough & tumble hands on and decidedly un pc policing of the 70,s .
The actors again do a splendid job, the production values are spot on (Was it nearly always sunny in 1973?) and the scripts while too often relying on Sam mentioning things yet to happen and thus getting quizzical looks from his colleagues is full of superb lines and interchanges between the characters with Gene Hunt again getting all the best lines . Though my favourite line of the whole series is when Sam says to Carling after finding out he has met a woman and receiving a vague reply about her :'She sounds enigmatic ', to which Carling responds perplexed 'No , she's from Barnsley'.
I am going to miss 'Life On Mars ', and I'm sure I am not the only one. though of course this DVD and the forthcoming box set of both series(Hopefully containing all the extras included on the single series versions) should go some way to cushioning the blow. The best TV drama series of recent times , but not for as Gene Hunt would put it - 'Great , soft, cissy , girly , nancy , French bender, Man Utd -supporting puffs'.
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