Television Series created by Matthew Graham, Tony Jordan, and Ashley Pharoah
I spent a fair bit of time traveling in the last six years, waking up in different cities, certainly different hotel rooms. As a traveler, you always try to fool yourself that you are comfortable and happy, no matter how long you lie awake at 2 a.m. or how much the local cuisine gives you heartburn. So, you scan the local television and radio for familiar sights and sounds. You linger over a solitary meal and eavesdrop on conversations, investing in strangers’ lives. Maybe those coping mechanisms are just mine. Ultimately, the nightstand is on the wrong side and a chair somehow appears between you and the bathroom in the middle of the night. All this drives home the alienating nature of travel.
This is all a long way of saying that the central conceit of Life on Mars reads much stranger than it plays. From Wilder’s Skin of Our Teeth through Martin’s Game of Thrones, we marvel at how mundane the remarkable turns out. I don’t know if that is our inability to grasp the truly foreign artist’s desire to communicate using common parlance. Perhaps.
As for Life on Mars, the original British drama took a modern times police detective and spun him back to the 1970s, where he found that police work was approached in a more hands-on style, accompanied by prejudices and different criteria for judging competence. Fortunately, the detective is quick on the uptake and finds a way to make it work. (An American version tried and did not succeed as well.)
The series never shied away from the moral questions while also not delivering any clear-cut answers, other than that people can change (not necessarily for the better) and visceral experiences are seductive. Art is not always responsible for the solutions. Sometimes the best that an artist can do is ask questions. I dare say we tend to condemn artists who speak out too clearly.
The other remarkable matter in play on Life on Mars is the way they succeeded at capturing the discomfort and worse of the fish out of water. Certainly, they had all the trappings of the time period, but the world around him periodically goes topsy-turvy, just in case anyone is getting comfortable with the situation. I can’t think of any other show that reminded me of that time I banged my head in a hotel room and went woozy. And yet Life on Mars keeps pulling you back just as Sam Tyler finds escape and freedom in a world that he had been raised to view with disdain.
John Simm had a remarkable run of television shows for a few years, including a couple that were brought across the pond and neither bothered to include him, which is unfortunate. I only mention this because you can read through his list of credits and seemingly select any one of them for a go.
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