Friday, October 10, 2008

Life in New York

The American version of Life on Mars premiered on ABC last night, which stayed close to the British show, but didn't have the originality of the UK version.  The BBC series aired from 2006 to 2007 and starred John Simm as Sam Tyler, Philip Glenister as Gene Hunt and Liz White as Annie Cartwright.  Set in Manchester, England, it was followed by the series Ashes to Ashes, currently airing on BBC One and featuring Gene Hunt in 1981.  

Like the first episode of the American The Office, the US Life on Mars pilot has many of the same situations as the initial story.  In subsequent episodes, The Office made the show its own with more exploration of the characters' ongoing lives at Dunder Mifflin.  It remains to be seen whether Life on Mars in New York takes the show in a new direction or continues as a copy of the British version.  The first version of the US pilot was remade, with recasting of many of the characters.

Life on Mars US is well acted and directed, yet takes many of its cues from the original.  The pivotal scene that is in the trailers for the show is when policeman Sam Tyler (Jason O'Mara) gets hit by a car while trying to save his girlfriend from a kidnapper and wakes up in 1973.  This is accompanied by David Bowie's song "Life on Mars," from which the show takes its name.  Sam is playing it on his iPod in 2008, but in 1973, the same tune is coming from an eight track player in his car.  One addition that makes it resonate with American viewers as uniquely New York is when Sam turns around and sees the World Trade Center in front of him.  This is when he realizes that he has really traveled to a different time.  

The US show, like in the UK, has a great soundtrack that sets the tone of the retro setting.  However, some of the situations in the remake are condensed, like Sam's scenes with Annie Norris (Gretchen Mol), focusing more on trying to find the kidnapper rather than Sam's struggle to fit in to a new time.  He conflicts with Gene Hunt (Harvey Keitel) at the police station over the different methods of crime solving without the technology Sam is used to.  The BBC version has more freedom to portray the realism of the world of police and criminals, with more humor in its portrayal of the culture of 1973 Manchester.  

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