Thursday, October 9, 2008

I Lived Two Lives on Mars

Tonight was the premiere of the American version of Life on Mars and it put two clichés to the test - "Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it" and "You can't go home again."

The British series was a brilliant happy accident proved to be something special. I dare anyone to look me in the eye and tell me they knew this show would be a hit on day one. The story of a present day cop who somehow ends up in 1973 was not an idea that audiences were jonesing for. Sure, it might make an interesting hour or two, but the nostalgia gimmick would wear off and then what? The UK creators made sure the series included something every great show features: great characters portrayed by solid actors. This was epitomized by one of the best developed characters in tv history, DCI Gene Hunt.

I can easily understand the desire for US studios to want to recreate the magic. I won't bother to go into the countless examples, but the odds of successfully recreating a series from across the pond are not favorable. This project seemed doomed before even one frame of footage was shot. The lead character of scrappy Sam Tyler would be filled by hunky Jason O'Mara. The series would be set in sunny L.A. as opposed to the original urban setting of Manchester. Indeed, the initial pilot was scrapped and reworked, and I have to give the producers a ton of credit for that. Kudos to them for trying to take the time and effort to get it right. Still, I would like to have a peak of the attempt, if only to see Colm Meany as Gene Hunt.

The premiere episode of the U.S. version was everything you'd expect from a Hollywood remake - great effects, slick production, expansive locations, cast of hundreds - and still managed to capture at least some of the charm of the original. O'Mara is surprisingly compelling, however Harvey Keitel as Gene Hunt disappoints. Dare I say, he's too old? Sadly, he is not the "Bad Lieutenant" of a few years ago. (Thanks to the BBC, I can still enjoy seeing Philip Glenister as the "Gene Genie" on Ashes to Ashes.) To me, the player who stole the show was Michael Imperioli as Ray. I'm sure to tune in next week just because of him.

So I'd say the first episode of Life on Mars U.S.A. was a decent effort. I've read that after the first episode, the series will stray away from the original. Fine by me as it would cut down on the constant comparisons. I'll be interested to see if it can find its own way and evolve from being an imitation.

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