Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Lance The (OMG!) Obscure Movie Guy

In a market that is so saturated with movies, tv shows, channels, networks, streaming
services etc. It’s easy to get lost in the vast ocean that is the entertainment industry, floating adrift like Wilson in Cast Away until you find yourself on a remote island like a character from Lost, and then find a show to watch. Here, you are giddy as you start your new adventure, and you binge watch the show only to blow through it in a matter of days.

Then you start the process all over again getting lost at sea once more. It’s not a process that I enjoy. Hence, I find myself rewatching shows that I already found entertaining. Knight Rider, Burn Notice, Gotham, Pacific Blue and many more from yesteryears. While all these shows are great from a sheer entertainment standpoint, not many of the shows are rich in storyline.

Knight Rider had little storyline and as the show progressed it wasn’t so much about Michael Knight’s personal story but more about his adventures with KITT, week
in and week out. You find this with a lot of shows. Shows that have a 44 min run time often give you about 5 min of the prolonged story and the rest of the episode is more about what is happening that week, in the now.

Through all my shows there’s only been one set of shows that captured the story telling perfectly where what was happening that week took a back seat to the
overall story line.

We start with the BBC production of Life on Mars, a 2 series (the Brits refer to them as
series, not seasons) 16-episodes show that played out more like a miniseries with a proper beginning, middle, and end scenario. But contrary to what the title suggests this has nothing to do with space or Mars. Though the character, you could say, felt like he was on another planet.

Or even an alien in a world of knowing. We begin with Detective Chief Inspector Sam Tyler (John Simm) of the Greater Manchester Police in the year 2006. In the midst of pursuing a suspect on foot Tyler gets hit by a car and wakes up in the year 1973.

Tyler, confused by his surroundings, returns to the police department and finds himself working for the predecessor of the Greater Manchester Police, the Manchester and Salford Police and he is now simply a Detective Inspector, a rank lower than what he was in 2006. And now finds himself working under Detective Chief Inspector
Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) as part of the Criminal Investigative Department.

Throughout the 2 series run the plot itself is shrouded in mystery and is based on the
ambiguity of Tyler’s predicament. Is Tyler dead? In a coma? Has he somehow time traveled? The audience knows just as much as Tyler does and finds everything out just as he does. Leaving us to be as surprised as Tyler himself. It also leaves us thinking to ourselves how we would react given the same circumstances.

I don’t want to reveal too much of the greater story because I truly want people to experience it for themselves. In the series finale we finally see Sam return to the year 2006, leaving his team in 1973 in the midst of a shootout with armed robbers.

While in 2006 Sam struggles to find his footing, making sense of what had happened and trying to put the pieces of his current life back together. He feels guilty for leaving the team in a firefight and misses the life that he made while in 1973.

Sam makes a dire decision to try and return to 1973 and takes a literal leap of faith to return to his team. In the end Sam and the team ride off into the sunset, with Sam and Gene bickering as they normally do, and all is well. Or is it?

Fast forward to 2008 and we find ourselves following the similar story of officer Alex
Drake in the show Ashes to Ashes. Ashes to Ashes serves as the sequel to Life on Mars. Drake finds herself in a hostage situation in the first episode where she is subsequently shot and wakes up in 1981. Here she finds herself in a similar hostage situation only to have Sam Tyler’s former team, headed by Gene Hunt, show up like white knights and save the day. But alas, no Tyler himself. He’s gone missing.

Drake, much like Tyler, is now a DI working for Gene Hunt. It’s aforementioned that
Drake was studying Sam Tyler’s record before being shot in 2008 so she is familiar with Gene Hunt and his crew but again, no idea why or how she got to 1981. Drake now finds herself with a 2-part mission. What happened to Sam Tyler and how to get back to her daughter in 2008.

Ashes to Ashes ran for 3 series. It doesn’t have the same impact as Life on Mars because throughout “Mars” we as the audience gather our own suspicions of what had happened and start to put the pieces of the puzzle together. By the middle of the 3rd series the audience can pretty much put together what has happened to our protagonists Tyler, and Drake, but there is a greater reveal for the rest of the team near the end of the series and what Gene Hunt is really there for. And much like “Mars” the story of the characters is covered in the same style of ambiguity as Tyler and Drakes.

You never really know more than the characters themselves do. All in all, Mars and Ashes combined make one of the greatest runs in BBC history from an accoladed standpoint. In 2008 Ashes won Best International Television Series at the Geneva International Film Festival. It won Best New Drama at the TV Quick and Choice Awards.

Life on Mars in 2006 won a Banff Television Festival reward, an International Emmy for Best New Drama, it won Broadcast Magazine’s Award for Best New Program and Broadcasting Press Guild Award for Best Drama Series. Both shows were nominated for countless awards throughout their run.

Combined the shows make 40 episodes of one of the most enriched, enthralling, engaging and original storylines that I’ve ever come across. Simply put, it’s one of the greatest stories ever told with little wrong with it. The biggest downfall to Mars and Ashes is literally trying to find a way to watch it. At least here in the States. You won’t find them on any streaming platform, or app.

DVD sales were only available to regions 2 and 4, the US is Region 1. I highly suggest looking into getting a VPN that can access other parts of the world. If you do find them, I highly recommend them for anybody and everybody. These are shows that literally anyone could enjoy and get caught up in. It’s rare these days to find a series or a show with such originality and superb acting with little to nothing wrong with it. You will enjoy Life on Mars. You will enjoy Ashes to Ashes. I implore you to find these shows and watch them.

One final disclaimer. Do not waste your time on the US Adaptation of Life on Mars starring Harvey Keitel and Jason O’Mara. It’s an abomination compared to the original. Hollywood showcasing once again that they think they can do better and failing spectacularly. And while O’Mara did make a great Sam Tyler, the rest of the cast was a huge miss from the original works. Unfortunately, it is not worth the watch. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off onto my next “Adventure.”

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