All entries for Tuesday 26 February 2008

February 26, 2008

Ashes to Ashes

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I loved Life on Mars last year, and so I’ve been awaiting the follow-up, Ashes to Ashes with some interest. And now that we’re a few episodes in, it’s… okay. I’ve enjoyed it, but I’m not gripped by as I was with its predecessor, and I’ve been trying to work out why that should be. What I think is this:-

  • The ambiguity of LoM is necessarily gone; there, the writers could play with the question of whether Sam Tyler really was in a coma, or back in time, or really from 1973 and just delusionally convinced he was from the future. But since the premise of AtA is that Alex Drake meets the same characters that Sam Tyler did because she read his case file, there’s no room for doubt; she knows, and we know, that this is all in her mind and that she’s lying unconscious in 2008 having just been shot. This makes it harder to accept her engagement with the world and people around her; if she knows it’s all just in her mind, why bother conforming?
  • Life on Mars was an homage not just to a particular time, but to a particular show, The Sweeney, with Gene Hunt as Jack Regan. That gives Ashes to Ashes a couple of problems; (1) What show is it an homage to? What was the iconic cop show of the early eighties? (Minder and The Professionals were late seventies; Dempsey and Makepeace was 1985. I can’t think of a well known cop show that’s early eighties.) (2) Whatever the show(s) that’re being referenced (and the writers have name-checked Moonlighting as an inspiration, which makes sense), does Gene Hunt / Jack Regan really belong in them?
  • John Simm’s brilliant performance as Sam Tyler, and his inspired rapport with Philip Glenister as Gene Hunt, lifted the first series from engaging to gripping. I’m enjoying Keeley Hawes’ work too (though she’s either being directed, or has decided, to play too many of her scenes at near-hysteria levels) and it’s probably a good idea for them to shoot for Moonlighting-style sexual tension rather than try to recreate the chemistry of the first show. But it’s not the same.
  • Alex Drake has a child in 2008 to whom she is understandably desperate to return. This means that the ending isn’t in doubt – she will get back – unless there are some very big twists or revelations about what’s real and what’s not ahead. So another part of the fun of LoM – how will it end? – is diminished in AtA.
  • As with LoM, the art direction and soundtrack are a lot of fun, but AtA is clearly and self-consciously playing both of these up much more than LoM did, with hairstyles, clothes and a soundtrack which border on caricature. I liked the subtler approach of LoM more.

So it’s by no means a disaster and they haven’t tarnished the memory. But unless they have startling stuff ahead, it’s really just a retread, keeping the nostalgia factor which makes it fun to watch, but losing the drama and ambiguity which made LoM fun to think about.

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