February 26, 2008

Ashes to Ashes

Writing about web page http://www.bbc.co.uk/drama/ashestoashes/

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.


- 8 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. Steve Rumsby

    Agreed on all counts.

    I started watching it almost out of habit. It was LoM series 3. But quickly I realised that we already know the ending, and that therefore all of the strange characters and voices in the TV aren’t so strange. But more than that, Alex knows what’s going on and she is clearly avoiding getting engaged in events to a larger extent than Sam did. She knows she doesn’t need to. Except she seems to be getting into the “I’m here for a reason” stuff, in which case the whole show is about her finding out that reason. A bit like an episode of Quantum Leap, but taking a lot longer.

    Unless the writers have a twist up their sleeves…

    I’m finding it less interesting. If it wasn’t for iPlayer I might not even have seen every episode.

    27 Feb 2008, 09:34

  2. Casey

    ....but the styling!

    In theory my hair ought to be able to do that – but it doesn’t. I’ll just have to resort to wearing a lot of eyeshadow instead….

    09 Apr 2008, 12:24

  3. Richard M. Davis

    You made me realise that the thing it (or at least she) reminds me of most is The Gentle Touch
    Nostalgic video clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOcOCGiB4Rs

    10 Apr 2008, 11:24

  4. Steve Rumsby

    I’d completely forgotten about The Gentle Touch. You are right – Keeley & Jill could be twins:-)

    I guess it was obvious that there was going to be a second series, and so preventing the bomb that killed her parents was never going to get her “back home”. I wonder if they’ve got some sort of twist in store for the end of the second series? If we assume the same thing is happening this time as last, then that doesn’t leave a lot of suspense for the closing episodes, does it?

    10 Apr 2008, 11:47

  5. John Dale

    Now that I come to think of it, weren’t there two shows which aired within just a few months of each other with female police officer leads? The Gentle Touch was the ITV one, and Juliet Bravo was the BBC one. Didn’t they actually have an in-joke about that in one episode of AtA, where Gene says to Alex something to the effect of “Who do you think you are, Juliet Bravo?”?

    Now that the series has ended, I feel that I should also note that in the second half of the series, episodes 5 through 8, I thought the show picked up tremendously, and the reveal of the villain in the final episode was just fantastic; much better than the end of series 1 of Life on Mars.

    10 Apr 2008, 14:05

  6. Steve Rumsby

    Yes, Gene did refer to Juliet Bravo. I can’t remember the context, though.

    And yes, the second half was better than the first, and the final episdoe probably the best of the lot. Gene rescuing the young Alex and the old Alex remembering it was an interesting twist. Not sure where that’s leading…

    10 Apr 2008, 14:51

  7. TV Fan

    Really upset I missed the final episode :(

    Kind of screwed up the whole show for me at the mo as I don’t know what the twist/villain is.

    11 Apr 2008, 23:14

  8. Steven Robert Gill

    I always thought it was weird the way they instantly make you think that its all in her head, turns out that was probably a clever ploy by the writeres
    to swerve us, the whole is it/isnt it real dilemma has been reopened which makes this series a HELL of a lot more interesting, the writers clearly had
    more than a rehash planned when they wrote this, this could actually help explain what really happened to sam tyler in LOM

    14 Apr 2008, 22:45


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