08 February 2008

Ashes to ashes, bland & clunky, looks like The Guv's just a flunkie...

2nd Day, First Month - Year 97 (Year Of The Rat)

WARNING: Spoiler alert--the review gives away a lot of the plot, if you haven't seen the episode.

Pixie and I caught the first episode of the 'sequel' series to the often great Life On Mars, called Ashes To Ashes (see what they did there, another Bowie song title--I wonder if they'll make a 90s version next and call it I'm Afraid Of Americans...).

The verdict? For me, just...meh. The story this time around revolves around Alex Drake (played by a very posh Keeley Hawes), a police psychologist who was involved with Sam Tyler (the main protagonist of "Life.."), as his shrink. She's memorised Tyler's case details and in the opening scene, is going over it with her far-too-precocious-to-believe daughter, Molly, while on the morning school run. The usual police "situation" happens and Alex is ordered to the scene. A gunman has a hostage and, of course, a stand-off has ensued. Drake is supposed to talk the man down--but as she approaches him, he remarks that he knew her parents. His name is Arthur Leyton and he becomes central to the plot. In another moment of belief suspension, Molly runs out of the crowd as Leyton takes her mother hostage. Leyton grabs the girl instead and Drake pursues them both. She finds her daughter unharmed and they call it a day. I guess Molly earns a "get-out-of-school-free" card for being accosted by a crazed gunman. She takes off with some guy, I didn't catch who that is--husband, maybe?

Alex gets into her car--and who should be there? Yep, Leyton. The ol' hiding-in-the-back-seat ploy (I often wonder why people in cop shows never lock their car doors). She drives to the usual 'secluded spot', he frog-marches her somewhere else...there's a scuffle, the gun fires...and she wakes up in 1981. That's what we're meant to think anyway--she's surrounded by people with daft haircuts and goofy clothes. She makes an escape, only to be held at gunpoint by another lunatic. Luckily, this time--Gene "The Guv" Hunt (Philip Glenister) appears, cowboy boots and all..with a couple of his old cronies from Manchester and they save the day. It seems he's transferred down to The Big Smoke to battle the rising drug tide...or something. They all head down to the station house and Alex realises who they are. She's then convinced that she's tapped into Tyler's fantasy world and tries to figure out how to break out of it. Through the guy they've arrested, she finds out that Leyton is involved (small fantasy world...) and surmises that the key to get herself out of '81 is to arrest him.

The rest of the episode involves The Guv and Drake and the rest of the crew tracking down the drug ring and Drake gunning for Leyton. Occasionally, there'll be weird moments where a guy dressed like Bowie-as-clown on the "Ashes To Ashes" single appears and chases her. The climactic sting operation/shoot-out sees The Guv calling himself "The A Team" (a not-so-sly reference to..well you know) and commandeering a speedboat and brandishing an Uzi. Over the top? Yep.

Overall, I don't think it worked as well as "Life..." It just seemed too self-referential--with Drake somehow knowing that she was she's in a world of her own creation following her being killed (or nearly killed). It lacked that Philip K. Dick-ian ambiguity that propelled Sam Tyler's search to find out what had actually happened to him and exactly why he seemed to be in 1973. The writers have obviously tried to up the eye-candy quotient this time around as well. No more dowdy PC Cartwright--Drake spends most of the episode wearing a silk red top, a red leather miniskirt and black stockings. The Guv is reduced to a near-cartoon--just firing off macho asides and waving a 44 Magnum around. The attempts to set up some kind of Spencer Tracy/Kate Hepburn friction between them seem forced. It's almost as if a 16-year-old was given the script-writing task--"Let's see, the bird will be dressed like a tart, that Guv geezer can say lots of dead cool stuff and some posh twat will be the baddie...and the long-haired bloke can also be the bad guy...oh yeah, can we put The Guv on a speedboat?"

I also thought the way they weaved the title song into the script seemed a bit ham-fisted. Leyton sings the "I'm happy, are you happy too" bit early on--and Drake sings it to herself later in the episode. The appearance of the clown also references the tune. I don't remember anyone humming the "Life On Mars" melody in either of it's two series. The only time the song appeared was in the final episode. It's almost like they're building the show around the song itself.

Ah well, I didn't like "Life on Mars" at first either - but I think "Ashes To Ashes" is going to have to pick up the pace in a big way to match it's predecessor.


Anonymous said...

In total agreement with your analysis, sir. I really have my doubts about this one. I loved LOM from the off and this gets nowhere near it. It helped having the brilliant John Sim.

Technical note: Bowie's 'Life On Mars' was playing on Tyler's car stereo just before he was knocked flat by a passing motor in the first episode (Clever Clogs LOM fan).

Just hope the nest series isn't called 'The Glass Spider Tour' !!!

The Purple Gooroo said...

Cheers, Bear - John Sim definitely helped with the appeal of "L.O.M." and Sam Tyler seemed to be a more likeable character than Alex Drake.

I didn't know that about the tune being played in the first ep. of "L.O.M.", I stand corrected. We missed it. Pixie's friend Cathy has the DVD sets, so we might borrow them and watch the ones we missed.

Anonymous said...

Must get me the second series on DVD soon.

Still, that bit in 'Ashes' where the bloke sings 'I'm happy, hope you're happy too' is laughably feeble.

Typically, it got great ratings. I wonder how many will be watching nest week?