Sunday, November 2, 2008


"Perhaps he is operating in an alternate reality...."
TV Scientist
'Life On Mars' (US)

Okay, it's finally time to render my decision about the American version of 'Life On Mars', now that I've caught up on the last two episodes (due to my trip to Colorado and this week's all-night bit torrent party down in the Village).
Just as it happened in the UK version of 'Life On Mars', NYPD detective Sam Tyler was struck down by a car and found himself back in 1973 at his same precinct.

Even though TV series remakes usually must be relegated to the alternate TV dimension for such series, it's the opinion of Toobworld Central that both versions of the show - the UK original with John Simm and Philip Glenister and the ABC freshman series which stars Jason O'Meara and Harvey Keitel - can remain in Earth Prime-Time. And we have the sequel to the original series to thank for that.

In 'Ashes To Ashes', police psychologist/profiler DCI Alex Drake read the full report of Sam Tyler's account of his life in 1973 Manchester which turned out to be a coma dream. When she found herself in a similar situation due to a bullet to the head, Alex drew upon that report to recreate Sam's "artificial constructs" of Ray, Chris, and the Gene Genie himself.
It's going to be the conceit of Toobworld Central that somebody else in Scotland Yard got hold of that account by Sam Tyler; somebody who knew a Manhattan police detective by the same name. Thinking his American friend might get a kick out of it, he (or she) downloaded almost the entire file and emailed it to the Sam Tyler of the NYPD. (He probably figured it was an amazing coincidence that the Sam he knew in America also had a girl-friend of color named Maya.)

I say "almost the entire file" because an important segment of it must have been left behind - sketches by DCI Sam Tyler which illustrated his mind's experiences.

Although we never saw him draw anything, only record his impressions to be later transcribed, at some point Sam must have had the police sketch artist draw up detailed renderings of what Gene Hunt and the others looked like in his dream-state. How else to explain that Alex Drake saw them exactly the same way? (A purer TV experience would have had other actors now playing the roles, fitting her personal vision of what the characters looked like.)

But Sam didn't get those details supplied by the sketches. So when he found himself in his own version of that coma-world at the 125th Precinct of 1973, his mind had to create his own versions of Gene, Ray, Annie, and Chris. In fact, in the case of Annie, his mind even gave her a new last name; changed from Cartwright to Norris. (Perhaps deep down the sub-conscious of Manhattan Sam realized that Manchester Sam had a special relationship with Annie Cartwright and didn't want to intrude on it.)

(The Manhattan Sam probably didn't have access to the tapes made by the Manchester Sam, either. If he had, his dream-version of Gene Hunt would have done a better job with my favorite line from the entire series - "You're surrounded by armed bastards." As delivered by Glenister, it was so full of bluster that I awarded it the Toobit for best catch-phrase. Keitel tossed it off as a throw-away; tired, resigned, and then the network cut right to the commercial, perhaps knowing the line was a wasted effort.)

Of course, this is all theory, but since it would have happened before the American version premiered, we don't have to really worry about it ever being contradicted.
Although most of the details of his new "life" are drawn from the account written up by the other Sam Tyler, the same report read by DCI Alex Drake in 'Ashes To Ashes', other details come from Sam's personal experiences.

One of these would be the name given to Nick Profaci.

As played by Lenny Venito, Profaci was a thug working for Casso in the 1973 world. But Sam dredged up a name for him from his past association with Detective Tony Profaci who worked down at the 2-7 until he was indicted for murder. (The character, played by John Fiore, made about fifty appearances on 'Law & Order' and was finally arrested in the TV movie "Exiled".)
The American Sam Tyler is rehashing most of the case details as experienced by the British Sam, but filtered through the fact that he just can't relate to certain aspects of British life. So instead of investigating the death of a soccer fan due to hooliganism, he's found himself back in 1973 looking into the death of a Vietnam Vet who was a closeted gay man. But the other details of the original case - like his bonding with the victim's son and even bumping into his younger self as his father took Sam-as-boy to a sporting event - remained the same.

The last nub to this premise is that there had been an earlier pilot episode filmed by David E. Kelley and distributed on the Internet. In this version, Sam Tyler - still played by O'Meara - was a cop in Los Angeles; his dream-world partners included Colm Meaney as Gene Hunt. Meaney's slight resemblance to Glenister would make me think that he did have access to the alleged sketches. However, there was no Ray Carling, but instead an older, comic-relief cop (as played by Lenny Clarke).

Even though this pilot was created before the one that eventually aired, the number of episodes already broadcast give the second version of 'Life On Mars' preeminence in Toobworld. So this would be one of those cases, like "The Strange World Of Horace Ford", where the original version is the one exiled, not the remake.

And so it goes.

Toby O'B


powzie said...

I haven't seen the BBC version yet (Just bought the dvds, haven't gotten to them...) so I don't know if this was previously addressed, but I was amused by this weeks episode establishing that Sam's mother is named Rose.

I know they aren't the same person, but still - no wonder he has time travel problems if his mother is Rose Tyler....

Toby said...

I don't remember if her name was even given in the original series, but MAN! I can't believe that went right over my head!!!!

Anonymous said...

i just
watched 4 straight episodes of the us 'life on mars' and then read your
toobworld post, which, as so often, left me with a bit of a headache from trying
to get my brain around the concept ...!

Jennie B

Toby said...

If your head didn't explode, then I didn't do it properly!

But I'm thankful that you're looking in on my little corner of the blogosphere!