Monday, April 16, 2007

life on mars

is there life on mars? well, yes, there is -- but not nearly enough.

life on mars the tv show, that is. not the thing bowie was singing about, but something as surreal as any of his ziggy stardust output. it's british, of course, and i watched three episodes of it last friday at coiledsoul's place. the show is very wonderfully weird and complex, funny and poignant and just plain head-spinning, but thankfully it comes with a handy slick summary, courtesy the opening credits:

"my name is sam tyler. i had an accident and i woke up in 1973. am i mad, in a coma, or back in time?"

after only three eps, i vote coma. (that's sam there at the right above, in the black leather.) mainly b/c that makes this show a fascinating depiction of the inside of a comatose person's mind. and conveys that sense of the lucid dream -- something i have experienced many times and find totally fascinating. except here it is more than a dream; it's something that lasts so long, the power the dreamworld has over the person is very strong, b/c it seems so real, it actually can keep convincing them to stay. the most intense lucid dreams i have ever had, i had to work hard inside the dream to convince myself it wasn't real. there was a sense that i had to struggle to pull myself out of the dream. obviously i would have awakened in any event -- not being in a coma -- but that experience gives life on mars a freaky sense of authenticity, despite its way-out premise.

the predicament that sam -- who was, like, really only four in 1973 (unless he was actually 30something) -- finds himself in is a beautiful and strange depiction of how adaptable the mind is, even if the way in which it adapts causes problems for one in "reality." and the show certainly asks the question, what is real? at times in 1973, the "real world" seems to break through to sam in the form of the sound of hospital monitors beeping, otherworldly people talking to him, a moment of medical crisis due to a machinery malfunction ... . sometimes these experiences reinforce his need to get back. but other times the coma-mind invents plausible explanations for these anomalies in the 1973 continuity -- which creates doubt, which makes him stay.

sam is a police detective, second in command, and his boss is basically his id. big and beefy where sam has that kind of almost-chinless metrosexual charm the brits pull off so well, DCI hunt nevertheless vaguely reflects sam in pallor and general shade of hair color -- a kind of caveman reflection, who's constantly punching people in the kidneys and swaggering about daring sam to act like the world isn't real. there is much hilarious business where they spring into action together, '70s-cop-show style, including one bit where they simultaneously leap over their desks to go bring in the bad guy. (note the starsky-and-hutch vibe to the above promo photo.)

b/c, in addition to being a deeply psychological drama and thought-provoking existentialist rumination, life on mars is a comedic take on the buddy-cop/detective genre. sometimes i have to laugh at the shots of the motley collection of detective inspectors, all smoking and staring at the guv just after he's run down whatever info he needs to run down, with expressions ranging subtly from "yeah, whatever" to "is he fuckin' kiddin' then?" i find this funny, personally, b/c i see the same type of gang-gawk in prime suspect, another british tv show with a detective, but she's helen mirren and she's not delusional in the least.

anyway. life on mars is delightful. i love a good mindfuck, and this is the shit. i hope to see more. hello, netflix? (i hear there is an american remake afoot, helmed by david e. "ally mcbeal/chicago hope/the practice/boston legal" kelley. i am actually not familiar with his oeuvre other than its popularity, so don't know what to think of this, other than he might be imagining success along the lines of the office.) i don't even want to research it too much b/c i don't want to be spoiled. i think it has two series and then there is a resolution, but am not certain. hope they do answer the mad/coma/time-travel question. poor sam, he deserves to know.


Mick said...

With luck, it may air on BBC America in the next few months.

Jenn said...

mick is right, the second series will be airing on bbca sometime in the fall. but, i have it on the pooter. we'll have to schedule some more friday night viewage very soon.