Friday, 10 October 2008

Life on Mars American Style: Actually not that bad

After the qualms expressed here several months ago (Life on Mars American Style), after looking at the earlier (dreadful) trailer, my hopes were not high when the first episode of the new, American version of Life on Mars aired on the ABC network last night. That earlier trailer looked like a joke, a "Comic Strip Presents" style parody of an attempt to Americanize a superb British series. I was ready to watch the total fiasco of a series that that trailer suggested would be on offer. And yet the reports were already coming in, before the first episode aired last night, that they might have been able to pull off the impossible, and turn it into something decent. Ten minutes in, and most of my worries were laid to rest. As the American Sam Tyler got hit by a car in 2008, waking up in the New York of 1973, it was already clear that the programme itself was not going to be a car crash that had earlier been threatened. It looked like it might actually be quite good.

The move from LA of 1972 (original pilot) to New York of 1973 (the episode that aired last night) was a masterstroke, not least because of the powerful moment when Sam Tyler gets up to see the twin towers still standing in all their glory. For those who loved the British original, moments like that punctuated a script that otherwise was pretty similar to the original; and sometimes individual shots were identical, and beautifully recreated.

One warms straight away to the new Sam Tyler, and to the new blond Annie, even if the latter's hair cut looks just as ridiculous as the British Annie's, perhaps more so. The big question at this stage is whether Harvey Keitel is going to work as Gene Hunt. Certainly he already seems to be an improvement on the Colm Meaney casting of the earlier pilot, but there are still a few worrying signs. He is much older than Philip Glenister, the British Gene Hunt, and he is smaller in stature, not the kind of imposing figure that Glenister still cuts, now in the Life on Mars sequel Ashes to Ashes. Glenister's performance was the key to the success of the original. He is a bully, a rogue, a bigot and yet still lovable, funny and sometimes right. Keitel is playing the bully and the rogue in such a way that it is difficult to imagine how we are ever going to grow to like him, still less to laugh at his absurdly brilliant quips. Keitel's Hunt had one such line, something about sperm dancing towards some eggs, but it was hastily delivered and unfunny.

On the whole, though, it was not at all bad. I doubt it will be as successful as the American Office, the first really successful adaptation of a British original, but you never know. Given the clear progress that they have made since the original disastrous pilot, perhaps this can continue to improve. It will be interesting to find out.

1 comment:

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