'Life On Mars: Series 1' (UK)
(John Simm, Philip Glenister, et al / 4-Disc DVD / NR / (2005) 2009 / Acorn Media)
Overview: Hot on a killer’s trail in modern-day Manchester, Tyler gets struck by a passing car and wakes up in 1973. The high-tech tools and respect for proper procedure have vanished. Instead, he finds himself working on a homicide squad where hard drinking replaces hard thinking; forensics takes weeks to analyze; and his boss, DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister, Cranford), has no qualms about roughing up suspects - or Sam himself.
DVD Verdict: First brought to US our screens via BBC America back a couple of years ago, this UK show was actually born in 2005! Thus, it is amazing to further learn that this set only contains the first 8 episodes of the series; with the remaining 8 to follow in 2010! Why is it being done this way? Who knows. But what IS for sure is that the UK series (and technically not the US version that came out; and then fizzled out last year) is an incredibly brilliant TV show (that also won two International Emmys®) that will have you instantly hooked.
And so, with the basic premise noted above of DCI Sam Tyler (John Simm, State of Play) getting struck by a passing car having a breather during a chase scene; thus waking up in 1973, he quickly finds himself in an antiquated police station, surrounded by antiquated police officers, and antiquated police procedures!
The show gets straight to the point from the first scene and so in episode one, Tyler's world is immediately turned upside down when moments after his girlfriend (and colleague) is kidnapped, he is involved in this accident. Featuring the search for a modern day killer that seems to also have got his start back in the early '70s, Tyler puts the pieces together expertly ... and even provides us with a wonderful twist ending!
In episode two, Tyler's dogged pursuit of true evidence brings him head to head with his DCI, Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) when the team arrests a robbery suspect, but let him go due to lack of evidence. The fact that an innocent woman subsequently gets hurt as a result has Tyler then working double time to make amends. A slower episode this one, featuring nice tracking shots of the two officers smoking alongside the hospital bed, and then, upon leaving they simply drop the cigarette to the floor and stamp them out! Now hearing weird from-the-ether voices and sounds, Tyler thinks he's going mad - but soon gets to grip with the fact that it's actually the other side trying to contact him at his 2006 hospital bedside!
Episode three is where a fatal stabbing at Crester's Textiles suddenly takes on a whole different meaning for Tyler, as he soon discovers that Crester's is the converted Mill where he lives in 2006! The death is that of a worker, but this is another slow-to-start episode. Although it does pan out to be a nice whodunnit come the very end. Still trapped in '73, Tyler is shown becoming more at ease with his surroundings, but is butting heads with another officer within his unit - in ways that you just know will explode down the line!
Episode four is all about the local crime boss and the ethos of his whole department - especially when he quickly discovers that they let him be in order to tuck away the odd bung and such! A better, faster episode this one with way more meat to it, it alos features a very pretty young lady named 'Joannie' as the central honeytrap. But, and for all the Brits watching this show for the first time over here in the US, the nightclub scene where Tyler runs into three England footballers AND the legendary Marc Bolan is just frickin' priceless!
In episode five, while investigating the murder of a Manchester United football fan, Sam, Gene and WPC Annie Cartwright (the oh-so-lovely Liz White) go undercover (and behind the bar) to gather evidence in the local pub! This turns out to be a very well done, deep, thought out episode, but if you are canny to the way they pan out, you'll guess the true culprit before the end! Mind you, the price of the actual big match football ticket being just 35p is hilarious! As was the fact that a pint in the pub was just 13p in the early '70s!!!
Episode six strays off the beaten path somewhat for when his mother's voice bleeds through from 2006, Tyler hears her say goodbye to him. He hears that his life support machine is to be turned off at 2pm. We are then informed that 'back' in 1973 a hostage-taker will kill his prisoners at 2pm. Now Tyler has to figure out, slowly as it happens, if this is his only way to actually save his life in 2006? Featuring lots of hostage negotiation scenes, the storyline is good, but rambles.
In episode seven, a small time drug dealer dies in police custody, which puts Tyler pitted up against the whole of his CID unit. His suspicions of a police cover-up make him very unpopular. Even more so when he tries to find out the truth. And yes, this is the most boring of all the episodes for sure, but is dealt with in its final moments rather well. It does show, however the inner-protectiveness of the whole CID unit back in the '70s, how they circled around one another. Also, this one episode is weird for not having any '70s tunes playing at any time throughout it!
In the season ender, Tyler has finally started to accept his new world and believes that he can deal with anything that it throws at him. Then he comes face to face with his 29-year-old dad – a small-time gambler caught up in a murder case. Then, all bets are off as the only person he tells about this weird situation is WPC Annie Cartwright - who just thinks he needs a rest! But what he finds out about his dad, plus the way it blends into his continual, and weird flashbacks finally all comes full circle. Nothing he finds out he likes and come the final moments Tyler has to make a very, very snap, personal, professional decision.
And so, this original UK show is as good as all that and more! Another tidbit of '70s info is that some of the inner CID bets involve what they call a 'Party 7.' This was a rather cheap, vile beer that came in a tin can meant for about 7 people. One that you had to open with chisels and hammers! As for the extras, well, aside from the audio commentaries, 'Get Sykes' (7mins) is all about production designer Brian Sykes, a man who also put his stamp on 'All The President's Men.' The Outtakes (6mins) are funny, and full of swear words!, but the two-parter "Take a Look at the Lawman," an hour-long documentary with cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage is just plain tedious! Great things re: small amount of CGI and such are revealed, but the director just prattles on, in truth!
Lastly, just keep an eye out throughout the entire series for the show's catchphrase, and raise a glass to it and drink each time it's uttered: "Listen to the Gene Genie"!! These are all Full Screen Presentations (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and come with the Special Feature of:
Audio commentaries for every episode with cast and crew
"Take a Look at the Lawman," an hour-long documentary with cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage
Interview clip with director Bharat Nalluri
"The Music of Life on Mars" featurette with composer Ed Butt
"Get Sykes" featurette with production designer Brian Sykes