Life on Mars Season One:
Summary: DCI Sam Tyler (roughly a Chief of Detectives in the US) is on the case one day when he’s hit by a car and wakes up in Manchester (a city in England) in 1973 as the new DC transfer to the local police department. Police work is conducted rather differently in 1973, no version of the Miranda Rights, the Gene HuntInterrogation technique, and all the coopers carry guns and will shoot if provoke. So Sam must learn how to maneuver in this alien, new world all the while he keeps hearing snippets from 2006 where his body apparently lies in an unresponsive coma.
The Good: One of the big draws to the show is that Sam Tyler has a vague idea of what is going on around him in 2006 and I liked those bits (which doesn't mean the rest of the show was bad, I just really liked that detail). As the audience you already know that he’s telling the truth, he really isn’t from 1973, but it’s also very easy to see why he appears crazy to everyone around him, especially Annie (who is part of the women's department which makes her a little bit of an outcast as well). I also liked how Sam Tyler’s own past was worked into the plot and thought it was a clever move, he knows that some odd things happened in his past right around this time so why not investigate? All of the crimes seemed relevant to the time as well and none of them were obviously easy to figure out and were interesting to watch. Also, props to John Simm for some really good acting, the only show I had seen him in before was as The Master in Doctor Who and in there I was seriously doubting he could actually act since he was so hammy. Here however he did a completely different character and it actually took me some time to realize it was the same actor*.
The Bad: My main complaint is that this season doesn’t stand on it’s own very well since the ending just doesn’t do much. Sam does have character growth but has only partially accepted his fate and it’s clear that this show is going to have/really needs its second season. Since there is a second season this is a bit less of a problem and it was easily my biggest problem with the show but writing a multi-part show where the individual parts can't stand on their own does mean that the writing went wrong at one point or another.
The Audio: The show has several period pieces of music playing in the background and a few of them reference themes in the show (such as the titular “Life on Mars” song by David Bowie, part of the song seems to literally describe the show and the idea is that 1973 is so alien to Sam Tyler that he might as well be on Mars). Normally I wouldn’t have been a fan of a lot of the songs used in the show, they’re simply not my style, but I really liked how the music was integrated and found myself enjoying the music and that’s probably the ultimate sign that the music was used well.
The Visuals: The show is set in 1973 and does a nice job recreating the setting with the clothes, color schemes, and cars used. One touch I liked was how the 1973 police station is always filled with cigarette smoke, something absent from the shots of it in the 2000s. I’m not that fond of 1970s style but I thought that the designers managed to make it all look natural on the characters, not like people from the current day at a costume party.
Thankfully I have not had nearly as hard a time getting a hold of the second season of Life on Mars, my school library already had a copy of that, so I'm making my way through that right now and enjoying it as well. I know there was a deliberate decision to stop the show after two seasons (with Ashes to Ashes being made a bit later as a spiritual successor of sorts) so hopefully that resolves my problems with the show.
*and that’s not because I’m bad at faces since he looks identical in both shows, although it has been a while since I saw John Simm in Doctor Who.