The acclaimed BBC drama, Life on Mars, is absolutely fantastic - even a decade on feels fresh and relevant as it was in when it premièred. Much of this is down to the fantastic acting, solid scripts and boisterous buddy cop duo of Sam Tyler and Gene Hunt. We need more of these types on tv!
The whole police team in the 1970s world has a great camaraderie, Ray, Chris, Annie, Phyllis, Sam and Gene all pull together, fight together and stand up for each other when the time comes - they each have unique relationships between them and this helps to build a solid team, as well as in interesting cast of characters to develop into a law enforcement crime drama.
Sam and Gene’s ‘friendship’ forms the cornerstone of the team and is often pivotal in solving cases. Their relationship grows from grudging respect for each other to mutual respect and trust for each other by the time we get to series 2. They both have the same desire to keep people safe and keep the city free from criminals, however their methods and ways of ensuring this differ greatly. It’s great to see them learning from each other (Gene learning more from Sam than vice versa) as the show progresses and backing each other up not just as police detectives but also as friends. The gruffness of Hunt’s character covers up an emotional and vulnerable side to his character and seeing Tyler help develop this was a joy to watch.
Tyler adapting to the 1970s and seeing all the references and nods to the past was fantastic - the world building was done very nicely over the episodes after the first one plunged us into this strange ‘new world’ of policing. I loved all the pop culture references Sam makes, much to the confusion of everyone else! The timely interventions of Sam’s younger self or his family were pivotal to help develop Sam’s emotional connection with the 1970s world and provided some interesting plot points and moral dilemmas for Sam - with often heartbreaking consequences.
Watching Sam open his heart up to Annie throughout the show brought up some interesting moments. Annie’s psychology background and her understanding of Sam’s possible conditions helped him adapt to the 70s and made him feel sane at times. Their friendship has plenty of UST and at many points they SO NEARLY got together it was painful to watch. But Annie holds her own and waits for Sam to settle permanently in 1973 before finally getting together with Sam :) Sam’s faith in Annie and unwillingness to push her aside for her gender or experience is refreshing to see in a crime drama and certainly still relevant to today’s sexism debate.
The ongoing issue of ‘why/where/how’ Sam is where he is, continues right until the last minutes of the finale. So many clues are dropped in throughout the seasons and it is possible to piece together why and where Sam really is - the finale may throw a few curve balls out there but ultimately resolves the issues and rounds off the series with an action packed, interesting and heartfelt goodbye to the characters we know and love.
I could go on about the interesting cases the team solve and the often hilarious introduction to modern police techniques but ultimately you should go and watch these excellent 16 episodes and just enjoy the brilliant acting on display.
Some of the best UK shows are ones with a unique idea and something different from the approach of others, Life on Mars certainly has that, so its a 5 star review from me.