Thursday, April 02, 2009

Life on Mars?

Thanks to Kate Walker's lovely Christmas gift, I had a chance to see the original British version of Life On Mars.

I found it compelling, intriguing, occasionally irritating, but always watchable. I was as baffled as the hero, Sam Tyler, at times by what was happening. And I'd have thought I was going insane, too, if I'd had to wake up every morning in a bedsit with that wallpaper staring me in the face.

The US knockoff was different, but it had some things going for it, too. There were parallels that played nicely in both cultures. We watched the ending of the second British series Sunday night.

Last night we watched the ending of the US version.

Yikes. What a difference.

Because the US version was recently cancelled, I guess we can charitably put this episode down to someone's attempt to wrap things up and 'explain' what the heck was going on in Sam Tyler's psyche and in his life.

But what they did last night wasn't it. It was a complete betrayal of the audience's trust.

Spoiler alert: If you intend to see it and don't want to know, stop reading here.

If you already know, I'd be interested in your opinion. Mine is that it completely undercut our investment in the lives and relationships of the characters.

To have Sam wake up from his coma in 2008 or 2009, and have learned something from the time in 1973, okay. It was there in the premise -- "If I figure out why I'm here, maybe then I can get home." To have him choose, as he did in the British version, to opt for 1973, fine, too, because his choice was at least justified. He felt something there; it was the right place for him to be.

But the US version was to have the whole sequence be a dream of Sam Tyler the astronaut on his way to Mars.

Oh, come on.

It makes everything meaningless. We can't believe in the relationships at all. And to say he spent however long he was in space with his fellow astronauts (all members of the 1973 police force) working out his relationship to his father, embodied in Gene Hunt, boggles the mind.

Especially because there is no clue about what the relationship was 'really' about in this third reality we haven't been introduced to. Obviously it was adversarial. But, "I don't want to fight with you anymore, Dad?" as an excuse for a TV series? I don't think so.

Where was Blake Snyder when these writers needed him?

Where was their sense of appropriate pay-off for the viewers who invested time and emotion in the characters?

I felt totally ripped off. It was one of those 'throw the book across the room' moments. Unfortunately the television set was too heavy. And it wasn't the set's fault anyway.

It wasn't the actors' fault either, though I wonder that they could begin to play the ending with straight faces.

I should have known it was going to hell when Sam told Rose that little Sammy would grow up to read her Gulliver's Travels when she was old and gray. Gulliver's Travels is what The Prof wrote his doctoral disseration about. It is not bedtime reading. Or old folks' home reading. It's definitely not a book about which the night nurse says, "Oh, I just love that book."

Nope. Never. It is an allegorical journey however -- maybe something that the writers thought pointed toward the ending they were heading for. They'd have been smarter to let Sam fall off the end of the earth.

Watching it was certainly a wakeup call. It was a stark reminder about how important the emotional pay-off is and how sacred the unspoken contract between writer and reader or viewer: You read or listen or watch, and I will give you people to care about who will travel a journey you can buy into and which will fulfill your expectations in the end.

It's a lesson to remember. Don't jerk your readers around. Don't leave them dissastified. Don't change the rules. Don't leave them feeling as if they've been betrayed.

Make them care about your characters, yes. But then make sure there's a real honest reason that they should. And give them an ending that is implicit in the promise of the beginning. Don't lie to them.

If you listen to the voice over at the beginning (which is the same in both versions) there is no hint of anything that would imply this absurd ending. No promise. None.

Sad. And a waste of time. I won't be buying the US version DVDs, that's for sure.



Blogger Kate Walker said...

Oh come on indeed! And as you said, a great reminder too - don't jerk your readers around. I think my TV would have hit the wall - heavy or not

I'm just so glad you have the original LOM to console you. I'm glad you enjoyed your Christmas Present - which reminds me to get your Easter 'egg' in the mail.

Reminder to self - rewatch the whole series WTDBIF (when the damn book is finished)


PS Word verification is barings ... hmmm- sure I can read something into that

03 April, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Kate, you would have been screaming, if you'd seen it. We were. Argh! I can still scream every time I think about it, so I try not to.

Shame, too, because the actors were very good and, as I said, there were some very interesting parallels that played out in the US versions. But the ending simply appalled me.

Barings, indeed.

03 April, 2009  
Blogger Michelle Styles said...

The ending sounds absolutely dreadful.

Ashes to Ashes is okayish. But I do prefer Life on Mars.

I happen to like Philip Glenister as an actor.

03 April, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

I liked both John Simm and Philip Genister. They were great. So were the guys who played Chris and Ray.

In fact, the actors in the US version were good. Hard to beat Harvey Keitel for acting chops, and Jason O'Mara held his own.

It was the writing, sorry to say, that let us down.

03 April, 2009  
Blogger DeniseClaire said...

My DH and I loved watching this show and it was disheartening to say the least, when we saw the ending. DH just said "Newhart". I was thinking the same. At least when that show aired, the dream concept was original and funny. I didn't feel ripped off by it.

I started watching LOM just for Jason O'Mara, then grew to love the other characters. Jason does not seem to have good luck with TV series.

I was thinking of buying the DVD series until I saw the ending. Not now.

This is why reality TV continues to be the mainstay anymore.

07 April, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Jason was excellent in the part. The whole cast was memorable. I felt as if they were as "betrayed" as the viewers were by the idiocy at the end.

I didn't watch TV for a lot of years, so I didn't think "Newhart" as you did, but someone else who saw it mentioned whatever season it was of "Dallas" where Bobby apparently dreamed the whole season. Whether that was before or after "Newhart" I don't know (didn't see it either), but it is a let down.

I felt the same way as "Alias" got weirder and weirder in the last two seasons. I have the first four seasons of it, but I never watch the last part of the last season. Doesn't do anything for my "expectations" of what the characters should be doing.

I fear you may be right about reality TV, Denise. Sad, isn't it?

Thanks for stopping by!

08 April, 2009  

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