Once again, a good and quirky UK series was adapted for "US audiences."  Once again, "US audiences" are taken to be unappreciative of subtlety, tragic endings, metaphysical questions, and plot twists that rise above the level of, "You mean the ghost was really old man Witherspoon, the owner of the haunted amusement park?"  Once again, networks kill a show off early heedless of the overall plot arc, and are tragically proven correct.

Warning:  the following may contain spoliers.  Of course, nothing could spoil the series for me quite as much as the finale, so my compassion for you is somewhat limited.

American television’s recent trend of "taking BBC miniseries and trying to turn them into hit series of indeterminate length that either ultimately fail or milk themselves into the ground" (The Office, Eleventh Hour) is unsurprising, given the fact that there have been precious few original ideas in television writing since, oh, about forever, but with the finale of Life on Mars the depths of my disappointment have fallen far, far below the level of "thing to laugh about" to "quickly load the UK series finale so I can burn that abomination out of my mind."

I saw the entire UK series before the US series, and thought it was pretty damn good.  It was quirky, shot in the proper method to sort of emulate the 70’s look, and drew the viewer into the perspective of the protagonist in that you would forget the time displacement arc, fully becoming engrossed into a 70’s cop show (albeit with a little less wah pedal guitar and over the top perms), only to be jarred back occasionally into the dilemma of why he’s there and what he should do about it at sporadic points.  You never forgot it in the US show, and it took something away from the rest of each episode.  You cared less about the characters and situations because the writers never let you forget that there was a good chance that none of this was really happening and was therefore not worth the attention investment.  This is not good when most of the show deals specifically with things that you no longer care about as a viewer.


The finale took this disassociation with the primary story to a whole new level.  In the UK series, the question of "what the hell is going on here" had a few logical possibilities:  time travel, coma, vivid hallucination, etc.  It turned out to be one of these things, and it was a thing that made perfect sense, almost seeming too normal.  This led to a short period of "oh well, I suppose the rest of the series really didn’t matter," a sentiment that was echoed by the protagonist, but with a kind of sadness that was then echoed in the viewer.  The finale then continued on, with the protagonist weighing the question of whether or not all the preceding events really had happened, and whether or not it mattered.  Eventually he comes to the conclusion that the fact that they probably did not happen doesn’t matter, coming down firmly on one side of the reality question, and makes a dramatic personal choice between objective and subjective existence.  Great ending.

In the US version finale, it starts out promising, with the protagonist seeming to initially choose 1973 over the present day.  Of course, his choice makes no difference, as he wakes up in a totally different situation, where both 2008 and 1973 turn out to not be real anyway.  His reaction?  "Dude, your VR gear is messed up.  Ha ha ha."  And just like that, the rest of the series is not only confirmed to be unreal, but totally and utterly unimportant.  If the protagonist doesn’t care at all, why should the viewer?  I know it seems lame, but never fear:  there are some last minute references to "Space Oddity" tossed in for no good reason, and he decides that he doesn’t want to fight with daddy anymore.  Not only does it make no sense that his dad and himself should find themselves together after he wakes up, but really who gives a rat’s ass?  This is the first time we’ve seen it.  I could almost see palpable disgust on Harvey Keitel’s face during the contrived final scenes, or maybe I was projecting.  Doesn’t matter; at least this way there was some sort of bond between viewer and character at the end.  May as well be Harvey Keitel, since Jason O’Mara has at this point become an anonymous ensemble member in a show I never really wanted to see in the first place.

I really, really wanted it to be an April Fool’s joke.

To be fair, maybe the US series writers didn’t have a whole lot of time to figure out how it was all going to end.  Wait, no.  This had to be the ending that was planned, so even if it was rushed, it was always going to be bad.  At least this way there was only one season to toss away as inconsequential instead of 2+.

Seriously, the UK series is pretty good and worth watching.  If you didn’t like the US series, it’s worth watching to see what it should have been like.  If you did like the US series, hopefully it will cure you of that.  There’s also a sequel called Ashes to Ashes, which gave me the initial impression of "let’s cash in on the Gene Hunt character while we can."  I may have to give it another shot now, as it couldn’t possibly be worse than what I just saw.

6 Responses to “Life on Mars (US) Finale: Rule Britannia”
  1. I wholeheartedly agree with this article’s author that the finale a was very unsatisfying joke. I would have much more appreciated more of an understated cliffhanger like the BBC original. Sam jumped from a building, he rejoins his crew at Manchester, he lives on…where that might be, and that’s it. Leave it to the viewer to think about it.

    The all-too-literal ending of the US version had me scratching my head. Not because I didn’t see it coming with all the random robots sprinkled throughout the episodes…but because why would we waste 17 hours on an all-too-obvious ending. If you wanted to throw an unexpected woah-didn’t-see-THAT-coming twist to the ending, how about NOT having it be about Mars.


  2. The return of MU!! Did you ever play as Musashi on darktide? I know you were mainly on FF, but was going through screens today and saw the name.

  3. Actually I never played as Musashi on any AC server. I forget what my name on DT was.

  4. Ah ok. Well anyways, glad to see your site revived, I would check every few weeks only to be disappointed. Love the new look. Do you still keep in contact with Jin Lee? I’ve been wanting to get in contact with Corvus Aestheir, my old AC1 Frostfell patron. I know he associated with her, and a guy named Lhanor, whom I think you might know as well.

  5. Spawn, its me Jered! We used to go hunting at banderling tower all the time!

    I remembered your patron Corvus Aestheir, googled his name and found this!

    Hope you see this, those were fun times!

  6. Wow yes I remember. Add me on steam or aim as aquilisdicio

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