Brilliant! That's my
review in a nutshell. The second season
of the British show Life on Mars is
one of those programs where everything comes together perfectly to
great television. I was a little worried
about watching this final season after seeing the American remake
which was good but had an incredibly horrible ending.
Would the UK
version manage to tie things up
in a satisfactory way, and would the quality of the first season carry
the second? The answer to both questions
is 'yes'. Not only are this season's
episodes just as good as the first season's, but the final episode
wraps up the
series perfectly and is one of the best hours of television that I've
seen in a
Sam Tyler (John Simm) is a detective in Manchester, England. He's on the track of a serial killer, one who
has just abducted his female partner.
Angry, impatient for a breakthrough, and not sure what to do, he
his car over to the side of the road, gets out for some fresh air, and
by a car.
He wakes up some time later, but not in a hospital, or even
on the side of the street. He's in an
empty lot where they're just starting to break ground for a new
expressway. He hasn't moved physically,
but the year is now 1973. Dressed in
clothes of the time, he finds papers with his name and rank on them
he's been transferred from the town of Hyde
to the local police station. The same
one he had been working in up in 2006.
Once there he finds that things were quite different back in the
70's. It takes weeks to get a finger
print report back, and most of the common place investigative
he was used to haven't been invented yet.
Not only are the techniques different, so is standard operating
procedure. When Sam's boss thinks he's
found the perpetrator to a crime, he beats him until he confesses and
doesn't work he has a stash of drugs hidden away that he uses as plants. Sam is aghast at these methods and fights
them every step of the way, which makes him unpopular with his fellow
to say the least. He wants to do things
by the book, circa 2006, but all of his new-fangled ideas are met with
To make matters worse, Sam is not sure that he is really in
the past. He thinks he's either crazy or
in a coma dreaming everything. To add to
his suspicion he hears voices, people like his mother asking if he can
or doctors explaining his condition. He's
sure if he can only figure out why he's in 1973, he can get back to his
The season starts off with another clue, or red herring, to
Sam's real condition when he gets a call from Hyde.
He gets a few enigmatic calls where someone
will tell him to 'hang in there' and that he's doing a good job and
be able to come home soon, but he's not sure what concrete action he
take. He has the number traced, and when
he rings it the voice on the other end tells him not to call anymore,
not the way the system works.
While he's trying to figure out just how to get back home,
Sam is also being useful in 1973. In one
case an Indian who owns a record shop was found shot in his store. Gene Hunt, Sam's boss, and the other
detectives write it off as a drug killing since there was a small
Heroin found in his pocket. Sam isn't so
sure. He thinks it's a hate crime since
the man who was shot had been beaten by local skin-heads in the past. The two constantly butt heads over the path
the investigation should take, especially over whether or not to allow
competing drug dealer torture and kill the shot man's brother in order
out where the drugs are coming from.
Another good episode has Sam trying to figure out what
happened in an old case. A man's wife
and child are kidnapped in broad daylight.
He receives a ransom note stating that the man who was arrested
confessed to a murder over a year ago is actually innocent and that if
set free by a certain time, the woman and her daughter would be killed. Sam
wants to go over the old case and see what they missed, while DCI Hunt
go out and crack heads in search of the missing innocents.
The great thing about this program is that not everything is
black and white. Sam isn't always
correct in his assumptions and Gene isn't always wrong.
The thing that neither of them realizes is
that together they're able to solve crimes that would have eluded each
man separately. It's this dynamic between
Gene and Sam that
keeps the show interesting and engaging.
The show really starts to pick up in the last few episodes
of the season, building towards a great climax.
In the penultimate episode Sam hears a radio broadcast telling
he has a brain tumor and that Dr. Morgan is going to operate, though
he's not sure
if Sam is strong enough. That same
morning Sam gets a call from Hunt. After
a night of drinking after loosing a criminal case, Gene woke up in the
the released defendant, who has been shot dead with Gene's gun. The officer has no recollection of what
happened, and he asks Sam to lead the investigation.
To add to Sam's problems a new Chief Inspector
has been assigned to replace Hunt during the investigation, DCI Morgan.
rest of this review will talk about the final episodes and give away
While the final episode of the US
version was hackneyed and stupid, the UK version gets everything
right. Still hearing radio and TV
broadcasts from Dr. Morgan telling him that he has to be strong in
order to get
back to his own time, DCI Morgan calls him and says that for the
be a success, Sam has to take down Hunt and his renegade department. Then he can go back to Hyde.
After growing close to Hunt and the other detectives over
the past two years, does he have the strength to betray them? But if they aren't real people, just figments
of his tumor-riddled mind, betraying them wouldn't be wrong, would it? Sam goes about getting the evidence he needs
to pass to DCI Morgan while the rest of the department investigates a
they have that a payroll train will be robbed.
After Hunt lets the tipster get killed and beats his
coworkers to find out who is behind the robbery, Sam has a good amount
evidence and passes it to Morgan. He lets
the other officer know that he's really a doctor in 2006, and that he's
forward to getting back, when Morgan tells him that he's suffering from
amnesia. The car accident at the
beginning of the series caused him to forget his past and hear voices,
something that happened to him as a child.
He's taken to a cemetery where he sees his parent's graves and
from them the graves of the Tyler's,
a name he stole while going under cover.
But, if this is the real world, and he is just mad, then he'll
really be betraying Gene and the rest of his friends.
The stress of not knowing what to believe is
almost too much for him, and then things get worse.
This is just a great series that I totally enjoyed.
As I mentioned in my review of the first
season, the juxtaposition between the hard-bitten street cop and the
officer makes for a great show. The push
and pull between Gene and Sam made for great drama, especially since
could relate to both characters. That's
because the police from 1973, while hard drinking and willing, if not
bend the rules more than a little aren't painted as bad guys, just the
opposite. In several episodes it's the
traditional cops who are closer to the truth than Sam. It's
this even-handedness that makes the show
The music they use for the show really adds another
dimension to the program. The soundtrack
is filled with early 70's Brit-rock and it is excellent.
Not only is the Bowie tune that the show gets
its name from used (it's playing on Sam's iPod when he's hit by the
other big name acts have songs in the show, including Wings. Not cheesy bubble gum rock, but the real
thing. This helps set the tone for the
show but also adds a lot of fun to the proceedings.
One of the fantastic things about it was that they did wrap
up the ending when they could have easily gone on for a few more
seasons. As the creators mentioned in one
extras, the prospect of milking the show for several more years was
appealing. After all steady work in the
is hard to come by. They decided to side
with their craft rather than going for the money however.
They figured it would be better to go out
while they were on top instead of waiting until the show lost it's
they were cancelled. They made the right
The 8 episodes that make up the first season come on four
DVDs that are housed in four thinpak cases, which in turn are housed in
I was surprised to find both a stereo audio track as well as
a DD 5.1 mix. The show is centers the
dialog on the screen thought the 5.1 mix opens up the soundstage a bit
more. The The voices are clean and
clear, though there are one or two times when it's hard to understand
word from a rapidly delivered speech due to the accents.
Luckily there are optional subtitles.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic image isn't as crisp and tight as I
would have liked, though it does pretty good.
Being a recent show I was hoping the colors would have been a
brighter and the blacks just a tad darker, but these are more nit-picky
problems that any real flaw with the picture quality.
There is some digital noise in a couple of
scenes where the sky is predominant in the framing, and a little
again, these are minor problems. When
all is said and done this is a solid looking TV show on DVD. Just not reference quality.
Like season one, this set includes a fair number of extras. One thing I really, really, liked about the
is that Acorn included a spoiler warning in front of the ones that gave
significant plot developments. I wish
other studios would do that too.
Disc one has the longest featurette, The Return of Life on
This 45 minute documentary talks with the cast and crew and
looks at the
second season including the problems associated with having to
following up a
hit first season.
The most enjoyable bonus item though was The End of Life on
Mars a nearly half-hour long look at the last episodes. The writers/creators, director, and cast and
more talk about the genesis of the episode, when various people knew
would end, and discuss some of the ideas that were discarded.
In addition to that there are three episodes have
behind-the-scenes reels (episodes 3, 5, and 7) and there's also a tour
sets on disc three.
This is one of those shows that are just flawless.
With all of the drama of a good detective
show and the mystery of just what's happened to Sam Tyler, there's
never a dull
moment. The first seven episodes in this
season are all excellent, but the final episode achieves greatness. With a deep internal conflict for Sam to
wrestle with and everything explained in a very satisfactory way, the
episode is just fantastic television.
This season is actually better than season one.
Add to that the great bonus materials and
solid presentation and this must-buy set earns the DVD Talk Collector Series