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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

the last episode of the American ‘Life on Mars’: no they didn’t!


When I heard that the fake Life on Mars was being cancelled, I recorded the last two episodes so I could see just how badly they were gonna screw it up, and I finally watched both last night. And I’m really hoping I’m gonna wake up out of a coma and discover that this was all a terrible nightmare generated by my damaged brain, because not only was their idea of a resolution worse than I imagined, it was worse than I could have imagined. (I stole that last bit from my friend Bonnie — bronxbee in comments here — who watched with me, and was just as stupefied by the ending as I was.)

Although I have to admit that it does perfectly encapsulate much that was wrong with this adaptation of one of the best shows ever made: It was so unbe-freaking-lievably literal that you almost cannot wrap your head around how stupid the writers must have imagined their audience was. So Sam was asleep in a freezer on a spaceship on the way to Mars! Are they fucking kidding us? As if Life on Mars had to actually be about Mars! Forget metaphor. Forget subtlety. Forget cleverness.
No, really, really forget metaphor, subtlety, and cleverness. In the second to last episode, we learn that 1973 Sam lives in apartment 2B (or maybe that was revealed in a previous episode, one of the ones I couldn’t bear to watch — but I bet it wasn’t). And I thought, Are they fucking kidding us? 2B… or not to be? No they didn’t! It’s as if this bit were specifically designed to pander to stupid people, to make stupid people think they’re deep by taking their hand and leading them to the one line from Shakespeare they know. (I’m not saying the audience was stupid, just that the writers figured they were and might as well give them a condescending pat on the head.) And then, in the last episode, as if that astonishing bit of insulting obviousness weren’t enough, Sam’s hippie neighbor Windy has to actually come out and say, to Sam’s face, “2B, or not to be.” For all the extra stupid morons watching who hadn’t already figured that one out, I guess. Or maybe for Sam. Maybe the writers thought Sam was stupid.

Oh, and Sam… It turns out, in the last minutes of the show, that the writers choose to taunt the audience. “Guess what?” they cackled gleefully. “You don’t know Sam at all. You never met the real Sam. You don’t know anything about his life. He was never a cop in 2008. His father was never a villain who influenced his life for good or bad. He never had a girlfriend named Maya. It was all a dream, or a game, or a virtual novel that Sam was merely playing along with.” So everything dedicated viewers of the show had seen up to that point was a trick, a joke, completely and utterly pointless. I’m infuriated by that, and I didn’t even like the show, didn’t even like this Sam. I can’t imagine how mad I’d have been if I did like the Sam I’d been spending time with for however many episodes there were.

If we didn’t already have ample evidence of the contempt the writers clearly held their audience in, here it was for sure.

And forget about learning anything about the real Sam, other than he’s on a “gene hunt” with his father, “Major Tom.” *groan* Because now the show is over. And it wouldn’t matter anyway. Because the real Sam has absolutely nothing to do with anything that the audience has seen.

The ending of the proper British Life on Mars was sad, because I love that Sam and I would have loved to spend more time with him. But it was satisfying, too — it was right, for the story, for the character. But this… this is enraging. This is beyond enraging. I can’t even articulate how enraged I am.

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  • It’s funny. They had a perfectly good ending they could have used, but chose to come up with something idiotic. It just shows either how stupid American television is (there’s plenty of evidence for that) or the contempt the writers and producers had in finding their show was canceled…

  • Ide Cyan

    I didn’t watch the remake but I watched the ending on YouTube. The Despair Squid was missing.

  • Hank Graham

    For someone who can’t even articulate how enraged you are, you’re doing a pretty good job of it.

  • Ryan

    Yes, I care neither about the British nor the American version of the show…but I find your rage to be quite articulate, heh.

  • Sarah


    (although I didn’t really like the ending to the original Life On Mars either. The rest of it was brilliant, though.)

  • Could’ve been worse. He could’ve woken up next to Bob Newhart. ;)

  • Manfredi

    Personally I must quietly state I did love the finale and the series itself quite a lot and I think that, given the many clues spread arround the episodes, it was tough to come with a brilliant idea.
    Now I’m ready to go throught the English one, and then go into Ashes to Ashes, I just find it all so enjoyable!

  • suzie

    I thought the ending was basically a cop-out (pun not intended) for everyone who got invested in the show’s details and history. I enjoyed the American version as well as the UK version, but the way the American one ended was like fixing up a gaping wound with a bandaid. “There you go! All fixed now!” No, you writer morons, it’s not ok. Way too many loose threads shoved to the side in the name of this new Truth, patched on at the last second. Ridiculous.

  • NorthernStar

    Seriously?? That’s their solution?!

    If you’d have posted that a few days back I’d swear it was an April Fool’s.

    I had been interested in seeing the American version when it finally washed up on our shores, but not now. I don’t need that polluting my love of the show.

  • I didn’t like the American version because the British version of Sam Tyler was a MUCH better actor than the American version.

    I watched a few episodes of the American series. And, frankly, while I thought most of the American episode was only so-so, I rather liked the ending, particularly last very last shot.

  • MaryAnn

    I just realized that there’s another reason to be mad at this: Sam doesn’t realize he’s a character in a fictional story called *Life on Mars*… or at least, he shouldn’t. But this ending assumes that he *does* know this, which is meta in a way that meta should never be.

    And, honestly, however articulate you think I sound here, I promise you that it’s nothing to how I feel. However angry you think I sound here, multiple it by a thousand.

  • Well, “2B” was in the show from the start — that hot chick called Sam “2B” in at lest the first 2 episodes (the only ones I watched).

    I am kinda interested to watch the last few episodes now, though, just to see it… if only I could stomach watching the show.

  • Leslie Carr

    We’ve just seen the last episode of Ashes to Ashes in the UK – it wrapped up the 5 seasons of the Life on Mars universe that revolved around Gene Hunt. And it was brilliant – the sort of ending that breathes life back through all the previous episodes. Not a closing off, but an opening up of the story, and of the significance of each of the characters and their actions. I loved it and I hope MAJ and the US readers get the chance to see it soon!

  • MaryAnn

    I’ve just started watching series 1 of *Ashes to Ashes,* so I don’t know how soon it’ll be before I can get to the end.

  • I wasn’t that taken with the first series of Ashes to Ashes as it seemed like an unnecessary bolt-on to Life on Mars. Since then it’s improved exponentially, with series three rightly garnering rave reviews from just about every quarter.

    Having just watched the finale – which reveals the secret of Gene Hunt’s world once and for all – I’m really not sure what to make of it. I think I loved it, but… to say any more would be spoilery.

  • jules

    I agree with Proper Dave, Maryann – the first series is not perfect and might feel a bit like a cash-in on Life on Mars, and (let’s face it, Alex Drake is no Sam Tyler) but stick with it – it gets better and better. Series 3′ finale is perfectly judged – one of the best finales I can remember in a long, long time.

  • Vanessa

    Oh MAJ, I am sorry you have had to suffer the US series at all! I didn’t even try after I saw a preview with the gag about ordering Diet Soda — Just as in the UK version he orders a Diet Coke and doesn’t get one. However, in the US version the joke is just way over the top to make sure the audience “gets” the idea that there was a time when Diet Soda was not made.

    The worst part though is that Diet Soda *was* available in the US in the 1970s. I remember going to England in 1980 for the first time and how hard it was to find Diet Soda or anyone who had heard of it. This just shows not only how stupid they thought their audience was, but also how lazy and stupid the writers of the US series were, not to check whether their ideas about the 1970s were even correct!

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