‘Life on Mars’: still sucking hard


A shot of modern Manhattan bereft of the World Trade Center, with “an island never cries” on the soundtrack? Are they kidding? This is the American Life on Mars’ idea of… what? Irony? Pathos? Look, I still get weepy when I happen across some logo for a dry cleaners or a deli or garbage-hauling company that features the skyline with those iconic twin towers still at one end — and there’s still a lot of them to be seen around New York — so it’s not like I’m not right in the path, like a deer mesmerized by oncoming headlights, of whatever the hell LoM-US is trying to say here. And I just don’t get it. I don’t think the show does, either.

proper Gene and Sam

I also love — and by “love” I mean, of course, hate — how LoM-US thinks it’s being more aggressively feminist than LoM-UK, and in the process it’s just being obnoxious, like — heh — some throwback to the 70s who doesn’t understand the difference between chivalry and condescension. Why are they making American Annie so hard and cold and unsympathetic? Is it just so they can give American Sam that hippie-dippy girlfriend who talks to sunbeams? Why did this episode make the Heather Matarazzo June so complicit in her own undoing? That completely undercuts Sam’s remorse for his part in accidentally orchestrating June’s shooting. Oh, wait: Sam doesn’t feel any remorse. When he’s mopping up June’s blood off the street with his own jacket, he’s angry with Gene, not with himself, like proper Manchester Sam was. This Sam is always right, never questions himself, never wonders whether there might be other ways of getting things done — and other ways of being right — beyond the ones that he is tied to. (Oh, and speaking of feminism, sexually charged work environments, and postmodern commentaries thereon, having a bad guy say, “I got it bad for that Goldie Hawn” is not an appropriate replacement for Gene’s roaring about wanting to shag Britt Ekland.)

not-proper Gene and Sam

Did I say Sam never questions himself? I did: I don’t think Sam writing down all the possibilities for how he could be seemingly stuck in 1973 counts as “questioning himself.” Proper Manchester Sam had three options, as he saw it: he was in a coma and dreaming, he was mad (that is, Brit for “crazy”), or he really was back in time. I dread to imagine how long the producers of LoM-US think they can drag this out, with all those options on the table. (Heaven/hell/purgatory? They’re going to the Lost island already? Maybe we can have the polar bear or the black-smoke monster off Sam soon and put us all out of our misery.) A question mark represents the unknown? Are they kidding? Did that really need to be explained?

It’s only the second episode, and I feel like I’m watching a bad stage production by amateur players of a really great play. I feel like I’m watching kids try to do Hamlet. That fight in the hospital room? The British show managed to make Gene and Sam look like macho idiots, but in a loving way, like this hostility was merely an expression of the much deeper emotions of complicated men who were frustrated and confused but already growing to respect each other, and maybe even like each other. But these two guys just looked like macho idiots, full stop.

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