It is with mixed emotions that I watched the season and series finale of “Life on Mars” tonight.
It is a strange little show that I’ll be very sad to see go.
Mind you, I wasn’t smitten with “Life on Mars” at first sight. The pilot episode was a real problem, trying too hard to be clever and it had a case of the “too cutes” in trying to recreate the atmosphere of 70’s cop shows like “Starsky and Hutch.”
It also seemed to be straining to adhere to the British show it is based on, but once the show started to go its own direction, it started to hit its stride and got better and better each week.
But what really made me stick with the show were the characters. I have to give full credit to the actors playing them with my staying with the show. There was an appealing quality about Jason O’Mara as Sam Tyler that made me care what happened to Sam, and to give the show another chance.
I also wanted to see Gretchen Mol as Annie Norris succeed in her struggle to be accepted as a “real cop”, instead of just the token “girl” in the station – more secretary than police officer.
But it was Michael Imperioli as the cynical, sexist and always inappropriate Detective Ray Carling that I thought stole the show and was my guilty favorite. With his horrible 70’s hairdo, mustache and bad attitude, he filled the role that Philip Glenister did as Gene Hunt in the UK series, as the oh-so-inappropriate guy with a good heart that you can’t help liking deep down.
Whereas in this version, Harvey Keitel’s Gene Hunt settled into the more kindly but stern father-figure after the first few episodes (which after the season finale, seems prescient.)
I am sure that I speak for all fans of the show, when I thank God that ABC actually got behind giving us a proper ending. What was also a pleasant surprise was that it was a totally different than the UK version, but was a logical, and now seemingly inevitable, ending to this version of the show.
When Sam wakes up, we find out that he and all the gang were actually astronauts on their way to Mars in 2035, who had been put in stasis for their 2 year trip to the red planet. Sam’s “reality” in 2008 was part of his “neural stimulation” program that was provided for the astronauts while in stasis. It was a glitch in the program that made him go further back to 1973 and make him think like he was losing his mind.
I found this a pretty ballsy approach when you consider that fans of the UK version are sure to complain about the producers and writers taking too literally the “Mars” reference in the title and will surely also complain that the ending was far too rosy and lacked some of the irony of the original.
Although this finale wasn’t without a few sly jokes, such as the references to another President Obama in 2035 (apparently Malia Obama) and the Wizard of Oz references, such as having the last thing “Gene Hunt” says to “Sam Tyler” in 1973, “I think I’ll miss you most of all, Scarecrow!”
I admire the producers and writers for taking this risk, as it would have been so much easier to copy the ending in the original series. Instead, fans of the US version were treated to this totally original and more traditionally sci-fi type ending, that may not please fans of the original show, but was the perfect conclusion to this version.