June 18th, 2008

Read Less More TV

The lack of armed bastards is the least of it

So. Just watched the US pilot for Life On Mars, as written by David E. Kelley and directed by former West Wing linchpin Thomas Schlamme. Jason O'Mara steps in as Sam Tyler, with Colm Meany as Gene Hunt, and Los Angeles in place of Manchester, and 1972 rather than 1973 for some reason.

The end result is, charitably, rather messy. Admittedly this is a first-position pilot, and in line to be recast, rewritten, reset and reshot (O'Mara may be the only survivor of the cast), but I don't hold out much hope for the final result, whatever they do. While the pilot follows the original fairly closely -- the creators of the original suggested Kelley and company chart their own course and muck around with the property, which would have injected some freshness -- there are many things that feel off. There's too little difference between the 2007 and 1972 tones, for one thing -- Los Angeles circa 1972 is recreated very well, and looks right, but it's all done in very drab grey and brown tones that don't differentiate from the blue-grey tone of the 2007 setting. While I appreciate the notion of aiming for a French Connection look, it misses the joke inherent in Sam being tossed into what amounts to episodes of Starsky & Hutch -- there has to be enough plastic around the edges and too-bright highlights in the middle to suggest that this really is a phantom paradise for him.

The biggest let-down, though, is that the character of Gene Hunt is here a shadow of what he was as played by Philip Glenister. For one thing, Meany is a much smaller man than Glenister is. O'Mara, on the other hand, is the size of a quarterback, as opposed to John Simm, who was a weedy bloke. Hunt is much less present here (in fact, aside from Annie, all of the supporting cast is minimized; there's also no analogue for Nelson the bartender) and is written and played in a more subdued manner throughout -- while this makes it explosive when he goes off on a female witness, it also blows the balance at the center of the show. Suddenly it becomes Sam-Annie (anviled, Ghu help us, by a record store scene where Sam and Annie gaze at each other as Stephen Stills' "Love The One You're With" plays) rather than Sam-Gene, and by the end of the episode it feels as though Sam's the one in charge. This Sam has no sense of vulnerability -- he seems like someone who would punch at things until he got his way, not someone who uses his brain reflexively. Interestingly enough, though Annie is now a full detective rather than a female uniformed cop, she's still written and played as having an innate sweetness and sensitivity. Sam's 2007 paramour, Maya (played, curiously, as English) never comes into focus -- she's a detective doing her job, and Sam is rude to her until she's kidnapped; she never comes into focus as a person.

I hope that the problems can be addressed, and that the new producers will take on the notion of recreating this story rather than simply remaking it. If they continue on the latter course, the series will not have legs. Oh, and reverse the humorectomy, please....