Life on Mars (2006) s01e02

Lots gets introduced and resolved this episode, particularly with John Simm and Philip Glenister’s different approaches to police work. It’s kind of like “Pilot, Part 2,” where the gimmick has been introduced and now it’s time to determine what the actual show will be like.

Same creative team as last time—Matthew Graham writing, Bharat Nalluri directing. This episode starts realizing the creepy girl with the clown on the TV recurring bit, which last episode set up but this episode turns into an actual horror element. Since the episode’s an hour, there’s plenty of time to change how the show’s going to question Simm’s reality. For a while, there’s nothing he can’t explain away, then there’s definite “you’re in the hospital in a coma” moments.

It gets seconds away from requiring additional suspension of disbelief, like they push it as far as they can with Simm acting confused and then drop it and get back to the actual show. It ranges in effectiveness, with the worst case unfortunately being the last.

There’s not a mystery to solve this episode, which is the point—it opens with the boys arresting stickup man Andrew Tiernan after an amazing, funny chase sequence (set to Live and Let Die, so they’re not cheaping on the music even after they get the Bowie), then the rest of the episode is them trying to figure out how to keep him from committing stickups without evidence.

Simm’s not willing to go with Glenister’s file cabinet worth of evidence to plant, which leads to some dire consequences. Along the way, there’s a fight between Simm and Glenister, a big subplot for Liz White, and a guest star spotlight for Timothy Platt as the star witness. Platt’s character is deaf in 1973 and it’s unclear if the show even realizes how inhumane and cruel the characters are coming off.

We also get some more hints at Simm’s mission in the past—the opening titles have a “Quantum Leap”-esque narration about how he’s going to get home but again, they stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the show itself.

Nalluri directs the heck out of the suspense sequences, which also have great performances from White and Simm. They nimbly pivot from the procedural to the action chase stuff.

Great Glenister too, though he’s a little bit too much support, little bit too much antagonist. Again, very big “Pilot, Part 2” feels.

But the acting’s so good, the directing’s so good, most of the writing’s so good, any such feels end up being good, reassuring feels, like they know what they’re doing with “Life on Mars.” Albeit with a strangely obvious gimmick.

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