blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Life on Mars (2006) s01e08

It’s the season finale, which one would think means some questions are getting answered. It takes about a half hour until everything starts tying together—and it turns out all the season’s recurring “vision” sequences were pointless considering how quickly they get explained (sorry, I’m going to try not to be overly negative but the episode makes a big swing and misses, especially when you consider how it’s playing to anyone but John Simm’s character).

Matthew Graham is back as the solo writer, John Alexander is directing. I was happy to see both the credits.

By the end of the episode, well… it’s not Alexander’s fault the thing’s plotted and paced so poorly. The problems are clearly on Graham’s end, though also the casting director. Lee Ingleby has the most important part in the season and he’s really nowhere near good enough for it. Even taking the script into account.

Ingleby plays Simm’s dad, who he finally comes across randomly while investigating a gang war, and the episode is the cops (including Simm) turning up incriminating evidence against Ingleby and Simm trying to protect him. Joanne Froggatt comes back for a bit of a crap part (sorry, mum, the boys are talking; including a Field of Dreams “wanna have a catch”). Because it’s all about daddy issues for Simm, who hasn’t grown as a human being since he was four years old in 1973. Turns out “Life on Mars” has so many daddy issues it’d might even make Christopher Nolan tell them to be less obvious about it.

And they weren’t here before, not to this level. It’s inexplicable why the show wouldn’t have included a plot about Simm trying to find his dad in 1973 or whatever. Because it’s the whole thing. It’s the Atlas holding the world and Ingleby and Simm are nowhere near good enough to pull it off. It’s far more interesting, in the end, to try to imagine the whole thing from Ingleby’s perspective, which is a big problem since it’s all in Simm’s head.

Also it turns out Liz White would’ve made a far better protagonist since eventually she decides Simm’s actually got brain damage and maybe he should go to a doctor….

Something they maybe should’ve done a lot earlier in the show. Before she almost started dating him or whatever. And stopped him from committing suicide to break the coma spell so maybe she should’ve had an actual concern subplot.

Good acting, at times, from Simm. There are things he can sell, things he can’t. Sadly the important things he can’t. They’re just too thin.

Similarly, it doesn’t end up being a good show for Philip Glenister because his character’s got to act absurdly to allow the Simm plot line with Ingleby.

The episode even manages to miss with its big use of Life on Mars.

However, they are at least able to get it to a decent setup for another season, a very impressive feat given all the problems, because through it all… “Life on Mars” has a great regular cast and is exquisitely produced.

I am going to be terrified of any Graham solo scripts going forward though. Just the laziest writing, scene after scene. The show usually uses its sixty minutes well; this episode it plods through them, with about thirty minutes of story if they’re lucky.

Episode’s a bummer.

But not so much “Mars” isn’t still a good show.

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