Pop Attention Span

Trying to keep up with the zeitgeist

Now leaving “Mars”

SPOILERS below for both the American and UK endings of Life on Mars.


Well. That ending was… interesting. A bit literal and neat for my tastes after the way the UK version ended. Other series have ended on a “it was all just a dream” note before (see St. Elsewhere, Roseanne and Newhart) so I guess I need more of an ending… or maybe the UK ending set the bar too high.

I guess, I should recap the two. In the UK version, we learn that (as it was strongly hinted throughout the series) Sam was in a coma and his 1973 was a dream. He comes out of a coma just as his 1973 colleagues are in jeopardy — he leaves them to go back to the 21st century just when they need him most. However, having tasted the wild police work he imagined happening in 1973, modern CSI-style investigating seemed cold and unwelcoming to him. Feeling detached from the world, he jumps off a roof and finds himself back in 1973 where he saves the day and gets to be an anything-goes cop again.

Last night, we saw what happened to the American Sam Tyler, that he’s actually an astronaut who was supposed to spend his trip in suspended animation and dreaming about being a cop in 2008, except a computer error shifted him into 1973, but with 2008 memories. Most of his NYPD colleagues were there, except that his neighbor Windy was actually the ship computer and Gene Hunt was actually his father, Major Tom.

What I liked best about the UK ending was that it made me rethink the entire series. I realized that 1973 was the world of cops and robbers of the young Sam Tyler’s dreams while growing up. After waking from his coma, he realizes he achieved his boyhood dream and it’s nothing like he hoped. Feeling more connection to people created by his imagination, he leaps to his death.

Both versions of Life on Mars had an odd balancing act. It was both about how our culture changed as well as our view of law enforcement, which mixes a realistic quality with an unrealistic one. While one part of the show seriously examined how issues like gay rights had changed over three decades, the other was about how pop culture changed and how our idea of a heroic cop went from Gene Hunt to Sam Tyler.

In the UK version it becomes clear why Sam would be working out the difference between his police work and what he saw on TV as a kid. The entire series was, essentially, about a man working out why he was so dissatisfied with his life while stuck in his subconsciousness. I’m not sure what to think when it turns out that 1973 was some accident where Sam ends up working out his issues with his father. This ending changes the way I look at the series but it doesn’t give every episode a tragic weight the way the UK ending does.


April 2, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | ,

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: