I have made several reminiscences to good television-series, but so far never for one newer than 15 years. "Life on Mars" however is something special, to me the best series of the 2000s in several ways:
It is not a series from the USA but from the UK.
It takes place in the not-too-long-ago past, in the year 1973.
Although it is predominantly a realistic series, at the same time it also offers science-fiction and mystery elements.
The British actors are – probably to almost all non-British people – unknown, but really good.
"Life on Mars" is just different than other series in a very special way - and that makes the fascination.
In the German-speaking countries, the series only celebrates its 9-year anniversary in 1 month, but nevertheless I think it is appropriate to celebrate the BBC's first broadcast.
Setting and plot
The professional policeman Sam Tyler from Manchester in the year 2006 together with his colleague and girl-friend Maya chase a serial-killer. Investigations get nowhere until Maya pursuer a hot lead when she gets kidnapped – obviously by the offender. Sam is desperate. But as this weren't bad enough, he got hit by a car, obviously badly injured and loses consciousness. When he wakes up he suddenly finds himself in the Manchester of 1973.
And there almost everything is different than in 2006:
Police in 1973 works, both technically and methodologically, still in a very unprofessional way. This is very hard for Sam and he feels like on a different planet - hence the title of the series.
Sam is not DCI (Detective Chief Inspector = team leader), but DI (Detective Inspector = Deputy team leader).
His boss there, Gene Hunt, is the anti-thesis to Tyler:
Impulsive rather than prudent, aggressive instead of cautious, intuitive rather than analytical.
And directives to him are no more than non-binding recommendations.
Also his other colleagues run in the same vein as Hunt.
Big exception is the parking-warden Annie Cartwright, who is being transferred to the CID (criminal-investigation-department) briefly after Sam's arrival and is Sam's best friend and only confidant.
But just as problematic cooperation especially with his boss Hunt is on one hand, on the other hand it works really well: The two perfectly complement each other in terms of their skills and provide plenty of exciting and entertaining moments.
At the beginning it's totally unclear what's going on with Sam:
Is he in a coma or he is dreaming? Has he made a journey through time, or is he in some sort of parallel universe? Does he maybe live in the 1970s and only has formed life in 2006 only in his mind?
After 2-3 episodes it quite clearly emgerges, that he is in a coma - although that alone can't really explain this complex illusory world of the 1970s.
Anyway there is something specific in 1973 he has got to do – but until the end, it is unclear what.
What makes the series something special to me and why I like it so much
„Life on Mars“ to me is the best TV-series of the 2000s and together with „24“ also the most innovative one.
While the question of the specificity of "24" simply can be answered with "real-time series“, so it's more complex with this English masterpiece. Though it doesn't offer completely new elements, but offers a blend of existing high-quality and innovative elements like never before and also never again until now:
An exciting, technically well-made crime-series.
An appealing and authentic image of the 1970s. Especially great are the historic cars, starting at Sam's Rover 3500 to the Vanden Plas, 500 and of course, to Gene Hunt's Ford Cortina 2000E.
Social criticism, which reveals historic causes of problems of the present – from hooliganism over integration of foreigners, mental health-problems and corruption to unemployment.
A love-story in between Sam and Annie, that until the end seems to be doomed to fail.
A buddy-movie between Sam Tyler and Gene Hunt, just as conflictual as entertaining.
Still a big mystery-element, leaving the series' true reality in the dark until the very end. Something similar, I only know from "Twin Peaks".
"Britishness" – it's great not to face the typical „Hollywood-mash“, but to enjoy very different kind of production from Britain.
Actors were unknown here at us, but all of their performances have fully convinced me.
And this consistent overall-package is topped of by a great soundtrack, ahead of course by David Bowie's title-giving song.
In addition German TV-station „Kabel 1“ did a really good job in drawing attention to the series: In 2007, immediately before its primary airing there a great tribute to the Ford Cortina Mk III at the stations car-show „Abenteuer Auto“ was made.
And also in a negative way „Kabel 1“ increased the excitement: After TV-ratings were disappointing, the 2nd and lasted season was broadcasted in 2009 after a long break with extensive considerations, wether the stations wants to go on with airing the series.
Thank God! Unfortunately mass and class almost never get along with each other, but "Life on Mars" for certain has a lot of class.
Personal, final words
„Life on Mars“ to me is an absolutely great series. After it's first broadcast in 2007 & 2009 I watched in then a 2nd time in 2014 on Austrian ServusTV and again enjoyed it.
Sadly it was and still is – at least at the German-speaking space – an underdog-series, though entirely unjustified!
It offers smart as well as uncommon and exiting entertainment and takes it up even with the best Hollywood-productions.
Unfortunately for over 1 year it worldwide hasn't been broadcasted, which I see as a shame considering the crap being aired again and again.
And unfortunately the successor series "Ashes to Ashes" until now only was aired by Pay-TV-station FOX, but so far never been offered in free television. This to me is big pity and I hope that's going to change in 2016.
However once more big respect to this great television product and happy anniversary to all involved people!
Update 07th of June 2016:
I have to add, that "Ashes to Ashes" is just making it's debut also in German free-TV: From 24th of May 2016 on every Tuesday at 22.15h and Saturday at 00.05h its aired by new TV-station eoTV. eoTV exclusively broadcasts european productions.
To me thats great news and I watch "Ashes to Ashes" with pleasure!