I’m a little behind when it comes to things like this, but I’ve seen the original pilot episode of the Americanized version of one of my all time favorite shows, Life on Mars, and I can say, I’m not terribly thrilled with the result. I’ve gushed about the show here and here and here and here. Needless to say, I love the UK version of the show, and had some very, very high hopes for this American remake, which have only somewhat been fulfilled.
The original show has a lot that went right with it. It had a somewhat serialized story that really pulled one in, but had a couple of other things going for it that a lot of shows really don’t have. There’s a high degree of intelligence behind this show, as the screenwriters pull out all sorts of issues (most of them specific to the United Kingdom) in their history, from race relations to police and civilian rights and examining the differences between policing in 1973 and in 2006.
Secondly, the characters and cast are second to none. I don’t think that I’ve seen a television show where all of the characters click in their own roles, but also with fantastic actors behind them to bring them to life, right down to the little things. John Simm, who portrays Detective Sam Tyler, does a fantastic job, completely owning the character, throughout his ups and downs over the course of the 16 episode series. Behind him is Gene Hunt, played by Philip Glenister, is sarcastic, intelligent, driven and bitter, and the chemistry between Sam and Gene is tangible, and perfect. Behind them, the rest of the cast does an absolutely fantastic job with their own supporting roles.
The American version isn’t bad – I’ll grant it that much, because standing on its own, it would prove to be a somewhat rocky, pilot, but a workable one for the show. Unfortunately, the original has set a very high bar, which the new version tries to imitate.
The big drawback here is that this is essentially just a copy, as if they took the original script and hired new actors and set the entire thing in the US, with minor differences to adjust for the new setting. This would work, but it doesn’t really feel right. It feels a bit forced and honestly, breaking out of the boundaries that the original set would have most likely done some good.
The biggest disappointment here is that the chemistry between all of the characters, right off the bat is off. Sam Tyler, now played by Jason O’Mara, has none of the poise or grace of the UK Tyler, and is indeed, physically bigger, and has a different air about him, as if he’s merely along for the ride, whereas in the original, you get the feeling that Tyler is genuinely troubled by his predicament. Part of this comes from the over emphasis and admittance from the new Tyler that he’s from the future, and the seeming acceptance of this on the part of the 1972 characters.
The rest of the cast is also off. Rachelle Lefèvre (Annie Cartwright) doesn’t start off as a detective in the original like in this version, which is okay, except that she seems to be on track to be the romantic cue for Sam’s character right off the back, with little foundation, as in the original. Colm Meaney stars in this as Gene Hunt, who has some of the brutality, but none of the subtly of Philip’s Hunt. The rest of the background cast also lacks the feel of the original cast, which is a huge disappointment. I don’t like to compare things too much between one another, but there are points where this is painfully obvious.
There seems to be a real push to modernize this new version as well. There’s an intensity in the 2007 scenes that feels out of place, and there is too much of an emphasis on explaining a number of things, that really didn’t need to be explained. The UK version just picks up, with little explanation, and the viewer gets all the proper information.
Some positive news has come around that the entire pilot will be re shot, with much of the cast replaced with new actors. Gene Hunt will now be played by Harvey Keitel and Ray will be played by Michael Imperioli, while Jason O’Mara will remain as Sam Tyler. Hopefully these changes will help bring the level of the show up a bit, and hopefully, they will do some work with the script, improving the overall story and make this into the fantastic show that it deserves to be.