Thursday, June 19, 2008

TV: Little Life Left in Life on Mars

I admire David E. Kelley. Great writer, plus the man goes home to Michelle Pfeiffer nightly. He's even a hockey fan. But boy was he smart to get out from under his remake of the British TV hit, Life on Mars.

The first pilot circulating around the internet has been, or will be, supplanted by another pilot. The new pilot will NOT be under the stewardship of Kelley, who's got one or two other new series already on the go for this fall. The next pilot just has to be better. The first one wasn't good enough to merit inclusion on anybody's fall schedule. Because Kelley's name was attached, plus it was a hit over 'ome, it made ABC's sked.

Where does the pilot go wrong? Where doesn't it? Well, I like Irishman Jason O'Mara, late of In Justice as Sam Tyler. Fellow countrymen Colm Meaney doesn't do a bad Gene Hunt at all. Doesn't overact to the same extent Philip Glenister does in the original, but I hope he'll ham it up a bit more once the serious business of making good TV gets started. Okay, I'm done.

Rachelle Lefevre, a Canuck by the way, has done work ranging from the very bad Life on a Stick to the not too bad What About Brian? Stuck in bad polyester in the early 70's, this performance is much more Life on a Stick than she or the viewer would like. Annie Cartwright was a policewoman who elevates to detective status in the original, played winningly by doe-eyed brunette Liz White. Lefevre is already a detective, an equal-standing colleague to Tyler. In the original, Tyler formed an early alliance with Cartwright, affording her respect and responsibility. Cartwright earns her detective's badge by becoming a 21st century worker, in most respects. Tyler needs that support.

The original is set in Manchester, England. The closest allegory to Manchester in the States would probably be Chicago. My first impulse about it being an American adaption would have been to put it into Pittsburgh or maybe Cleveland. Los Angeles? Bad choice. Urban grit, not sprawl, is required. The pilot tries to make L.A. look gritty, but fails. O'Mara's Tyler is an angry man who doesn't build coalitions all that well, including with his girlfriend. The build-up to get Tyler's girlfriend (a Hong Kong-born actress, doesn't ANYBODY in this cast have USA underoos in his or her past?) kidnapped and him hit by a car is long and boring.

Then it's off to sometime in the 70's. At least one reference is made to it being 30 years ago. That would put it into 1978. But Nixon's still prez and there IS a reference to 1972. Note to the script-proofreaders. That would be 36 years ago.

I am on record as hating the original's continual mental meanderings through the strained subconscious of Sam Tyler. The pilot did NOT improve on the original in the same way Ashes to Ashes did this past winter. A little bit of that "See things, hearing things" stuff goes a long way. Hope that point gets made to the makers of the second pilot and subequent series.

There WAS one American-born actor on prominent display in the pilot. Lenny Clarke, or what's left of him. He has been interviewed and those interviews make me pessimistic that he'll actually make the working show. I LIKE Clarke, thin or not. All the way back to 1990, when he starred in Lenny, I thought Clarke was a funny guy. He's proven it time after time in Rescue Me with his Boston bud, Dennis Leary.

Say, wouldn't Boston have made a great locale for this show?

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