Friday, October 24, 2008
Life in Network Hell
If you know nothing about Life on Mars, either the BBC or the US version, this post will bore you to tears. Walk the dog. Floss your teeth. Get back to writing, slacker. If you know anything about the series-and about me-you must have known I'd come to an opinion about it eventually. I gave this reincarnated version three episodes. The waters are warm enough to wade in.
It's been almost a year since NBC canceled Journeyman. Last night, seeing a teaser of Kevin McKidd playing a hunky doctor on the upcoming episode of Grey's Anatomy smarted. What a leap off the tower of intellectually engaging drama, though the tower is lowered each year into the sinkhole that is a collective network impatience. This time, ABC is the guilty party, offering up something engaging, stirring a legion of viewers hungry for things other than American Gladiators and Cloris Leachman's thigh-revealing attire, and snatching it away when Nielsons don't deliver. Newsflash: only my parents watch television in real time and they're not your demographic. Change the system to reflect DVR/Tivo and internet downloads, the way most viewers put priorities first and avoid political and erectile ads. But I digress.
Life on Mars entered the Fall season trying to re-capture the Rice-a-Roni devotees left behind from Journeyman and add the magic elixir of network success: the cop show-this time with a 1970s twist. Who doesn't remember the Cameros racing through an entire decade of bad clothes and Farrah love interests? What red-blooded American male would turn away from cop-talk spiced with police brutality and characters that don't exactly play by the book? What woman could deny Jason O'Mara's fresh face?
The cast is superb, especially Harvey Keitel as the precinct's loud, blunt purveyor of justice. I enjoy wading into a scene that's not offering up CSI-ADD camera work and a David-Caruso inflated ego filling the screen. I like the historical perspective and the underlying irony of how far we haven't come from the 1970s. Those echoes add depth, something toe tags and snappy CSI banter can't reach. But, therein lies the show's demise.
Those CSI viewers ABC was hoping to attract are dropping off en mass because there's not enough cop. Unlike the original BBC series, which is rumored to have revolved primarily around cases each week, the new version of Life on Mars has become too character-driven. Huh. I thought that made for great television. Shows what I know.
Life on Mars does succeed in continuity-a place Journeyman failed. The very premise of Jack Vasser physically juggling his past and present life, central to Journeyman's conflict, is the structure that made it difficult for some to follow. Life on Mars has shades and echoes of Sam Tyler's present life, but the writers chose simplicity in structure.
ABC has yet to order more episodes. Apparently, when the execs tossed the Fall shows to the wall, the only things that seem to stick are gore and disco balls. What a shame shows like Cheers and M*A*S*H would have endured the same fate had they been produced in a results-hungry 2008. My advice? Watch the first three eppies on the internet, they're worth it. Tune in for a taste Thursday night, help the ratings. It's not like LOST, you'll catch up fast in the opening monologue. But if you can't bear to have a favorite canceled by impatient networks, don't bother.
Just turn off your set and go floss your teeth.
What shows are you watching?