Life on Mars (2006-2007) and its sequel series Ashes to Ashes (2008-2010) are TV shows based around David Bowie songs, such as “Gene Genie” and “Heroes,” and “Life on Mars” and “Ashes to Ashes,” obviously. There are two seasons (16 episodes) of Life on Mars (three of Ashes to Ashes–24 episodes). Life on Mars was created by Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham and stars John Simm and Philip Glenister. Don’t confuse it with the American remake (2008) starring Jason O’Mara and Harvey Keitel.
Both seasons of Life on Mars are available on DVD in both NTSC/region 1 and PAL/region 2, as well as Blu-Ray. The region 1 box set runs for $80, or $43 on Amazon. All 16 episodes are available with your paid subscription to Hulu Plus. It’s on UK iTunes for 10 pounds. Transcripts here.
Life on Mars is a cop drama. It’s science fiction. Psychological. Is Sam Tyler crazy, in a coma, or back in time? It’s also a study of political correctness and rules. You’ve got a by-the-book copper from 2006 put in a barbaric 1973 police station where the chief beats up witnesses to get testimonies out of them. Lawman, beating up the wrong guy. Oh man, look at those cavemen go! But it’s the cruelest, most sexist, most racist, most violent of the cavemen that has become one of the most loved characters on modern British telly: DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister). Polar opposites, Sam and Gene are at each other’s throats from the beginning, including a punch up in a hospital room. Eventually, Gene’s influence starts to change Sam. Is Sam finally starting to loosen up? Or is Gene the tumor in his brain keeping him from waking up? Every episode offers new clues that make you second guess what you thought you knew in the last episode.
Although you’ll be able to rule some of it out by the season 2 finale, you won’t know the full story until the final episode of Ashes to Ashes five years later. (Trust me, it’s worth the wait.)
Personally, this is my #1 all-time favorite TV show. My favorite episode is S1E5 where Sam, Gene, and Annie go under cover working at a pub. Sam invents chicken in a basket. Gene drinks so much, he passes out on the table.
Life on Mars isn’t for everyone. I’ve introduced it to many Americans, and some people love it while other people just don’t understand it. It could be partially because it’s heavy on 70’s England pop culture references, and some Americans find the Manchester accent difficult to decipher, and also it’s just a weird show. Any of these factors could contribute to not enjoying the show. But if the references, the accent, and the premise don’t throw you, it could end up being your favorite show, too. So why not give it a try?