This post has been in the back of mind for literally years, ever since I found out there was a sequel to my favorite British TV series of all time, Life on Mars. For those who haven’t seen LOM, first of all, shame on you. Here’s the premise in a nutshell.
What held up the writing was that I couldn’t find a way to watch Ashes to Ashes for the longest time. It wasn’t available on Region 1 DVD as Life on Mars was and no one had put it on YouTube. Those facts alone made me suspect that Ashes to Ashes wasn’t nearly as good as LOM. However, my on-line friends kept telling me that to completely understand Life On Mars and what happened to Sam Tyler you had to watch Ashes to Ashes where all would finally be revealed.
And then early this year, Hulu Plus added Ashes to Ashes to its growing stable of British programming. I deliberated for quite some time before I decided to shell out the $8 a month. Time got away from me for a bit but I finally freed up my schedule and delved into two dozen one hour episodes, the same amount of time necessary for the earth to rotate on its own axis. It may not sound daunting, but despite what I lead you all to believe, I do have a life outside of watching telly and it took a good few months to get through it all.
But once I got a few episodes under my belt, I became well invested in the story of the critically wounded police officer Alex Drake and her attempts to get back to her daughter Molly.
After watching Ashes to Ashes, I can say I thoroughly enjoyed it. Once Alex got over her “you’re all imaginary constructs” phase, I really liked her character. I appreciated the significant development of LOM supporting characters Ray Carling and Chris Skelton. And if I’m not mistaken Gene Hunt was noticeably kinder and gentler, perhaps due to having and attractive female DI by his side.
Nonetheless, this post is about who did it best so in determining which series is superior, I thought it might be interesting to devise some head to head match-ups of varying elements of each show and see how they fare. It’s the best way I could think of to evaluate the merits of each in as objective a manner as possible.
Hallucinatory characters who show up to scare the bejesus out of us
I think we can agree that clowns are universally considered frightening and the object of many a childhood nightmare. One of the most disturbing dreams I can recall in my whole life involved clowns. Ashes to Ashes‘ Pierrot-style clown doesn’t fit the traditional stereotype as a fool, but instead a rather menacing character who at one point actually chases Alex Drake through the London streets.
Upon initial observation the test card girl, on the other hand, is just a lass with an ominous-looking clown doll. But we all know kids can be creepy as well; that’s why they cast so many in horror movies after all. There she’ll be, playing naughts and crosses on the TV screen with her companion when the broadcast day is done. (Yes, youngsters! There was a time when there was nothing shown on television in the middle of the night.) Then all of sudden she’s standing over a sleeping Sam Tyler saying something spooky.
The test card girl made appearances in both series of Life on Mars notably showing up at the end of the finale as well. The Ashes to Ashes clown faded out after the first series leaving Alex to be haunted by other less obvious but more nefarious demons. It’s a close call but I reckon the peculiar girl with the frightening rag doll wins this one.
David Bowie Song
Both series are named after David Bowie songs so this match-up is merely a matter of personal preference. Which do you like better, Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes?
My vote goes to Life on Mars since I’ve always liked the tune even before I saw the show. It’s also used to very good effect it in the climax of the last episode of the series.
Cortina vs Quattro
The guv in both series is DCI Gene Hunt and the possession he treasures more than anything else in the world is his car. In Life on Mars, Hunt speeds through the streets of 1970’s Manchester in his mint condition Ford Cortina.
In the 80’s, Gene has moved on to an Audi Quattro and seems even more enamored of this motor. So much so that the car becomes part of his vocabulary. Hunt is often heard to say “Fire up the Quattro!” and has even been known to use the make of his car as a verb.
On this one, I’m going to come down on the side of Ashes to Ashes. The Quattro is a character in and of itself and serves its master well. Besides I prefer the red of the Audi to the orangy-gold of the Cortina.
The Railway Arms vs Luigi’s
After a hard day nicking villains, coppers need a place to unwind. For the Life on Mars officers that place is the Railway Arms, a traditional pub for hardworking men. The barman at this establishment is Nelson, a native of Manchester, who puts on a Jamaican accent for the pleasure of his patrons. Nelson is something of a guide to Sam Tyler giving him advice that can apply to his 1970’s life as well of his struggle to get back to is own time.
The Ashes to Ashes ‘ CID meet at Luigi’s, an Italian bar and restaurant across the street from the station. They maintain a substantial tab and wake Luigi up at all hours to serve them as if his place is their own private watering hole. Luigi has a soft spot for Alex and has been known to play matchmaker between her and Gene by placing the couple in the dark and romantic corners of his restaurant. He isn’t mystical like Nelson, but he’s a good friend to his local coppers.
I’m actually going to go with Luigi’s on this one for two reasons. Number one – Luigi’s does proper food not just crisps. Number two – he has an awesomely tacky mural covering one wall, an array of mediocre portraits of famous Italians from John Travolta and Frank Sinatra to Al Pacino and Sofia Loren.
And now for the tie breaker…
Bromance or Romance?
DCI Hunt has very complicated relationships with his DIs on both series. Sam Tyler is smart, professional modern police officer plopped down in early 70’s Sweeny-land. Gene is accustomed to being the king of his castle and doesn’t care for Tyler’s newfangled methods or politically correct attitudes. Understandably there’s a bit of a clash when these two lawmen meet.
Alex Drake is in a similar situation but she has the advantage of knowing about the Sam Tyler case and so doesn’t spend so much of her energy in a total state of bewilderment. She too has frequent squabbles and run-ins with her superior officer; however, their encounters are quite often exacerbated by sexual tension. It doesn’t help that the women’s movement is almost thirty years behind what she’s accustomed to. Just look at what she has to wear!
When it comes down to it, I have to choose the bromance of Sam and Gene. I found the Hunt and Tyler interactions more entertaining and, to be quite honest, the will they/won’t dichotomy between Hunt and Drake has been played out a thousand times before. I believe Gene taught Sam how to really live which is ironic (but I’ll stop there to avoid spoiling the ending for those who haven’t seen it yet). And Sam taught Gene how to be a better officer and a better man which, after what you learn in Ashes, really starts to make sense.
So there you have it. In my opinion, Life on Mars is the better show. That being said, I found Ashes to Ashes to be well worth watching and would recommend it highly, especially as a companion to its predecessor. Now it’s your turn to tell me what you think and possibly to inform me that I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’d love to have a chat about both series so please comment at will.
If you’ve not seen either show, both are available on Hulu Plus or Netflix DVD. I guarantee you’ll love them too.