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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

Ashes to Ashes creepy Bowie clown image credit Kudos Film and Television

Ashes to Ashes’ creepy Bowie clown
image credit Kudos Film and Television

 

Life on Mars' creepy test card girl image credit Kudos Film and Television

Life on Mars’ creepy test card girl
image credit Kudos Film and Television

 

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.

Nelson and Sam at the Railway Arms image credit Kudos Film and Television

Nelson and Sam at the Railway Arms
image credit Kudos Film and Television

 

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.

Proprietor Luigi caters to the Gene Hunt's squad image credit Kudos Film and Television

Proprietor Luigi caters to the Gene Hunt’s squad
image credit Kudos Film and Television

 

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.

Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor  image credit BBC America

Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor
image credit BBC America

Peter Capaldi’s debut as the 12th Doctor is less than 24 hours away and I know there are still a few of you out there who are concerned about how a more mature actor will make the role his own. I have no advance knowledge of series 8 of course, but I’m here to say our beloved Time Lord is in good hands.

It has been highly publicized that Peter is a life-long Doctor Who fan so it’s reasonable to assume that this character is obviously very important to him. Capaldi comes to the Doctor Who franchise as an acclaimed actor and director of an Oscar-winning short film.

And while we’ve all probably heard about how Capaldi was cast as a W.H.O. doctor in the Brad Pitt zombie flick, World War Z,  you may not realize how often our newest Time Lord has played a doctor of one kind or another in the past.

For example, he played a medical doctor (albeit a quite unhinged one) in the dramedy Fortysomething. Dr. Ronnie Pilfrey was concerned with the business side of medicine and had something of an obsession with his colleague’s wife, but you’ve got to admire his energy and willingness to commit no matter how ridiculous the premise. Surely these are qualities required of  the newest Doctor.

 

Most of you are probably well acquainted with Malcolm Tucker, the spin doctor extraordinaire from the political satire series The Thick of It. Malcolm is an artist with words and though they are often quite naughty ones, his verbal dexterity is a skill that transfers well to being a time and space traveler. You never know when you might need to talk yourself out of a jam.

 

On the other hand, Dr. Pete from the mini-series The Field of Blood is an alcoholic old hack with the soul of a poet. I’m not certain how soulful this Doctor’s meant to be but he usually has a sensitive side for those who are oppressed or abandoned.

 

Last but not least Capaldi played the Therapist in Big Fat Gypsy Gangster. That skill set should come in handy when confronting angry aliens with Oedipal issues.

 

Peter also played a psychiatrist in Getting On but he was more an object of desire for Dr. Pippa Moore than a healing character. On second thought, female adoration is something the Doctor has had dealings with on more than one occasion.

So fear not my Whovian friends, all will be well. We have a professional Doctor stepping up to the plate this evening… or at least he’s played one on TV.

If you are a fan of the sci-fi/police drama series Life on Mars, you are no doubt familiar with this wonderfully funny and nostalgic scene which parodies the 1966 stop motion animation children’s show, Camberwick Green.

 

 

Here’s the real thing…

 

The creators of Life on Mars and its sequel Ashes to Ashes must have a soft spot for classic British children’s programs because just the other night when I was watching the latter on Hulu I saw DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) reading a storybook about his DI Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes).

Ashes to Ashes' Gene Hunt reenacting Jackanory  image credit Kudos Television

Ashes to Ashes’ Gene Hunt reenacting Jackanory
image credit Kudos Television

 

Jackanory, a BBC children’s series from the mid-sixties, was intended to foster an interest in reading and may have been the inspiration for America’s own Reading Rainbow with LeVar Burton.

While I had never heard of either of the shows referenced above until they were introduced in bizarre dream state scenarios,some British children’s telly has made its way to American shores and into my consciousness.

Public television stations used to broadcast the Thomas the Tank Engine stories which were full of English charm, especially when narrated by the legendary Ringo Starr. For some reason though they changed the name of the show to Shining Time Station.

 

I didn’t even mind The Teletubbies too much aside from their insistence to re-watch video clips on one another’s tummies “again, again”! Preschoolers love it; frazzled moms, not so much.  My daughter even owned a Tinky Winky doll – or whatever the purple one was called.

 

You can’t watch much British TV without hearing references to Blue Peter, The Wombles or The Magic Roundabout yet I still feel woefully inadequate in this area. When my kids were growing up our television was monopolized by PBS children’s programs, the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. Believe me, by the time they outgrew Barney the Dinosaur and SpongeBob SquarePants and my British telly obsession was in full swing, the last thing I wanted to watch was television made for kids whether it was from the UK or not.

Although I don’t think I’d have any problems getting through all five series of the hilarious, yet educational, Horrible Histories.

 

So the favor I ask of you my dear readers is to help me fill in my very spotty knowledge of children’s programming in in the UK. Old or new, cartoons or live action, educational or just plain silly, which shows should I be aware of in order to retain my telly addict status? Please share your favorites in the comment section below. YouTube clip examples are most welcome.  Thank you in advance for furthering my education in the history of the British small screen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As some of you might be aware, besides this disorganized, weird and wonderful blog I’ve created for my own pleasure, I also contribute to PBS affiliate WETA’s British TV and culture blog, Telly Visions.  There I mostly write reviews, recaps and miscellaneous articles of British entertainment interest.

My most recent post was a review of the film Cuban Fury which was released on DVD in the US earlier this week.

Cuban Fury Poster  image credit Studio Canal

Cuban Fury Poster
image credit Studio Canal

 

If you’d like to see what I had to say about this British salsa comedy or just want find out what I get up to over at Telly Visions, please click on the link directly below.  If nothing else, there’s a hilarious car park dance-off scene to look forward to.

Five Reasons You Should See ‘Cuban Fury’ | Telly Visions.

 

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank those of you who read, vote and comment on my posts. Your participation encourages me to keep doing what I love to do.

Fifteen years ago US television viewers were introduced to this little Cockney reptile…

 

The campaign must have been fairly successful because the Geico Gecko still pops up in the insurance company’s commercials from time to time. Never mind the fact many Americans thought he was supposed to be Australian, people seemed to like the concept despite not recognizing the accent.

Since that time more and more British accents have been showing up in our commercials, now in the form of actual celebrities. While I’m happy about this trend, it surprises me to some extent because whenever I mention British actors in conversation, I still get an excessive number of blank looks from my non-Anglophile friends. Considering that the singular goal of advertisers is to flog their wares to the most customers possible, using talent unknown to the buying public seems counterproductive.

Therefore I must extrapolate from this current advertising strategy that despite the relative unfamiliarity my social circle seems to have with British celebrities, they must have increasingly begun to enter the general public’s consciousness. Either that or these personalities work for much than their Yankee counterparts.

Here is the most recent and, in my opinion, baffling “star” to appear in an American advert…

 

Everyone I know is sick of the Kitchen Nightmares’ marathons aired on BBC America literally everyday. Seeing Gordon Ramsay hawking plans for smart phones makes me want to not switch to AT&T. Truth be told they’ve stripped him of his greatest asset, his swearing rants. Without the bleeping, he really isn’t interesting at all.

Not long ago internationally acclaimed and Oscar-nominated English actor Gary Oldman appeared in this promotion for, you guessed it,  a smart phone, though he really doesn’t do much to convince viewers to buy it. Mr. Oldman is well known in the States and we’ve seen a lot of him recently in films such as Robocop, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and the Dark Knight series (all three in which he plays an American).  Who knows? Maybe this isn’t his native accent either.

 

David Beckham represented Burger King’s new line of fruit smoothies capitalizing on his physical appearance rather than his athletic abilities or career as a footballer, which would have just confused most Americans at that point. You see it wasn’t until the 2014 World Cup that football (as the rest of the world knows it) was covered by the media in any significant way.

 

Could Ann Coulter of the black mini-cocktail dress find even a modicum of moral decay in an advertisement like that? Probably.

A couple of years ago comedian John Cleese endorsed American satellite provider Direct TV in this delightfully silly commercial that made him out to be some sort of eccentric English gentleman, a stereotype American audiences still embrace.

 

And speaking of stereotypes, Jaguar poked fun at our tendency to see Brits as villains. This ad was premiered during the 2014 Superbowl, the most coveted and expensive advertising slots on US television.  While many will know Sir Ben Kingsley, I doubt Mark Strong and Tom Hiddleston are household names in the US quite yet.

 

Perhaps the best proof that America is truly in the midst of a British invasion is the Scott lawn care company’s newest campaign. They now have a Scot named Scott (Phil McKee) as their spokesman, a bold move since Scottish dialects are often more incomprehensible to American ears than English ones are…

 

So what can we conclude from this hodgepodge of commercials and what they say about America’s growing appetite for British culture?  At least the way the advertising execs and their focus groups see it, Brits can sell us luxury cars, products in the personal technology market and pseudo-healthy fruit beverages as long as they either reinforce the cliches we foster about them, support soccer mom fantasies or have a national identity that is similar to the name of the company they are endorsing.

Oh and apparently you have to be man. The only British woman I can think of in any recent ad is a silent Keira Knightly.

 

What commercials have I forgotten? Feel free to share links to any clips you find. I’d also be interested to know how often American celebs appear in UK adverts? Comment early and often!

 

 

Welcome back to my Who Did It Best series. If you recall last time we talked about telly butlers. Fifty-two percent of those who participated in my poll voted Downton Abbey’s Mr. Carson as the one who did it best, followed by the “other” category at twenty-four percent. I assume from the comments people offered, “other” includes Mr. Hudson from the original Upstairs, Downstairs and Magersfontein Lugg from the Campion mystery series. Jeeves came in third with nineteen percent and sadly I must conclude that I was the lone vote for Edmund Blackadder. He might not have been the best example of a dutiful butler on TV, but he made me laugh the most and that counts for something in my book.

Onward and upward. This time I’m asking you to consider the enterprising local shopkeeper.

Dead Parrot

How not to handle a customer complaint image credit BBC

You know you were thinking of  Michael Palin as the inept and quite possibly dishonest pet shopkeeper in Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch.

Small business entrepreneurs must bring every bit of consumer psychology, organization and persuasiveness they possess to the sales floor everyday in order to make a profit particularly in today’s world of quick and cheap superstores and on-line shopping. From books to novelties to the neighborhood grocers’, all these vendors have an uphill battle when it comes to keeping their business viable.

Now it’s time to take a look at our match-up for British telly shopkeepers and discover their tricks of the trade…

 

Albert Arkwright (Ronnie Barker) – Arkwright’s is a small neighborhood grocery store in Doncaster and is the setting of the classic sitcom Open All Hours. Its proprietor and namesake is a master salesman and a tightwad as well. Just ask his beleaguered nephew and errand boy Granville (David Jason).

Arkwright makes it his mission to see to it that no one who walks through the door of his shop leaves without making a purchase. His true genius is in his ability to convince people to buy the items he needs to move most.

 

 

Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) – Black Books is a chaotic, disheveled looking establishment. Shop owner Bernard Black has no discernible customer service skills nor does he seem to have any desire to sell any of his disorganized stock. His assistant Manny (Bill Bailey) does his best to help the shoppers, but Bernard’s rude manner and total disregard for his business is impossible to overcome. Or is it? Perhaps it’s all a brilliant ruse and Bernand is employing reverse psychology tactics on his customers with no self-esteem. Why else would people keep coming back to put up with his abuse?

 

 

Miranda (Miranda Hart)- If you had inherited a decent amount of dosh what would you do with the proceeds? Miranda thought it would be fun to buy a joke/novelty shop with hers. Apparently her interest in running the place wore off fairly quickly because she’s left the day to day operations of the business to her far more organized best friend, Stevie (Sarah Hadland). And thank goodness because if she were stuck in the store all day we’d never get to witness all the Miranda-ish shenanigans she gets up to such as fashioning friends from fruit and using alternative appliances to wash her unmentionables. That being said, Miranda doesn’t shy away from enthusiastically greeting her customers when she encounters them in the shop.

 

 

So there you have it, my candidates for the telly shopkeepers who did it best. I didn’t consider department store moguls like Mr. Selfridge, but might do so in a future contest. Whose shop would you want to frequent? Which character has the ability to sell ice to an Eskimo? Vote for your favorite or write in your own choice in the comment section.

 

As promised I’m back with the second half of my quirky names series. I will admit I had a more difficult time compiling a list of unusual male British names. The traditional ones like James, John, Tom, Robert, Steve, etc. are still popular on both sides of the pond. Not unknown in the States, but heard less often, are names such as Martin, Simon, Hugh and the even more rare, Clive.

Below are five of the most distinctly British names I could brainstorm. As with the ladies segment earlier, if you can come up with a better, more characteristic example, please share in the comments section at the end of the post.

Benedict Cumberbatch

As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, this is indeed the Sherlock actor’s given name. In fact his father and fellow actor, Timothy Carlton, doesn’t even use the family surname in his professional life so I think young Ben took a calculated risk when he retained this unusual moniker.  The formality of “Benedict”and the whimsical quality of  “Cumberbatch” sets this actor up as a classic British character. Besides the iconic Mr. Holmes, Benedict has also portrayed illustrious Brits such as Stephen Hawking and Prime Minister William Pitt. Whether a choice of family loyalty or a dodgy gamble, judging by the trajectory of his career, Mr. Cumberbatch made the right decision.

Benedict as Sherlock image credit BBC

Benedict as Sherlock
image credit Hartswood Films

 

Rupert Grint

While almost any character in Harry Potter’s world could have made this list (Neville Longbottom, Barty Crouch, or Dudley Dursley for example), Rupert Grint is one of the few actors whose name fit right in with the quaint characters in the films. Rupert is common enough in the UK, but few and far between in America. And Grint, well it sounds as though it’s right out of Roald Dahl story.

Rupert Grint as Ron Weasly  image credit Heyday Films

Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley
image credit Heyday Films

 

Noel Fielding

It might seem odd that the French word for Christmas has become a male British name.   However, with the change in pronunciation from the French (No-el) to something more like Noll, the English have made in their own and Noel Fielding is, in my opinion, a prime example of the country’s renowned eccentricity.  From the Mighty Boosh and The IT Crowd to his self-titled Luxury Comedy sketch show, Mr. Fielding’s whole being screams that he’s an artsy, mod goth with a totally off-the-wall way of looking at the world and he doesn’t care who knows it. What could be more British than that?

Team captain Noel Fielding on NMTB Image Credit BBC

Never Mind the Buzzcock’s team captain Noel Fielding 
Image Credit BBC

 

Julian Rhind-Tutt

I chose Mr. Rhind-Tutt as a representative for all those Brits with hyphenated last names which we Yanks have been trained to associate with money and breeding. Although from what I’ve read in the past, aristocratic blood doesn’t run in his veins.  Julian’s  parents just did what a number enlightened couples do when they marry; they combined surnames. Still sounds classy though, right? Rhind-Tutt has portrayed a few posh blue bloods in his career in Blandings and The Lady Vanishes for starters. He’s also played a number of coppers and doctors, the most famous being Dr. Macartney in Green Wing.

Julian Rhind-Tutt

Julian as Angus McCain in The Hour image credit Kudos Film and Television

 

Ralph Fiennes

Ralph (pronounced Rafe) Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, to be exact. And according to Wikipedia, this talented gentleman is, in fact, a gentleman, reportedly an eighth cousin to Prince Charles. I had a neighbor named Ralph and we called him “Ralf”. To be honest, when I first heard this actor’s name spoken I thought he was Ray Fines. Regardless of spelling or pronunciation, Mr. Fiennes is a grand example of the British acting profession. He’s conquered Shakespeare, Dickens, and more recently the Bond franchise among other roles. He’s THE Voldemort for God’s sake! Never mind that most of us became acquainted with him as the most horrible Nazi on film ever!

Ralph Fiennes

Fiennes as Charles Dickens in The Invisible Woman image credit BBC Films

 

 

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