February 8th, 2008

Ashes To Ashes

Life on Mars is the best British TV series of the new millennium. Well, maybe the Office is as good. And maybe there are other things I haven't seen which I'd rate as highly if I had, but you know what I'm trying to say.

And now here's the sequel- Ashes to Ashes. Gene Hunt and his sidekicks have moved to London and forward seven years and John Simm has been replaced by Keeley Hawes. Otherwise it's not so much a sequel as a remake. The set-up is exactly the same: a jargon-spouting modern copper has been sent back in time to work with Hunt's "armed bastards". She thinks she's in a coma and Hunt and co are figments of her imagination and all she has to do is complete certain tasks and she'll be returned to present day reality. The more or less mundane episodes of policework are interspersed with bursts of surreality. Her TV talks to her, the pierrot off Bowie's Ashes to Ashes video- a rather too obvious symbol of death- is stalking her. In a nice little twist she has read Simm's notes and knows (or thinks she knows) exactly how this parallel universe works. Because she believes Hunt to be a figment- a fictional character within a fiction- (she never speaks his name without sketching quotation marks in the air)- his character has become cartoony. He appears accompanied by orchestral crescendos, shot from below. This may over time diminish him. We'll see. It could be the writers are planning to take us some place we haven't been before- though I doubt it.

Immediately after the first episode aired I switched channels and watched the final episode of Life on Mars. It's brilliant. And- for all that there's a cunningly planted link forward to the sequel- it has an air of finality about it. Simm's character is dead- or permanently lost in time and- for him and the chums to whom he's finally committed himself- it'll always be Manchester and 1973. You want more but you know it would be greedy to ask- because everything necessary has been done and said.

Ashes to Ashes is brightly coloured where Life on Mars was drab.   We get to see Hunt riding a speedboat down the Thames and firing a machine gun. The references to 80s pop culture come thick and fast.  It's overblown-  decadent even- but I'm not going to knock it.  I miss Simm and I miss Manchester but Hunt is a great character and the concept is a great concept and-even though it's artistically unjustified- I'm happy to be offered this second serving.