Last night, ABC debuted their new version of the UK show Life On Mars. After a couple years of news, casting rumors, promo pictures and a lot of bad publicity when the first pilot was released, I'm very, very happy to say that I was impressed with the new version. While I don't think that it will ever surpass the original, I'm okay with that.
The original pilot was a far more superficial version of the original UK series, with a number of changes that distracted from the characters. The new version, while taking some liberties, helps by a far better cast and with an overall look and feel that both better matches the original show, and starts the US version off with its own character, one that seems very dark indeed.
Life On Mars has a much different feel from that of other shows that I've seen that take place in New York City - its faster paced and far more gritty than Law & Order, and opens with a chase scene that benefits from a great amount of editing and good camera work - something that the original pilot didn't have.
There's enough differences here to make this start to stand apart from the UK version. Sam's mentor, Carl Bellows, makes an appearance in the pilot (Glen Fletcher in the UK Version), which should prove to be a nice way to tie episodes together, Maya and Sam's problems are given a little more background in the opening scenes in a pretty good way, and the big point - Sam's contemplation of killing the boy who would become Colin Raimes in the closing scenes of the episode. That was the biggest shift in tone that I could find, and it makes me very interested in seeing what else they will try as the series goes on.
Jason O'Mara has really stepped up to the plate here, and did a good job portraying Sam Tyler. While nobody can ever surpass John Simm, O'Mara is doing a pretty good job blazing his own path and creating his own character. There's more work to be done, but it's a good start.
Translating the show to the US seems like it would be a very tough job. Aside from geographical things, some of the stories in the original show have a much different historical background than they would in the US, and the entire method of policing in the UK is very different from the US. One of the more interesting scenes was when Sam first finds himself back in time, staying up a the newly-built World Trade Center building dominating the skyline, and his reaction was extremely well done, granting a level of subtlety that the original pilot was lacking, and pulling this more in line with the UK version. While it is more in line, the US version has succeeded, initially, at really giving the show its own US feel.
There are some minor problems here and there. Gretchen Mol doesn't nearly have the charisma of Liz White when it comes to Annie Norris (Annie Cartwright in the UK), and some of the background characters fall a little flat, such as Ray and Chris, although there is still plenty of time for them to be fully fleshed out later on. The biggest gap in the show thus far is Gene Hunt, now portrayed by Harvey Keitel. Whereas Gene Hunt had a pretty dominating presence in the pilot, Keitel's Hunt is much more in the background. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing here, I'm wondering if he is someone who will be ramped up, or just be one of the background characters on a similar level of the other detectives.
Its nearly impossible to not compare this show to the original, in my opinion. The UK version set, in my mind, such a high bar, with such a unique feel and storytelling that set it apart. The fact that this show has managed to capture some of that feel is a good thing, but I do hope that as the season goes on, they will work on deviating from the original a bit - and from all accounts, that will happen. Given that the original was only 16 episodes, and that if this is picked up for a full season that will be surpassed in the first year, I will be interested to see what directions this show will be taken.