Strung Out on Heaven’s High: Ashes to Ashes Finale

Ashes to Ashes, the follow up show to 2006’s Life On Mars, ended on a high note, finishing out the series and presumably the entire franchise, answering some questions lingering from Sam Tyler’s experiences in 1973. At the same time, Ashes to Ashes has continued an interesting story, pushing the stories to the extremes of the medium, and providing a genuinely surreal experience for the viewer.

In 2006, Sam Tyler, a Manchester DCI, was hit by a car and awoke in 1973. Discovering the reasons for his abrupt time travel, he returned to the present, only to commit suicide and return to the land of Gene Hunt and his band of lawmen. Ashes to Ashes picked up the pieces shortly after Tyler’s death, with police officer Alex Drake receiving a bullet in the head, propelling her back to 1981, where she navigates the past once again to try and figure out just what is going on.

The show had a lot to live up to: Life on Mars, likewise named for a David Bowie song, provided one of the more interesting, exciting and thought-provoking show to hit the airwaves. A gripping look at changing values in a country that has changed dramatically, the show did exactly what good science fiction should do: present a story in different contexts. In this instance, it does it quite literally, but the original show introduced an element of surrealism to the storyline, something that Ashes to Ashes has continued.

A sense of the surreal has been a larger part of Alex Drake’s storyline. A police psychologist, she was an investigating officer when it came to Sam Tyler’s case, and throughout the show, recognizes that her surroundings aren’t real, whereas in the prior show, there was an element of uncertainty to Sam’s predicament, right to the very end. Life On Mar’s finale revealed that Sam had been killed, and Ashes to Ashes does a fantastic job carrying the momentum forward, delving further into the franchise’s mythology, characters and story.

One of the best points about the show was the return of Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister), Ray Carling (Dean Andrews) and Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster), and newcomers Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes) and Shaz Granger (Montserrat Lombard) who brought back a fantastic performance and new direction for the storyline. Rather than repeating the successes of its predecessor, which mainly focused on procedural elements (as well as Sam trying to return home), much more of the back story to the cast is brought in, and it’s clear that Gene Hunt has remained at the forefront of the action, metaphorically and literally.

While I’m not convinced that Ashes to Ashes had a better ending than Life on Mars, it was a good one, wrapping up where Life On Mars left off, and making it clear that Life On Mars was just one story in a much larger one. Gene is revealed to be something of a main figure in a purgatory for deceased police officers, helping them settles the major problems that they all faced before releasing them from that existence. The world of Gene Hunt is one of the restless dead, and he is their shepherd, acting out all of his own flaws and insecurities in the meantime.

In the run up to the finale, the surrealistic elements really come to their proper form, as Chris, Ray and Shaz begin to realize that their lives aren’t what they seem, and the points where they watch their own deaths is an interesting one, revealing much that’s been build up around the characters over the past three seasons.

I’m rather sad to see the show go away, and with the reveal at the end, it’s pretty clear that this franchise is largely at an end, something that I both applaud and lament. On one hand, it feels as though this sort of storyline really could have used a third series to better build up the suspense and tell some interesting stories. I would have loved to have seen a series set in the 1990s (which is coming up on the 20 year mark soonish), but at the same point, the BBC has had the foresight to really end the show before running it into the ground, something that American channels do only inadvertently when they can’t figure out how to market a television show to an audience. Life On Mars is a particularly hard one to sell, and here in the U.S., it failed to garner a second season, although they did do a decent job adapting the story – until the end.

The main problem with the Ashes to Ashes ending was that we already really knew what had happened to Sam: he’d died, and returned to the sort of dream world, and the revelation that Gene Hunt was a specter of coppers deceased really isn’t the surprise that it should have been, all things considered.

With that in mind, the final episode was far more intriguing than anything that I’ve really come across in U.S. mass media, and very rarely can something as interesting and surreal (Twin Peaks, Pushing Daisies, and LOST) as Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes come onto our television screens. It’s a real shame, but at the same time, it’s good to treasure those shows as they do come across.

Top Geek Things of 2009

Now that it's close to the end of the year, it's time to look back, like everyone else and their mother on the internet, on the past year. 2009 has been a fantastic one for all things geek. There have been a number of fantastic movies, books, television shows and so forth, as well as a bunch of things that really didn't come off as well. Here's what I've been geeking out (or complaining about) this year:

The Best:

Moon Moon is easily one of the best Science Fiction films that I've ever seen. Ever. It's been added to a very small list of films (The Fountain, Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth, etc) of exceptionally conceptualized, produced and thoughtful SF/F films out there. Moon is one of two really good films this year that I really enjoyed and for a number of reasons. The story is fantastic, playing off of common themes with new eyes, it's visually stunning and it's a largely original story, one that's not based directly off of prior works. And, it has a fantastic soundtrack by Clint Mansell.

Star Trek This appears three times on this list, because I'm still largely split over how I feel about it. The best parts of this is that it's a fantastic, visually stunning film, and really does what Enterprise and Nemesis failed to do: reboot the franchise in grand style, with over the top action, adventure, everything that really comes to mind when you think Big Budget Space Movie. The cast, pacing and visuals made this one of the most successful films of the year, and the best of the big budget films that came out this year.

District 9 When it comes to fantastic Science Fiction films, Moon and Star Trek didn't have a monopoly on this at all - District 9, coming out of San Diego Comic Con with an incredible amount of buzz and a good viral marketing campaign showed that there was still a place for an innovative filmmaker armed with a good story. The end result is a compelling take on first contact. Instead of an us against them, or invaders from outer space flick, we see refugees from outer space, with an acute political message that makes this movie even more interesting.

The Curious Tale of Benjamin Button This was an interesting film, one that got a bit of press, but wasn't a blockbuster by any means. The story of a man who ages backwards from birth, one that proved to be a powerful and somewhat heartbreaking love story leaves much room for discussion, but at points, was slow and ponderous. Brad Pitt did a fantastic job, as did the special effects artists who provided the CGI throughout.

The Magicians, Lev Grossman The Magicians was a book that came out of nowhere for me, until a Borders email let me know about it. Picking it up, with few expectations, I was enthralled with Lev Grossman's take on the fantasy world. Drawing much from C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and elements of Harry Potter, this book looks at a boy in a magical academy in a far more realistic sense, injecting a good dose of post-college reality into a field that is often ripe with monsters and epic quests. A quest of sorts is in here, but the buildup is fantastic.

Wired For War, P.W. Singer Wired For War is a book from earlier this year that looked at the developments of robotics in warfare. P.W. Singer takes a long and comprehensive look at not only the state of robots and their use in combat operations, but also looks to how the use of robotics is integrated into wartime planning, and how this impacts command and control structures already in place. From this point, he looks to the future of warfare, where robotics will go through the next decades and what the face of futuristic warfare might look like. It's also peppered with numerous Science Fiction references. I had a chance to speak with and interview Mr. Singer, who was extremely pleasant and eager to talk about his book, and write up several major articles for io9, which was a thrill as always.

The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi Recently selected as one of Time Magazine's top books of the year, Paolo Bacigalupi's first novel, The Windup Girl is a stunning one. Taking place in the near future, in a world without oil, alternative energy has become paramount, while agricultural firms have put profit before common sense and as a result, plagues ravage the world, except for Thailand, whose isolationist policies hold back the outside world and its problems. The book covers a lot of ground, from governmental policy to corporate greed to bioethics, with a wide range of characters who all fall within a gray area. This book is fantastic, and if it doesn't win a Hugo, there's seriously something wrong with the world.

The Moon Reigns Supreme - 40th Anniversary of Apollo 11 & Water on the Moon This year marked 40 years since 1969, when man first landed on the moon with Apollo 11, and with a successful follow-up mission with Apollo 12. Easily one of humanity's greatest accomplishments and it has been followed up with a number of projects. NASA found and restored footage of the landing and EVA activities, cleaning it up a little. NASA also took pictures from orbit of the Apollo landing sites, down to footprint trails with some stunning work from LCROSS. In addition to NASA's efforts to celebrate the anniversary, there were a number of other things out there. The Kennedy Library launched the website 'We Chose the Moon', which documented, in real time, the Apollo 11 mission. I listened at the edge of my seat, following along with the mission transcript and listened as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the lunar surface. Finally, Craig T. Nelson's book, Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men On The Moon, was released earlier this year to also commemorate the mission, which proved to be a detailed and fantastic read, one that helped to influence my thinking on the lunar mission. The Lunar landing wasn't the only press that the moon got this year - the LCROSS mission launched a component that slammed into the surface and let up a plume of debris - analysis revealed that there is water on the moon - a lot of it. And for all of those people who complained about this, keep in mind the number of craters that are already there.

Last servicing mission to Hubble. NASA wasn't just in the news for Apollo 11; this year marked the last servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been in orbit since 1990. Despite its troubled history, the satellite has returned some of the most fantastic, beautiful and stunning images of the universe around us, and will continue to do so for a couple more years. Space Shuttle mission STS-125 was launched in May, where a new camera was placed onboard and several other minor repairs. The satellite is slated to continue operation through 2014, so don't fret yet.

James May's Toy Stories James May, one of the three presenters on Top Gear, has been doing a limited TV show on classic toys, including Mecano, Plasticine, and eventually, Lego, looking a little at their history and then building something supersized out of them. It's quite a treat to watch.

Fringe I called Fringe one of the worst things last year, but it's turned around for me. Picking up the boxed set, I was hooked. It's a bit cheesy, gory, but a whole lot of fun. Walter, weird science, teleportation and alternate universes make this show a huge joy to watch. Season 2 is proving to be just as good, now that they've locked down a story, and I'm eager to see where it goes.

Dollhouse Dollhouse debuted earlier this year with a short, 13 episode season that started off slowly, but picked up an incredible amount of steam. While it's more uneven than Joss Whedon's earlier show, Firefly, Dollhouse's better episodes help make up for the slack by introducing some of the most challenging moments in Science Fiction, and deal with issues such as the soul, personality and consent, while also offering cautionary tales on the uses of technology. Unfortunately, with the show's cancellation right as it gets good, there's a limit to what can be told, but with plenty of time for this show to wrap up all the remaining storylines, I think that this will become a cult classic.

Battlestar Galactica Where to begin with Battlestar Galactica? It's been a rush over the past six or so years, with a miniseries and four seasons of television and two movies, and like all good things, it had to end sometime. Fortunately, it ended when it was good, and while the finale garnered quite a lot of talk and dismay from some people (io9 listed it as one of the bigger disappointments), I think that it was carried off well, with a rich blend of religious allegory, action and a satisfying ending that few science fiction shows seem to get.

Kings Sadly, Kings was another short lived show that was cancelled before its time. Taking the story of David and Goliath from the Bible and updating it in a modern, alternate world with inter-kingdom politics, faith and destiny. The stories were superb, well told, with a fantastic cast. This is precisely the type of show that should have been on SyFy, especially with their upcoming show Caprica.

Stargate: Universe SyFy's latest show from the Stargate Franchise, Stargate: Universe is possibly the most interesting and compelling installment in the series. Taking the very basics of Stargate SG-1/Stargate Atlantis, this show takes more cues from Battlestar Galactica than it does Stargate. The result is a far more realistic show, with more personal stories and situations that are much darker, and more grown up from the first show.

Landing At Point Rain The Clone Wars thunders on, with mixed results, but easily the best episode that's aired thus far is Landing At Point Rain. Taking influences from Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan and other war movies, the show finally lives up to its title: The Clone Wars. There's plenty of action, less of the stupid lines and fantastic animation that really made this episode one of the most exciting moments in the entire franchise.

The Hazards of Love, by the Decemberists The Decemberists have long dabbled in interesting and wordy music, as well as fantasy, with their last album, The Crane Wife, and The Tain, but The Hazards of Love is their most ambitious attempt at a concept album to date, one with an overarching story of Margaret and William, a town girl and a cursed man, their love for one another and the Forest Queen who conspires to keep them apart. The album is filled with supernatural elements, and seems to draw from Lord of the Rings and traditional mythic stories to put together one of their best works to date. The band in concert was also a treat to see.

Do You Want To Date My Avatar? I'm not all that familiar with The Guild, but Felica Day's clever music video is hands down fantastic.

Dr. Horrible Wins an Emmy Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog was one of the coolest things to come out last year, and this year, it received an Emmy, which helps to solidify the web as a growing platform for serious and professionally produced entertainment. Hopefully, its success will mean that we’ll see smaller, independent productions going online and succeeding.

Symphony of Science Symphony of Science is a project that puts noted scientists (notably Carl Sagan) to music by using an auto tuner. The result is a series of music videos and songs that help to convey some of the beauty and wonder of physics though some fairly clever songs. I've been listening to them constantly, and as a sort of electronica style music, they're quite fun, and very geeky to listen to. Best of all, there is plans to make further songs.

Star Wars In Concert One of the most iconic elements of Star Wars isn't just the action and epic story; it's the music that it's set to. For much of this fall, a travelling show, entitled Star Wars In Concert has been travelling around the nation. Unfortunately, it's winding down, but it will likely continue into next year. The 501st was called out at most of the events, and through that, I was able to watch the show. Combining a live orchestra, clips from the movies and narration from Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), the entire evening was a fantastic experience that gave me chills throughout.

Tauntaun Sleeping Bag The Tauntaun Sleeping bag started out as an April Fool's Joke, but the demand and interest was so prevalent that ThinkGeek actually went out and made it. What a fantastic idea - I kind of want one.

Slingers The final thing on this list is Slingers, a short conceptual teaser for a show that's heading towards production. The 3 minute teaser is easily one of the best moments in SF that I've seen in a while and I've been bouncing around, positively giddy at the prospect that this might be made. It's got humor, some interesting characters and a very cool look to the future. Plus, it's a space show, and there aren't many of those around now. It left me seeing more, and I'm sure that we'll see more in the next year or so.


Fanboys For all the hype, Fanboys was a bit of a letdown. The cancer story was kept in, but so were some of the immature and cheap laughs that brought the entire film down. It's good for a laugh, and there's a lot that went right with it, but still, I was left wishing that there was more to it, without the frat boy humor in it.

Watchmen Don't get me wrong, Watchmen was stunning. It looked, felt and acted like the comic book that it was inspired by, and the transition to the screen worked fairly well. At the same time, for all the hype that there was here, I'm not that enthused to see it more than once or twice. It's still on my to get list, but it's not necessarily a priority. I think my biggest issue with this is that it's too much like the comic book, and that the drive to make everything exact harmed the overall production. It's less of a movie than it is an homage from the director. Sin City was the perfect comic book movie, this wasn't, and it really should have been. Still, it's worth watching.

Star Trek Star Trek, one of the best, one of the eh, moments of the year. It looks and feels spectacular, but when you get down to it, there's the shoddy science, and an incredibly weak story that pulls the movie along. The story's really not what the film was about, this was a character start for more Star Trek, but for me, story is central to Science Fiction, and this just didn't have it.

9 The trailers for 9 looked great, and there was quite a bit of interest in this. I went into the theater with high expectations, and those were largely met - the film looked spectacular, and it was a fun ride, but the story and characters were pretty lacking. It needed quite a bit of story and character development that was needed, and that harmed the film. Plus, it didn't seem to know if it was a kid's movie or one for an older audience. This is probably something to rent, not to buy.

V The new V should have been great - the cast, producers and network put together a good premise, but with the first couple of episodes sped through just about everything that made the show interesting. The themes of first contact, of a ship arriving over earth with a message for peace contain so much when it comes to religion, science and society, all rich territory that could be exploited, but instead, it's gone past too quickly, with crappy teenage romance storylines. I'll probably not pick up watching again, but I'll see what's going on in the show, in case, by some miracle, it's picked up for a second season.

The Prisoner AMC's The Prisoner was another show that should have been great. The trailers presented a fantastic looking story of psychological stress with a weird desert backdrop, but honestly? I can't tell you what it was about. It was convoluted, unconnected and dull, and while it looked very pretty, and had some decent episodes, it was a pretty big letdown.

Spirit gets stuck in the mud The Spirit Rover on Mars got mired down in a patch of sand earlier this year. Put into operation in 2004, and only intended for a 90 day mission, the rover was still going strong until it got stuck. Hopefully, the boffins over at the JPL will be able to get it out and about once again, although if I remember correctly, the last thing that they were intending to try was to back it out the way it came in. I would have thought that would have been the first thing to have tried.

Google Wave - lights are on, but there's nobody there. Late this year, Google Wave got turned on, and like any major Google product with exclusive access, it was, well, popular. But nobody really seems to know what it's for, and unlike Gmail, which could be used as an e-mail client from day one, its limited access restricts a lot of what you can do with this. People aren't using it like e-mail if it was designed today; it's essentially a glorified Gmail chat window, or a really good business collaborative tool. Still, it's pretty nifty, and I really hope that they can integrate it into Gmail someday.


G.I. Joe, Star Trek, Transformers, Terminator & Big Budget Crap I know I've singled out Star Trek a couple times here, but more than ever, especially with far superior, low budget films competing with them this year, we see once again that tons of special effects doesn't necessarily equate to a good film. G.I. Joe landed with horrendous reviews, Star Trek had a smaller plot than a television episode and Terminator: Salvation was a huge disappointment, critically. (I thought it was decent, but nowhere near as good as the trailers led me to believe). My biggest gripe is extravagant use of CGI and an over-reliance on special effects for a dumbed down audience. Among other things, Moon and District 9 demonstrated that a good looking, intelligent film could be done for a fairly low cost, and I know that I'll be going back to those far more than the others. Still, big budget summer movies aren't going anywhere - a lot of these films made quite a bit, and the jury is still out on Avatar, which drops in a couple weeks.

Karen Traviss Quits Star Wars - Twice Karen Traviss was really a shining star within the Star Wars Universe. Her first entry, Republic Commando : Hard Contact, was followed up by several very good novels, with some different and intelligent views on the Clone Wars. Then, there was a bit of a row over Mandalorians, causing her books to come into conflict with the Clone Wars TV series. Since then, there's been a bit of a row about this, and Traviss has left the universe for others, such as Gears of War and Halo, and hopefully, her other works. Karen explains everything here, and makes some good points. She will be missed, however.

Black Matrix Publishing Row With harder times coming around, some publishers found a new revenue stream: aspiring writers who have little common sense. One notable SF ones was Black Matrix Publishing, called out by author John Scalzi recently on his blog, Whatever. While Scalzi had quite a lot of very good advice in his usual up front fashion, there were a number of people who went on the offensive and critizised him as an elitist writer, issuing some of the most ridiculous arguments for why Black Matrix had been wronged. I'm not necessarily involved in either side, but Scalzi presented a reasonable argument. Why is that so hard?

The ending to Life On Mars I really got into Life on Mars. It wasn't as good as the UK version, but it was unique, interesting and divergent from it. While the show basically adapted the original show to a large extent at first, they had an interesting pace and storyline starting up, and far better than the first pilot that was shot, which was just terrible. The creators had a delicate balancing act to follow, and did a very good job with giving their characters their own personalities and stories that diverged from the UK version. Then, the show was cancelled and they ended it, and the last ten minutes of the show just dropped like a rock. Clunky, very, very poor production values that made me wonder if this was all slapped together at the last minute, and quite honestly, it dimmed the entire series for me, especially compared to the brilliance of the UK version. I'll watch the show again, but I'll be doing my best to forget about the conclusion.

SciFi becomes SyFy, nobody cares One of the biggest furies of the year was when SciFi became SyFy, and the internet erupted into such indignation that I thought the world was going to end. Quite simply, the channel changed names to create a stronger brand, not change content, and so far, they seem to be doing pretty well, with Warehouse 13, Stargate Universe, Alice and presumably, Caprica doing really well in the ratings. All of which is good, for the network to expand further and really show that geek is really in right now. While the name looks silly, it's really a superficial change. Now, if they would just get rid of wrestling. Or pick up Slingers for five seasons.

Orbiting Carbon Observatory crashes - Mission Failure This was a satellite that I tracked earlier this year while really watching the space stuff. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory was an expensive one, designed to monitor global carbon levels to get a better idea just how climate change is progressing and providing us with a very good look at just how the environment is changing around us. Ultimately though, part of the nose failed to separate from the capsule, and with the extra weight, the rocket crashed into the south Atlantic.

Heroes continues. Meh. I've given up on Heroes, after the dismal decline in quality, storytelling and characters. They should have stuck with the original plan, and killed off the first season's cast when they had the chance, instead of bringing people back time and time again. The fact that ratings are declining is just stunning to me, especially now that the show is into it's fourth season, and I have doubts that it will return. Hopefully not.

FlashForward Look, if I want to watch LOST, I'll watch LOST. I'm not going to watch a show that's a poor copy of it.

Deaths: Every year, there are a number of deaths in the geek genre/fan community. A couple notable ones were Ricardo Montalbán, who played Kahn in Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn, Michael Jackson, who's song Thriller places him on the Geek spotlight, Kim Manners (X-Files/Supernatural Producer), Philip José Farmer, author of Riverworld and numerous other SF books, Dave Arneson, one of the D&D co-founders, and Norman Borlaug, who saved the world through science. There are others I'm sure, but it's still hard to see people in the genre leave us forever.


A couple of unknowns for me include The Lovely Bones, Sherlock Holmes, Avatar and Zombieland, which I haven't seen, Deathtroopers, which I haven't read, and Halo ODST, which I haven't played. (Okay, haven't played much. I've liked what I've played. And the soundtrack. And the fact that the entire Firefly cast is somewhere in there)

What's coming up for next year? The new Tron movie is coming out, which I'm horribly excited for, especially after watching the trailer and then the old movie. Slingers is likely going to get some more buzz. Iron Man 2 will be big, as well as Clash of the Titans, Inception (Really want to see that one), Chronicles of Narnia 3, The Book of Eli, and Toy Story 3. Hopefully, Scott Lynch will have his third book out, and Caprica will be beginning (High hopes for that one), as well as the second half  and second Season of Stargate: Universe. Who knows what else?

The Book Of Lost Things

I love stories. From a young age, I've loved listening and reading them, as a child who was never terribly inclined towards sports or other activities. From a very young age, I have been fairly shy around other people, instead usually to turn to books for company - this is not to say that I've been antisocial all my life - as people often let me down or disappoint far more than books do. It's with this basis that I love our ability to imagine.

While stopping by the bookstore recently, I came across an intriguing book - The Book of Lost Things, by John Connelly - and armed with a coupon e-mailed to me that day, I bought it, and found that it was one of the better fantasy books that I've read recently, and has reminded me of my simple love for stories, which this book is largely based around - a love for stories and the limits of imagination.

The book's premise is fairly similar to one of my favorite films, Pan's Labyrinth, which came out in 2007. David, a young English boy in 1939, has had a troubled life - his mother passed away from a wasting illness, and his father shortly fell for another woman, Rose, who bore him a son. David is resentful of this new family, and grows angry at the divided attention and the supposed replacement of his mother. He soon experiences a sort of episode - a blackout - and when he recovers, he begins to hear books whispering to one another. At this point, the London Blitz is well underway, and when trying to run away, a German bomber crashes near his house, and David is thrust into a fantasy world.

This is the interesting part of the book, and where there are a lot of parallels to Pan's Labyrinth, but also to other well known stories, such as C.S. Lewis's Narnia series, as well as Grimm's Fairy Tales and even Life on Mars. Throughout the book, the reader is never entirely sure as to whether David has really been thrust into an alternate world, populated by fantastic creations, or whether he is lying injured, much as Sam Tyler is in the TV show, or even it the entire experience is a sort of psychotic break, a device that David utilizes to escape from a world that he hates so much.

The ability to hear books whisper to one another is a fun concept, and is helps to reinforce what happens to David goes through. In this world, we come across a number of fairly familiar stories or concepts as David journeys onwards in an attempt to find his lost mother, but later, to return home. Various incarnations of the tales, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty, the heroic knight, werewolves and vampires make their appearances, often with far more brutal and violent twists that are more reminiscent of the Grimm's Fairy Tales than their sanitized Disney versions. (However, the Seven Dwarves as a sort of communistical band who felt that they were repressed by the Capitalistic classes is downright hilarious) Essentially, this world of David's has been created from within his own knowledge of stories, a creation of his own imagination, one that is borne out of a sort of self-realization and psychology that helps mend his own hurt nature.

The story elements, upon looking back, are really quite simple, and throughout, I found myself catching what would happen next and realizing where the plot was going next, which gives the book an air of predictability to anyone who's listened to enough bedtime stories. But where that might have annoyed me in most books, it really didn't here - this was a story with a good character arc, one that is reminiscent of the classic stories of the growth of a hero - a brash, angry young man who sets off to prove himself to the world, only to discover his own nature, and thus the character growth beings until you reach the happily ever after at the end. However, while there are many elements to this story that are much like the fairy tales that we are all familiar with, it feels far more realistic. The epilogue, of sorts, recounts the remainder of David's days, in a way that really doesn't fit with the rest of the tales that I've come across, giving the antagonist - the Crooked Man - a grain of truth to his predictions and proclamations.

While the book is fairly clear about what the entire experience was, it can easily fit into any of the three descriptions - David fell into a coma, he created the world because of trauma or he really was catapulted into this other world. The ambiguity of this is a very nice element, while one is clearly correct, they all are essentially part of what happened. Looking back at this, it really doesn't matter to the overall part of the story - this story is more about the arc of the hero, self-realization and growth to beyond his angry and frustrated youth.

What the book really feels like, now that I've finished (and my copy was deceptively long, with a sort of notes and interview that takes up the last hundred or so pages of the novel) is an homage to the classic stories. There's a grain of humor and twisting of some of the classics that only a modern author could get away with, but what it shows, most of all, that these stories and one's imagination are still relevant and important. There are values to these stories that still permeate to the beginnings of the Second World War, and indeed, to the present moment, where some of the basic elements of good and evil are laid out. This book is about stories, and like David finds, how they can talk to you.

Ground Control to Major Tom

The US version of Life On Mars aired last night, and for once in the show, I'm incredibly disappointed with how they decided to end the show, especially after how this version was generally quite good. While much of the episode was quite solid and helped to wrap up much of the story, the last couple of minutes almost completely ruin the rest of the series.

Overall, the US version of Life on Mars was fairly well done. There was a bit more in the way of a coherent storyline throughout, and it had me guessing as to what was really going on with Sam Tyler throughout - it was somewhat clear that unlike in the original show, where John Simm's Sam Tyler was in a coma from pretty early on, that wasn't necessarily the case here, and there were a number of theories that Sam himself came up with shortly after the pilot, as well as a number of things along the way (usually explained away by the end of the episode, such as drugs, helicopters and other plausible explanations).

What is most memorable about the original ending of the show was the sheer conflict that Sam's character had to go through - this was a significant leap in characterization, one that really would have been incredibly hard to imagine being in his position. In the original, Sam is forced to choose between 1973 and 2004, finding escape during a robbery, where he can return home at the expense of his friends. As it turns out, he returns home to the present, but disillusioned with how everything is done (and this is a brilliant commentary on modern policing), he jumps off of a building and returns to the 1970s.

In this modern version of the show, Sam has come across his father after his younger self is kidnapped, and everything winds up in Hyde, where his father is shot trying to kill him, and Sam finally is comfortable in the 1970s, when he wakes up. Not in 2008, where the show started, but in 2035, where he's on a space ship, about to land on Mars. The entire show was essentially a trippy dream on the part of the character, in a very odd sort of Wizard of Oz type of dream. The members of the 1-2-5 are his fellow crew members, and because they were cryogenically frozen for the trip, his mind went elsewhere.

This ending really bothers me, probably more than it should. It's an incredible letdown. I don't know whether this is because the show was ended early, or what, but there are three specific things that just didn't work.

Once Sam wakes up, we learn that he is really going to Mars. Like the original, the past and future have been blended - Sam was in a coma, and picked up things, such as Hyde, the doctors, and some other things and incorporated them into his fantasy while in a coma. US Sam did the same thing this time around, but went further - he picked up his fellow crew members and supplanted them and their personalities as his fellow police officers. While this is similar to the UK version, it falls far short - essentially, it was all a dream - every element of it, from car crash to his experiences in 1973. The original found Sam recovered and returning to work, where the viewers were faced with a stark difference between the way that police work was conducted, and even society, between 2004 and 1973. Sam found that modern times were far too sterile, grey and emotionless, whereas the 1970s were vibrant, colorful and overemotional, and that there were some important aspects to life during that time. This was something that was completely lacking in the modern version, throughout the show. Another, minor couple of points was that Gene was now 'Major Tom', and the entire space scene just seemed really, really fake.

Once the 1-2-5 wakes up, we learn that Gene is really Sam's father (which is really just too cute to be taken seriously) and that their relationship in real life was probably similar to what we saw in the show. Gene's advice to Sam, which seems to have been the entire underlying theme of this is to "Make your home where ever you are." This to me seemed to also be a major cop-out after all the experiences that he's undergone. The entire show should be building to the finale, and help support the final conclusions - this really didn't happen. From early on, US Sam has always seemed to fit right in to the 1970s, whereas UK Sam was constantly trying to find a way back home, because he was constantly running into problems with how he felt that police-work and society should work, and this was a constant issue throughout the show, which made Sam's return to the 1970s all the more meaningful. Here, this was a simple realization that Sam came up with after a trippy dream.

Essentially, The Wizard of Oz has already done this sort of storyline, and has done it better. While this in and of itself isn't a problem, it needs to be recognized within the show a bit. The UK version had some interesting references, but this show falls far more towards Oz than the original, and I don't remember coming across any references within the show. The UK version did a fantastic set of scenes with Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's wonderful version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow at the end, which added a bit of weight and meaning to the finale of that show, where as this one had nothing that really added to the show at all.

There are some redeeming factors for this finale, which actually worked really well up until the Mars ending. Annie Norton was finally made into a full detective, but even then, this seemed like it was an afterthought. (In the UK version, Annie was made a DI in the second series.) There was ample resolution with Sam's trip to the 1970s, but it was largely cheapened by the fact that he never really went there, even in his dreams.

Everything that made the UK show such a good one was noticeably absent in this version. This didn't necessarily ruin the US version for me, but they are impossible to really compare. Taken in and of itself, the US show worked quite well, and I was happy to see that it was as good as it was - the characters were decently done, the stories were interesting, and it was interesting. But, I'll always return to the original UK version.

Best Television of 2008

My top TV episodes of 2008: 10 - Fringe: Pilot / Leverage: The Nigerian Job

This was a bit of a tie, because both these shows aren't all that great, but they are fun to watch. Fringe was one that I was really looking forwards to, and I've been somewhat disappointed by how it's been handled over the season that I've watched thus far. Hopefully I'll get to marathon the entire thing at some point. That being said, the pilot for the show was very fun to watch - it was interesting, had a fun concept and was so over the top that it's laughable, but again, fun. Leverage is a show that I've started watching because I like Heist shows, and this one is certainly one of the better ones that I've seen, ever since the show Smith a couple years ago. There's a fun cast dynamic and some good hooks in this episode for future episodes.

9 - Big Bang Theory: The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis I've been wary of this show until this season, and now, I've really gotten into it for some reason. The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis really takes the show away from some of the easy jabs at the characters and makes some room for some real character development at the end. Plus, the following quote from Leonard is just plain gold:

Do you know what this means? If I can get a healthy ovum, I can grow my own Leonard Nimoy!

8 - Barack Obama 30 Minute TV Spot No matter what side of the aisle you support, this TV spot was a brilliant move on the part of the Obama administration. It consumed a news cycle of talk show, talking heads and really outlined the priorities of the incoming administration and helped put Pres/Elect Obama into the lead, furthering his momentum. I personally was a supported of the Democratic Ticket, and while this TV spot showed us nothing terribly new to supporters, and essentially reiterated his position, it was a good introduction to people who still weren't sure who to support.

7 - John Adams: Join or Die The John Adams miniseries was a very well done series based off of the book by David McCullough by the same title. This pilot episode demonstrated fantastic production values and is an outstanding adaptation of history, from the characters and casting to the look and feel of the sets. These first episodes showed the American War for Independence, a crucial time in our history, in a way that has largely been glossed over in a few short lessons in school.

6 - Lost: The Constant This was possibly one of my favorite episodes of the entire series, where Desmond begins his own time jumps back and forth through. While Lost has overdone the lifes of some of the other characters like Jack and Kate, this episode really got into Desmond's head and proved that the writers could still write compelling and interesting characters, while advancing the story forward while doing so, rather than just exploition on why the characters are the way they are.

5 - Battlestar Galactica: Revelations Episode 410 of Battlestar Galactica brings the show to a point that we've been looking for for the past four years on the show : Earth. Four of the last unknown Cylons come forward to their friends, and Kara finally leads the fleet to the people, only to find a devastated landscape. There was a lot of emotion and storylines caught up here. Characters were not what their friends thought they were, and the episode represents a culmination of a number of storylines, and ends on a killer cliffhanger.

4 - Pushing Daisies: Comfort Food I'm very sad to see this show go - it's one of my absolute favorites. Comfort Food follows Ned and Olive during a cooking contest, while Chuck has brought her father back to life, at the cost of Dwight Dixon. This was the end/middle of a mini-arc, and it really does a fantastic job with both Ned and Chuck - Chuck with seeing her father return, and Ned for having his trust betrayed. And there's a Colonel who's been deep fried.

3 - When We Left Earth: Landing the Eagle / The Explorers This year was the 50th Anniversary of NASA, and to celebrate, Discovery released a documentary on NASA's human exploration of the solar system. This episode, Landing the Eagle, details the Apollo program through to Apollo 11, while The Explorers follows the remaining five moon landings. The footage here is absolutely stunning, and even includes interviews with Neil Armstrong. I get chills watching the landing.

2 - Life on Mars: Out Here in the Fields I was very skeptical about the remake, and the first pilot didn't leave me with any confidence here at all. But Out Here in the Fields, the second pilot to the UK remake, helped to allay my fears that this would be a poorly done show and showed not only could this re-make be a good one, but one that would stand on its own, with its own qualities. I can't wait for its return later on.

1 - House, MD : Wilson's Heart Season 4 of House was pretty lackluster. The change up with new staff only marginally worked, and while we saw some new characters, they're not quite to the point of Chase, Cameron and Foreman. The newcomers are interesting, but too similar, except for the fanatic character Amber, whom I can't stand. This episode made me entirely rethink her character, but also saw an incredible amount into the characters of House and Wilson. These episodes of House are the best ones, when we see real development, and it's happening fewer and further between episodes now. The last ten or so minutes of this episode are possibly the best minutes of the show that I've seen yet.

Top Geek Things of 2008

It's coming up to the end of the year, and looking back, 2008 has been a very fun year for geeks everywhere - in books, television programs and films, among other things. Over the past couple of days, I've been thinking back over the year to see what was the best and worst of 2008.

The Best:

Starbuck returned from the Grave; The Fleet reaches Earth. (Battlestar Galactica Season 4)

The third season of Battlestar Galactica was a little rocky in the middle, but the last episodes set up a real bang. Starbuck was presumably killed, only to turn up during a major confrontation of the Human and Cylon fleets. Season 4 opens even bigger, with one of the best space battles that I've ever seen. Our four new cylons are freaking out, Starbuck's back and everything culminates in the discovery of Earth in episode 10.Galactica has long been one of my favorite shows, and with a certain end point in mind, Season four was where Galactica got somewhat back onto the tracks, with a fairly tight story arc, only to get to another long wait for the final ten episodes. It's been well worth it though.

Pushing Daisies... back from the Grave, and back to it

After a long hiatus due to the writer's strike (more about that in a bit) my favorite show of 2007-2008 came back with a new set of episodes. There are not enough good things that I can say about this show. We left off last year with Chuck learning that it was Ned that killed her father, only to end up at the end of this season with him being awoken. It was another season of fantastic storytelling, character development and extremely fantastic dialog. Unfortunately, the show has been axed due to low ratings. Fortunately, Bryan Fuller will be going to Heroes for the latter half of Season 3.

Lost Gets Better - Again.

Here's the situation. LOST season 1 blew everyone away. Season 2 drove them away. Season 3 brought some people back, and Season 4, everything got interesting again. This season was the best since Season 1, in my opinion. We had several new characters (my favorite was Daniel Faraday, the physicist), and a couple people killed off. We started seeing flash-forwards, where Jack has a beard and addicted to pain pills, Hurley's in a mental institution and Sayid is channeling Abram's Alias. Oh, and they get off the island. Then the island vanishes.

I have Leonard Nemoy's DNA? (The Big Bang Theory)

This show started in 2007, where I was annoyed by its laugh track and annoying characters. But this year, I started watching it and enjoying it. While it's certainly a very stereotypical portrayal of nerds and geeks, it's fun, because the creators have put in place a series of fun characters, and the writers make some jokes that are actually funny. This week's episode was absolutely priceless, when Sheldon gets a napkin signed by Leonard Nimoy. Now, if they'll just ditch the laugh track. This show's likely to be around for a while longer - it's been getting better and better ratings as the year goes on.

Back in a Nick of Time (Life on Mars)

One of my absolute favorite shows of all time was Life on Mars. Up until this year, it was only a BBC drama, until ABC picked it up and made a pilot. That pilot sucked, horribly, so the cast was ditched, except for Jason O'Mara, and the show was redone, set in New York City, given a good cast and started up. The result? A solid TV series that's mirrored the original (but it's starting to diverge a bit now), a wonderful soundtrack of classic rock and a story that's actually interesting. I can't wait for its return in 2009.

The Joker raises worldwide GDP. (The Dark Knight)

First, there was excitement when it was announced that the Joker was going to be the villain. Then Heath Ledger signed up for the role. Then he died earlier this year after filming was completed, leaving some people to wonder if the film would be released on schedule. Then Warner Brothers covered every surface they could find with Dark Knight ads. When the film was released, it went on to gross $996,680,514 in theaters. The film was a huge success, and a fantastic film at that. It was a comic book movie with true darkness, some real symbolism and good storytelling throughout. It's a pity that we won't see Heath Ledger reprise his role of The Joker, because he's done the best portrayal of a villain in recent film memory.

I am Iron Man (Iron Man)

Before The Dark Knight blew the doors off the box office, there was Iron Man. Iron Man has long been a favorite marvel superhero of mine, and everything fell into place for this film. Good story, well directed, fantastic casting (Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark was brilliant) and of course, the Mark II set of armor. Marvel proved that they could make a good superhero movie, one that was relevant and not stuck in the low-humor that characterized other comic book adaptations. Already, I can't wait for Iron Man 2. And Iron Man 3. And The Avengers.

Eeeeevvvvvaaaaaa (Wall-E)

Pixar has released what is possibly their best film to date. (Except maybe Toy Story and The Incredibles). Following a robot far from home, Andrew Stanton has presented a film with a cute, romantic science fiction story with some social commentary (said to be unintentional) woven into the CGI. Wall-E is easily the most appealing robot since R2-D2 hit the big screen in 1977, and his antics as he's pulled along for the ride (literally) are cute, heartbreaking and funny.And with very little real dialog.

Roar. Crunch. Repeat. (Cloverfield)

Monster movies meets social networking video and America gets its own monster. This film was brilliantly shot with an extremely fun concept. A monster comes and plays t-ball with the statue of liberty, and it's caught on camera by a bunch of twenty-somethings as they escape. The project was conceived of by LOST creator J.J. Abrams, and his fingerprints are all over it. From the lack of explanation of everything to the weird stuff, this is a very fun film to watch. Rumors are that there's a Cloverfield 2 being talked about.

With My Freeze Ray I Will Stop... The World (Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog)

This project was a huge success for Joss Whedon & Co. Conceived of during the Writer's strike, Whedon presents an aspiring supervillian, Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris), his buddies and his quest to finish his freeze ray, avoid Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion) and win over Penny (Felicia Day). We're treated to musical numbers, crazy plots and a fantastic venture to prove that the internet is a viable place to release content.Take a look here.

Up, up and away! (When We Left Earth/NASA)

This year was NASA's 50th year in operation, and the Discovery channel released a fantastic documentary entitled When We Left Earth that touted its major achievements and failures throughout the years, bringing viewers some of the most incredible footage of space that I've ever seen, and telling a fantastic story of how NASA has come to be, with interviews with astronauts and support personnel. I get chills when I watch it, and wonder when we'll return to the moon and beyond.

Hobbit's Labyrinth (The Hobbit)

After long rumors, production problems and drama with Peter Jackson (who directed Lord of the Rings), Guillermo del Toro signed on to direct the upcoming Hobbit film and prequel. (Or two Hobbit films?) This is extremely good news, because the people who can adequately fill Jackson's shoes after LOTR are few and far between. del Toro is the perfect director for this project, and has already proven that he can do fantasy brilliantly, with his masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth. Plus, he can play in other people's universes, as per his work with the Hellboy films. (Which weren't as good, but fun)

Watchman Trailer (Watchman)

What's called the greatest graphic novel ever is coming to the big screen, much to the annoyance of its creator, and to FOX, apparently. A trailer for Watchman aired with The Dark Knight, and it made fanboys everywhere sit up and take notice. There's still complaints about how it's unfilmable and that it'll be too short or too long, but from my eyes? This looks like it'll be THE comic book film to see next year. It looks like it captured the feel of the comic book pretty well, and it's embellished a bit to look badass. Plus, Rorschach looks dead on. Just like I thought he'd be like.

Large Hadron Collider (Science)

The Large Hadron Collider was turned on on September 10th, to many worries about the world ending. Contrary to popular opinion, the earth didn't vanish in a tiny black hole. It was set to uncover the mysteries of the universe, but then it broke down again nine days later and won't be up online until 2009. But, it's still cool!

Geeks in Politics (Obama [spiderman, conan, superman] Patrick Leahy [Batman Cameo])

There's been a lot of geekiness in politics this year. No lightsaber waving from McCain this time around, but President Elect Obama has claimed to be a big Spiderman and Conan fan, and did a superman pose in Metropolis, IL. In addition to him, VT senator Patrick Leahy, a huge batman fan, had a cameo in The Dark Knight. He's also the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ironic.

Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy (Costumes)

The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted an exhibit earlier this year (it's since closed) called Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy. It featured a number of costumes from a number of classic films, such as the original Superman and Wonder Woman films, but also things as recently released as The Dark Knight and Iron Man. The fashion section was a bit of a miss for me, but the exhibit as a whole was just outstanding. Plus, they had several original copies of Superman and Batman, Spiderman and Iron Man on display. Covered in a plastic shield of course...

Star Wars Encyclopedia (Star Wars)

Del Rey released a new and expanded Star Wars Encyclopedia this year, one that is not only complete, but still remarkably up to date. That's not likely to last as long, given how fast LFL churns out canon material, but it's a beautiful repository of information in the universe. I can spend hours just paging through reading things.

"Anathem" By Neal Stephenson

I actually have yet to read this book, but it's caught my eye, and it's made a splash when it comes to the sci-fi literary world. All I really know about it is that it takes place on an earth-like world, and doubles as a philosophical text for knowledge and religion. I'll have to pick it up, and only expand my to-read list further.

A Game of Thrones picked up by HBO (Song of Fire & Ice)

Another book that I have yet to read, but I actually own this one. HBO has picked up the book for a series. If there's one thing that HBO does well, it's TV shows, because they can pour money into them and get a good result. And, they have a good track record with adaptations, with things such as Band of Brothers and John Adams. I'll watch this when it's released.

We'ss Har Wars End (Karen Traviss)

Several years in the making, Karen Traviss has finally finished her Wess'Har Wars series with book 6, Judge. Starting back in 2003, she introduced readers to a fantastic story of first contacts filled with alien races, political commentary and expert storytelling. Judge didn't deliver quite as well as I'd have liked (It certainly wasn't the strongest of the series), it carried the momentum well, and proved to be a good read, one that finished up one of my favorite series satisfactorily. Hopefully, Karen will be back to writing hard scifi again, because she's incredible at it.

Trooping (501st)

This year I got back into trooping with the 501st Legion. All in all, I did a total of 30 or so events, ranging from small affairs here in VT to much larger ones. The most memorable ones were the Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade, Burlington Kid's Day, the Weird Al ConcertSt-Jean-sur-Richelieu Balloon Festival, Walk for Autisms, and the 2008 Woburn Halloween Parade. All my events are listed here.

With all the good things that have happened this year, there's the other side of the coin, and some letdowns, disappointments and pure flops.


Writer's Strike

Okay, this started in 2007, but it messed up television for the foreseeable future, by ending some shows and putting others on a long hiatus that has really hurt ratings. Pushing Daisies was one casualty, Terminator was almost one, LOST was put off for a year, as was 24, and already, we're on the eve of another major strike over pretty much the same issues - internet distribution. Hopefully, some lessons will be learned.

Surviving a Nuclear Detonation (Indiana Jones)

Indiana Jones came back, and he came back bland. Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull was an impossible undertaking to fill the hopes of fans for the past twenty years. While it's not a horrible film, it's nowhere near as high quality as Raiders or Crusade (although I did like it better than Doom). There was no passion, a crazy storyline and some annoying characters. It does have its moments, but they are few and far between.

Skyguy/Snips/Roger Roger (The Clone Wars)

Star Wars was another big LFL franchise that came back this year, and while The Clone Wars certainly had its moments, even high points, this film just extends the image of money grubbing that LFL is involved with, which is a shame. There's too much bad dialog, characters and situations to make this a good part of the Star Wars universe, but the TV show has been making some improvements. The animation is stunningly good, some of the stories are actually good, but every time the battle droids start talking, I want to throw something at my TV.

Michael Crichton Eaten by Cyborg T-Rex and Flesh eating Space Bacteria from the Past.

While my interest in Michael Crichton has waned over the years as he began to write crappy books (Such as Prey and State of Fear), there's no doubt that he's shaped my reading. I'm still a huge fan of Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, Terminal Man and a number of his older novels. He's one of the most popular scifi authors (although he's resisted the genre title) out there with his works, most of which were made into films. It's a shame that he's passed - I was always hoping for another good story from him.

Gary Gygax failed his saving throw

Geek-God Gary Gygax likewise passed away this year, leaving behind a legacy that has shaped nerd-culture in the US forever. His creation, Dungeons and Dragons, along with co-creator Dave Arneson, was one of the defining features of geeks everywhere, something that I got into back in 2001. Along with giving geeks something to do in groups, it helped define a generation's activities, reading materials and conceptions of fantasy through to this day.

Arthur C Clarke becomes the Space Child

Arguably one of the greatest science fiction authors ever, Clarke's death hit the world hard. He helped to define the literary genre, and the actual science behind it, and was responsible for such classics as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rama, Childhood's End, and numerous others, as well as the telecommunications satellite. He will be sorely missed, and is one of the last of the golden age of science fiction to be with us.(Today would have been his 91st birthday)

CNN Hologram technology

On election nigh, CNN touted their new thing in news casting, a hologram of Will.I.Am. Looked cool, and it looked like a hologram, but it was nothing more than a lot of cameras and empty space plus some CGI. Blah. Let's see some real technology in action please.

Close the Iris! (Stargate Atlantis)

I was a huge fan of Stargate SG-1, and same with Atlantis for the first couple of seasons. This season has just plain sucked. It's a shame, because there's a good concept there, amidst the horrible characters, stories and situations. Not long now, because Atlantis has been canceled, and will be replaced with Stargate Universe next year.

Even more Confusing and Confounding! (Heroes Season 3)

Heroes Season 1 was brilliant. It introduced a new spin on superheroes, only to fall to its own success and have a fairly slow and boring second season. (To be sure, the writer's strike had something to do with it, because it got better). Season 3 was promised to be bigger and better. And it was certainly bigger, with heroes coming back from the grave, more time travel and action, but none of it really made the same impression that season 1 did. I'm still behind episodes, but apparently it's been getting better. Now that Bryan Fuller's returning to the show, can we PLEASE start off really good and get better? Please?

Weird Science (Fringe)

I was really excited for Fringe, the latest show by JJ Abrams. It was a fun concept, and had a good couple episodes at first, but just became so dull that I stopped following it. I might pick it up again at some point, but only when I can marathon the entire thing at once.

Forrest J. Ackerman Dies

Forrest J. Ackerman, one of the first science fiction fans out there recently passed away. He was a key element of the spread of science fiction fandom, and he helped to found the LA Science Fantasy Society, among other numerous achivements, as well as influencing numerous authors over his long life.

Borders Downsizes SciFi Sections

I ranted about this earlier, as did a number of authors. Borders has been downsizing their sci-fi sections. While it's understandable that they have to sell items, and that they can't put everything on the shelf, you can't predict what the next big hit will be, and you can't know that until you actually start selling things.

That's it for this year. Next year, there's already quite a bit coming up. Should be a fun year.

Take a Look at the Lawman: The New Life On Mars

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.

Life on Mars Updates

One of the shows coming out this year that I'm anticipating and worried about the most is the ABC remake of Life On Mars. A little while ago, I watched the leaked pilot episode and was pretty dismayed at the effort put into the show. It was a pretty close copy of the original UK version (which is brilliant, and one of the best TV shows out there) but far, far worse.

Since then, things have been looking up, somewhat. Following the general reaction of the US pilot, the producers have gone and done a huge shakeup of the cast - all new actors, save for the original guy who plays Sam Tyler and judging from the pictures, they've re-worked a lot of the things that were put in the original for no reason, such as making Annie a detective right off the bat, seemingly to keep her around for a love interest.

Here's a recent trailer that was posted up:


And, a clip from the show:


These new changes have instilled a sense of optimism and a little more confidence in me regarding this new re-make. I've been very hesitant to be hopeful about any remake of the US show, because the first version was so well crafted that it borders on perfection, and I don't say that lightly. The acting, sets, concepts and scripts were absolutely wonderful, and I was at the edge of my seat the entire time I watched an episode.

What worried, and still worries me a little is that a lot of the subtle elements were seemingly being disregarded with this new version. I'm not so much worried that things will be changed up dramatically - I'm worried that story elements will be changed only for the sake of appearance, and not story. In the original version, there's some sparks between Sam and Annie. In the US version, this seems to have been started right out of the gate, which seems very superficial and it's something that could harm the show in the long run.

Most of all, what I appreciated about the UK version was the real historical theme that ran with it - for someone who lived in England for only a little while, I suspect that I'm just seeing the tip of the iceberg here. The original dealt with issues such as the introduction of heroin, immigration, IRA and terrorism, gambling, corruption, all things that were highlighted by introducing a character with knowledge of how things would turn out into the 1970s. Automatically, this makes the show an intelligent idea, and the same can be true of the US version, so long as the producers don't insist upon copying every move. There are a number of differences between US and UK social history, especially when it comes to immigration, drugs, social order, etc. What I'd most like to see is something on US race relations during the 1970s, as well as Women's rights, not to mention the various other things you can do with a crime drama. I suspect that there are a number of stories and story lines that can be done about corruption, immigration, drugs, homicide, etc. Using the show as a sort of social commentary, I think, is the original's strength

The second big concern was that the characters would be retaining as much of their original flavor. While I'm not as big on some of the story lines, I was concerned that the cast didn't have the same weight as the original cast. The characters here really made the show, because of their complexity, and the subtle cues that the actors brought to the screen. The original pilot had a decent attempt, but I had, and still have a number of reservations about the lead, Jason O'Mara, but from clips, it looks like Harvey Keitel will do a good job as Gene Hunt. Just so long as he utters the following at some point:

Hands up! You're surrounded by armed bastards!

Life On Mars: The US Version

I'm a little behind when it comes to things like this, but I've seen the original pilot episode of the Americanized version of one of my all time favorite shows, Life on Mars, and I can say, I'm not terribly thrilled with the result. I've gushed about the show here and here and here and here. Needless to say, I love the UK version of the show, and had some very, very high hopes for this American remake, which have only somewhat been fulfilled. The original show has a lot that went right with it. It had a somewhat serialized story that really pulled one in, but had a couple of other things going for it that a lot of shows really don't have. There's a high degree of intelligence behind this show, as the screenwriters pull out all sorts of issues (most of them specific to the United Kingdom) in their history, from race relations to police and civilian rights and examining the differences between policing in 1973 and in 2006.

Secondly, the characters and cast are second to none. I don't think that I've seen a television show where all of the characters click in their own roles, but also with fantastic actors behind them to bring them to life, right down to the little things. John Simm, who portrays Detective Sam Tyler, does a fantastic job, completely owning the character, throughout his ups and downs over the course of the 16 episode series. Behind him is Gene Hunt, played by Philip Glenister, is sarcastic, intelligent, driven and bitter, and the chemistry between Sam and Gene is tangible, and perfect. Behind them, the rest of the cast does an absolutely fantastic job with their own supporting roles.

The American version isn't bad - I'll grant it that much, because standing on its own, it would prove to be a somewhat rocky, pilot, but a workable one for the show. Unfortunately, the original has set a very high bar, which the new version tries to imitate. The big drawback here is that this is essentially just a copy, as if they took the original script and hired new actors and set the entire thing in the US, with minor differences to adjust for the new setting. This would work, but it doesn't really feel right. It feels a bit forced and honestly, breaking out of the boundaries that the original set would have most likely done some good.

The biggest disappointment here is that the chemistry between all of the characters, right off the bat is off. Sam Tyler, now played by Jason O'Mara, has none of the poise or grace of the UK Tyler, and is indeed, physically bigger, and has a different air about him, as if he's merely along for the ride, whereas in the original, you get the feeling that Tyler is genuinely troubled by his predicament. Part of this comes from the over emphasis and admittance from the new Tyler that he's from the future, and the seeming acceptance of this on the part of the 1972 characters. The rest of the cast is also off. Rachelle Lefèvre (Annie Cartwright) doesn't start off as a detective in the original like in this version, which is okay, except that she seems to be on track to be the romantic cue for Sam's character right off the back, with little foundation, as in the original. Colm Meaney stars in this as Gene Hunt, who has some of the brutality, but none of the subtly of Philip's Hunt. The rest of the background cast also lacks the feel of the original cast, which is a huge disappointment. I don't like to compare things too much between one another, but there are points where this is painfully obvious.

There seems to be a real push to modernize this new version as well. There's an intensity in the 2007 scenes that feels out of place, and there is too much of an emphasis on explaining a number of things, that really didn't need to be explained. The UK version just picks up, with little explanation, and the viewer gets all the proper information.

Some positive news has come around that the entire pilot will be re shot, with much of the cast replaced with new actors. Gene Hunt will now be played by Harvey Keitel and Ray will be played by Michael Imperioli, while Jason O'Mara will remain as Sam Tyler. Hopefully these changes will help bring the level of the show up a bit, and hopefully, they will do some work with the script, improving the overall story and make this into the fantastic show that it deserves to be.

Back In A Nick of Time: Life on Mars: US

When I was in England, I heard about a show called Life on Mars, about a cop in Manchester who is hit by a car and wakes up in the year 1973. I loved every minute of the show, from it's brilliant acting, storytelling and action, as well as the very real life implications and lessons that it contained. Unfortunately, the show's creators decided that they would only run the show for 2 seasons of 8 episodes, and it's since been over for a couple years now. Now, Life on Mars is coming to the US. I've been hearing about this for a little while now, and I've been a little hesitant as to the idea of a US remake. Remakes have a very chaotic quality to them. I'm not really a fan of either Office, so I don't know how they compare, but in my mind, the first show was utterly perfect, and I'm a little worried at how this'll play out. Over the weekend, the first trailer and footage hit the web:


From the looks of it, this is a direct remake. There are scenes that match the original show really nicely. It looks like they got the look and feel of the show down pretty good, and from what little we see of the cast, it appears that we have a good lineup (although this new guy, Jason O'Mara, who plays the new Sam Tyler doesn't seem to have the same persona as John Simm)

There's currently a little trouble with the production of this show - the original producer has since dropped out, and there's some other minor things as well as some re-tooling that's going on.

Personally, I hope this hits the big screen, because there are numerous possibilities for this show, especially being in the US, with a very, very different 70s than the UK. I hope that we'll see some compelling stories about Women's Rights, the Civil Rights movement, and Vietnam, as those don't really apply to the UK version, at least not in the same way. This looks to have a lot of potential, and hopefully, it won't let down.

Life on Mars

So a while ago, I posted up about a new show that I'd found, called Life On Mars and I figured I'll get all my thoughts down on it in a review, now that I've watched the entire first series of 8 episodes. It's a fantastic BBC Detective drama with a hint of Science Fiction or something like that to it.
The story follows Detective Sam Tyler, who's a DCI in London. While on a murder case, his girlfriend goes missing while trailing their suspect. While venting over her disappearance, he's hit by a car. When he sits up, he's wearing different clothing and sitting in the same spot, but the year is now 1973. He learns that he's recently been transferred to the department that he'd later be in in 2006, and he now has to reconcile everything he learned, with what's considered regular procedure in the 1970s. Issues such as prisoner abuse and cover ups, interrogations, forensics, prisoner rights and evidence are all presented in the 1970s fashion, with Tyler trying to do things the proper way. It's a stark contrast between the two worlds, hence the title, Life on Mars. This is where the show really excels.
The other interesting point is how it's unclear as to how he ended up in 1973. The two main theories are that he's either travelled back in time, or he's in a coma, while there's certainly enough to make either theory plausible. The second series is supposed to be the last, with a spectacular ending that will explain exactly how he got into the 1970s in the first place.

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What's also really interesting is the way that they filmed everything. In post production, they've done a spectacular filter that gives everything a sort of yellow/tan image that looks sort of like any picture you'll find from that time period. The result is a gorgeous image, look and feel to the entire show. The background objects, clothing, cars and everything is an exact period feel, which is amazing.
I'm looking forwards to the next series, very much. If this season was any indication, the next should be spectacular.

The main worry that I have is the US's tendancy to take shows from England and make them our own. The Office is a spectacular sucess, while there are some other shows that haven't survived the leap over the pond. Fox has optioned this as a pilot for a regular show, which has me extremely worried. This show is so good, it requires the British feel, story and everything else that would be lost if it came over here. I just can't see this working as well if it's a 1970s New York policeman, although I'm sure the result would be somewhat interesting. If it does come over here, I'll at least give it a chance, but I don't have any high hopes for it.

Life on Mars

No, this isn't in regards to the recent news of possible evidence that there's water on the planet Mars, this is for a new TV show that I found - Life on Mars.
It's from the UK, which gives it a bit of good press right there, but it's a very tightly scripted detective drama mixed with a bit of time travel. Here's the blurb from

Life On Mars is the smash-hit cop show starring John Simm as a detective who is involved in a car accident and wakes to find himself transported back to 1973 – a world dominated by Ford Cortina’s, sheep-skin jackets and very hard coppers.

It's got a fantastic look and feel to it - the look of the episodes look like the 1970s, if that makes any sense. I love it.