Life On Mars, or Getting The Kinks Out

I’m trying not to get giddy as I’m watching another episode of Life On Mars. You know, the US adaptation of the hit British series, about…well…a time-traveling cop. No, really, stay with me.

The premise? After an accident, NYPD detective Sam Tyler inexplicably finds himself back in 1973, where he must help solve a murder that is eerily similar to a case he was investigating in 2008. I would probably freak out way more than Tyler does, or at least do something irresponsible like clean up betting on sporting events…or take another shot at that doomed college romance. But as Tyler, Jason O’Mara is able to convey that fish-out-of-water vibe yet still find a way (often humorously) to fit in where he once belonged. The cast is phenomenal, featuring Harvey Keitel (Harvey Keitel on television?? Is there ice skating in hell?), Gretchen Mol, Michael Imperioli, and most impressively, Imperioli’s porn star moustache.

He won't give you any lip

He won't give you any lip

The location shots are almost perfect. As a friend pointed out, it’s not that all the cars are period vehicles, but it’s that they aren’t all showroon new – there are sweet looking GTOs, but also rusted Chevys and dented Darts. But what really sets the show apart is the bed of music – a classic 70s hotbed featuring everything from The Stones to The Sweet, from Chicago to Cream, The Who and The Velvets to David Bowie and T Rex. Even the episode titles (“Out Here In The Field”, “Let All The Children Boogie”) are a hoot as well as a clever tip to both the plot and the surprise soundtrack. When one episode started with Mott’s “All The Way From Memphis” I thought I would plotz (and I’m not even Jewish), but last night they hit the bulls eye –  “Supersonic Rocket Ship” by The Kinks. WTF??

I might be the single biggest Kinks fan roaming the Earth, but if you put a gun to my head and made me write down fifty Kinks songs…hell, a hundred Kinks songs…that would not be among them. Not because it’s a bad song – besides “Rock And Roll Cities”, is there really a “bad” Kinks song? – but because it’s just another of the subtle nuggets in their vast catalogue. Who the hell picks music for TVand comes up with that one, when there are so many others to draw from? Obviously, someone very, very cool, who really knows their shit – that was a deep dig. Kudos, whoever you are. (And yes, it was the perfect song for the scene)

But viewers, enjoy it while you can, because unless this crippled economy changes the residual rates, you’re probably not going to relive the experience when you grab the box set next Christmas. Start taping!

It seems like almost everything is coming out on DVD these days, but notable exceptions are shows like China Beach and WKRP that would be crippled by the license fees they’d have to pay. WKRP tried releasing a set with generic music in place of the originals, but it was a massive failure. Les Nessman has to be listening to Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded” when primping for his date or that scene just doesn’t work. Ditto Wiseguy‘s Vinny Terranova and Sonny Steelgrave, exhausted after a brutal fight, silently sharing a bromance glance (two decades before it was hip, by the way) to the not-so-subtle strains of “Nights In White Satin”…the scene (cough) pales without it. I don’t know if Life On Mars will be as gutted, but there hasn’t been a show as adept at using songs since Homicide. We need more great glam rock songs on TV, even the fake ones.

So tune in and catch the show in its full pomp and glory, the way it was meant to be enjoyed. Trust me on this one.

But hey, as long as you’re here now…kick back, whatever your decade, and give a listen.

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Filed under Features and Interviews, Film/TV, Music, Reviews

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