I’m a child of the 80s. I remember Rubik’s cube (I never ever completed the soddin’ thing); I had a pair of leg warmers; I thought the Brixton riots would travel up the road to my manor; I was into The Jam, New Romantics, jazz funk and electro. And 80s TV? Ah, 1980s TV. I mention all of this because I attended a screening of Life On Mars sequel, Ashes To Ashes. A mixture of press and cast (yes, Philip Glenister was there) were shown the premiere episode, set in 1981, just before Charles and Di’s wedding.
It’s goodbye to DI Sam Tyler (brilliantly played by John Simm) and the 1970s and hello to single mother DI Alex Drake (Spooks’ Keeley Hawes) and the 1980s. However, two things remain constant: the David Bowie connection (both shows are named after classic Bowie songs) and DCI Gene Hunt (a superb Philip Glenister).
He may have swapped the Ford Cortina for an Audi Quattro and Manchester for London, but he’s still the uncompromising, loud-mouthed, politically incorrect geezer we all know and love. Gene Hunt meets his (mis)match in the shapely form of trained psychologist DI Alex Drake. Like Sam Tyler, an incident sends her back in time. She wakes up in 1981 dressed as a prostitute with the sound of Ultravox classic Vienna ringing in her ears. Alex has to contend with her obnoxious partner, whose policing ideas clash violently with her own (naturally), and somehow find her way out of 1981.
The few reviews I’ve seen so far are mixed; some loved what they saw (The Sun) and others were distinctly unimpressed (The Times). The truth is somewhere in between. Ashes To Ashes is a different beast from Life On Mars in terms of tone and premise. A hot woman negates that whole ‘buddy’ thing Sam and Gene had going on (a la The Sweeney’s Regan and Carter, The Professionals’ Bodie and Doyle and, of course, Starsky and Hutch). Instead, the dynamic is firmly fixed on matters of the heart. Or, in Gene Hunt’s case, the place directly south. If the camera lingering on Alex Drake’s boobs and legs isn’t enough of a clue, the dialogue and scenarios clearly spell it out; sexual tension is going to be one of the key hooks of this series. Apropos really, as this was the very element that drove popular 1980s cop series Dempsey and Makepeace.
In addition to the sex factor, the humour is significantly upped, but with mixed results. When DCI Gene Hunt is informed that a suspect has used a BT Phonecard (RIP), there’s a pause before he disgustingly growls, "Flash git!" Hahahaha! Genius. However, when the tongue-in-cheek approach is also extended to the action scenes, the outcome is less successful. "You’re the B team – we’re the A team!" Gene tells some coppers before a whopping shoot-out with the baddies which is largely played for laughs…just as The A-Team was. It jars sharply with the darker sequences and, in my opinion, has no place on this series. I hope that was a one-off. In Life On Mars, DCI Gene Hunt naturally grew into an unlikely cult figure; here he’s a figure of fun. Albeit with a mouth filthier than a Victorian sewer. In essence, he’s a parody of his 1970s incarnation which was in turn a parody (geddit?). If the most compelling character is reduced to a two-dimensional cartoon, that’s really bad news.
However, Kudos to Kudos (the makers of this series) for tapping into things that freak us out: Life On Mars used the BBC’s Test Card Girl as a creepy spiritual guide, Ashes To Ashes employs the scary clown Bowie played in the video to his 1980 No 1 hit – creepy. This opening episode isn’t bad, but it has huge hype and high expectations to live up to. Inevitably, it doesn’t quite meet them. Watch out for the new series sometime in February on BBC1.
Today I am mostly lovin’ – The return of Torchwood. What a hot kiss between Captains Jack and John!
Today I am mostly hatin’ – The promos for Coleen’s ‘Real Women’. Enough already!
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