While most of geekdom’s been focusing on the finales of Lost or Battlestar Galactica in the past several years, my wife and I have been finishing up on one of the best TV series it’s ever been my pleasure to experience and one which I’m sure most people out there are criminally unaware. I’m talking about the fantastic BBC TV show Ashes to Ashes and its fantastic series finale, which I’ve just finished watching due to the miracle of my Philips region free DVD player and Amazon.co.uk.
It all started several years ago when I kept hearing about a show called Life on Mars. I’d already been developing an interest in modern BBC programming due to my fanaticism for Doctor Who so I decided to see if I could find some episodes of Life on Mars to watch. My desire to catch Life on Mars increased when I heard that American TV was going to mount their own version of the series. I knew that there was a 90% chance that any American version would be possibly be garbage (and I was right) so I wanted to see the original show before I was subjected to an inferior American version which would taint my view of a supposedly good show. I found Life on Mars on BBC America as well as the British Amazon site and discovered a show which I ended up loving more than I possibly thought I would.
For those who don’t know what Life on Mars is about, I’ll try to explain it here. LOM is the story of Sam Tyler, a British police officer who is run down by a car and wakes up to find himself as a police officer in 1973. Is he mad, in a coma, back in time…what? That’s the general premise of the series but it takes a back seat to one of the best police procedural television shows I’ve watched. Granted, other than Law and Order, I’m not a huge fan of the police drama. What makes Life on Mars special, in case you missed it, is that it takes place in 1973 and the show made no bones about it. Things that were the norm in ’73 were the norm on Life on Mars…stuff that you’d never really see on a, well, modern day American network TV show. Cops were racist and abusive. Women were seen as objects and not equals to be worked alongside with. People drank like fish…on the job. Stuff that would never go over in today’s PC society. Not only that but there’s no internet, no DVDs, no computers, no VCR , hell, modern day police procedures have hardly even been developed yet! So Sam Tyler not only has to figure out why he’s in 1973 but he has to do his job without most of today’s modern conveniences as well as deal with a squad full unenlightened bigots and chauvinists.
It was great show filled with great writing and a fantastic cast. The big standout for me was Philip Glenister as Gene Hunt, Sam’s boss in 1973. Hunt was sort of a stand in for every tough cop stereotype out there since Dirty Harry first stepped into the public consciousness. He was tough, he was loud, and he was sarcastically hysterical. He was probably one of the best characters ever to grace the television screen.
Life on Mars lasted two seasons of eight episodes and when it ended it was a bit of a letdown. It was sort of a happy ending but it was a bit morbid as well. Sort of bittersweet. But it was the type of show that left you wanting more and the rare type of show with unique characters that you knew you’d miss once it was over.
So I was completely happy when a fellow AICN comic book reviewer filled me in on the fact that a sequel had been launched called Ashes to Ashes.
Ashes to Ashes is about Alex Drake, a female police officer who is shot in the head and wakes up in…nope…not 1973 but 1981! While Ashes to Ashes certainly was using the same sort of premise as LOM it approached it from a bit of a different angle. Alex Drake was a woman, for one, and she was dealing with the same sort of chauvinism and prejudice that Sam Tyler dealt with except she was on the receiving end of it. She had a daughter that she’d been raising in the present so she was desperate to get back to her own life. She also entered the situation with a bit of backround knowledge on what was happening to her. See, Drake was studying Tyler’s case right before she was assaulted. So she ends up not only sort of knowing what’s happening to her but also dealing with the exact same police officers that Sam Tyler dealt with when he was in the 1970’s. A to A was a true sequel to Life on Mars in that it continued to explore the world that Sam Tyler was living in and actually expanded on it and got more involved with the lives of the supporting characters. I’d be lying if I said that I thought Ashes to Ashes was as great as Life on Mars in the beginning, but as the show went on I felt that it actually surpassed the show it followed.
Regardless of my opinion of which show as better I will say that Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes have jumped to the top of my “Favorite TV Shows” of all times list. That’s a pretty bold statement but it’s true. The big reason for this is simple: with its series three finale Ashes to Ashes served up the best finale for a show ever. EVER. Screw the Lost finale, screw the Battlestar Galactica finale, screw them all! The final episode of the Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes universe did what series finales are supposed to do. It answered all the questions my wife and I had been wondering about for years, got us all emotional about what was happening to the main characters as they said goodbye, and left no dangling plot threads. Ashes to Ashes finished what the writers of Life on Mars had started years ago and did it without cheating its fans or making excuses in any way, shape, or form. It lived up to its promise and more and actually made me feel satisfied and that all my time spent getting the seasons (which isn’t that hard but it’s not like they are on TV here all the time in the States) and watching every episode was not only worth it but was time and money well spent. When, I ask you, when was the last time any of you felt like that about a show? I thought so.
So what’s the point of this post? I dunno. Ashes to Ashes ended about almost a year ago. Maybe it’s just to get someone out there to check out one of the best TV shows out there. I know it’s a leap but just go check out Life on Mars on Netflix. It’s worth the rental. Ashes to Ashes’ll be harder to find. It hasn’t been released on DVD here in the U.S. and I don’t think BBC America has even broadcast the final season or even has plans to yet. But if you’re feeling adventurous, and you’ve got some cash to spend, and have a region free DVD player (like I do) get on over to Amazon.co.uk and check out one of the best cop/sci-fi/fantasy/mysteries out there.