Life On Mars – season 1
It opens with this monologue: ‘my name is Sam Tyler. I had an accident, and I woke up in 1973. Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time? Whatever’s happened, it’s like I’ve landed on a different planet. Now, maybe if I can work out the reason, I can get home.’ Sam (played by the ever-excellent John Simm) is a detective in 2006 and goes back in time before the policing techniques that he’s used to dealing with were invented and where things are done ‘the old fashioned way.’ In short, it’s a cross between Quantum Leap and The Sweeney. It’s what cop shows on the telly really needed.
The most successful police show now (and most watched overall) is CSI, where smooth-talking investigators piece together evidence in laboratories, everyone is good looking and the makers only stop short of digitally superimposing halos onto the police officers. Millions clearly disagree, but it’s getting boring. Back in the 1970s The Sweeney revolutionised the genre and took the portrayal of policing the streets (of Britain at least) out of the hands of kindly bobbies and their bended knee ‘evenin’ all’ and slapped it into the reality of the modern world. Instead of politely asking to ‘have a word down at the station sir,’ Jack Reegan and George Carter kicked down the door and screamed: ‘We’re the Sweeney, son, and we haven’t had any dinner – you’ve kept us waiting. So unless you want a kicking, you tell us where those photographs are.’
The time travel aspect gives Life On Mars a chance to revel in the corrupt, politically incorrect days of 1970s cops that Reegan and Carter first offered us, as Simm heads out with Philip Glenister (who co-stared with him in the outstanding series State Of Play) to sort out crimes in Manchester. Simm plays it by the book while his boss likes to hit the right people until he gets the answers he wants. While it’s fairly knockabout stuff there’s a interesting edge that elevates it far above the vast majority of television out there. Why is he in the past? What are the voices he keeps hearing and how will meeting his younger self in 1973 change his life in the future? While Life On Mars stops short of The Sweeney’s classic line, ‘get your trousers on – you’re nicked!’ it gives the genre some retro kick and the time-travel idea helps keep it modern and original.
In a time when the serious work of policing is getting seriously repetitive on our TVs, this is great stuff. MP
Dhs217 from http://www.play.com
The Good Life – box set
Look at the picture above. That’s all you need to know about The Good Life. It’s sweet, cutesy and from another time. Tom Good, a 40-year old draughtsman, and his wife Barbara, drop out of the rat race and become self-sufficient. To the horror of their neighbours, Jerry and Margo Leadbetter, the Goods turn their lovely Surbiton home into a self-sufficient farm complete with vegetable patches, a goat, pigs and hens.
Broadcast from 1975 to 1978 it was a British institution with over 17 million people tuning in by the third series. Felicity Kendal became something of a mild and kindly sex symbol, but while the nation became obsessed with her shapely backside, the smart men knew that Penelope Keith’s Margot was the real draw – a simmering volcano of repression in a Laura Ashley dress just waiting to explode. Snobbery and the suburban attitudes of class in the late 70s have rarely been portrayed so sharply.
All four of them went onto other sitcoms after this ended with varying success but as a slice of middle-class British comedy this is as classic as it gets.
This DVD collection contains 18 episodes from the first three series and while it may seem tame and a bit on the twee side compared to comedies now, it’s still rather endearing. MP
Dhs225 from http://www.play.com
Charmed – complete box set
With all 178 episodes over eight seasons in once place, this is the complete collection of
Charmed. And it comes in a velvet lined, wooden chest which is actually pretty cool.
For those who don’t have a ‘bit of a thing’ for Shannon Doherty and therefore let this series pass them by, it’s the story of three sisters who come together six months after the death of their grandmother and move back into the family manor in San Francisco. They find an old book in the attic and reading an incantation from it, set off an ancient prophecy and discover that they are actually witches. Ahhh, another spooky teen drama with pretty witches. Yeah, it’s a bit like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and in fact many actors who made guest appearances on Buffy and Angel went on to make similar guests appearances on Charmed, most famously Charisma Carpenter.
It became the longest running series with all-female leads, (surpassing Laverne & Shirley) but crucially it’s light-hearted, fun and a great DVD set to slowly work your way through. MP
Dhs1,627 from http://www.play.com
Fraggle Rock – box set
Originally screened in 1983 and running for 96 episodes over five seasons this spin off from The Muppets was another huge hit for Jim Henson. While The Muppets were a puppet variety show and Sesame Street was educational, this was a loose allegoric tale about the need for races to get along with each other.
In this British version, Fraggle Rock is an island with a lighthouse, where lighthouse keeper (played by Fulton Mackay) lives with his muppet dog Sprocket. The US version was set below the workshop of an inventor played by Gerry Parkes. Underneath live the Fraggles who spend most of their time having fun, eating, partying or listening to music. They’re mostly good creatures but usually only learn something through their mistakes. With them are the Doozers, who do all the building work, day and night, so the Fraggles can party, but are treated badly by the Fraggles who never appreciate the work they put in and treat them as second-class citizens. Through the caves and out the back are The Gorgs, who are the rulers. The King and Queen Gorg and their son Junior who are all powerful and never seem to learn that the Fraggles aren’t impressed by their titles and their money or power but just want to live in a place where everyone is treated fairly. Mostly though, it daft, fictional fun, but buried in there are good lessons about life for children and the childish alike.
Oh, and you’ll have the theme tune stuck in your head for weeks, so be warned. MP
Dhs56 from http://www.play.com
For Time Out magazine – click here for PDF