Thursday, 27 October 2011

Ashes to Ashes Sucks: Part 2

In my last post I put down a brief (and probably woefully underdeveloped) sum-up of Life on Mars, steering clear of spoilers.  At least I’m pretty sure it was clear of spoilers.  I can make no such promise about this follow-up post.  So, without further ado:

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Anyway, a couple of provisos before I get into this.  I haven’t watched all of Ashes to Ashes.  Most of the first series, but that was enough to annoy me so much I just jacked it in.  I haven’t rewatched it for the purposes of this rant either, so some of my recollections could be skewed, inaccurate or just plain wrong.  If that’s the case, let me know (but I doubt anyone will go overboard trying to defend this dreck).  I haven’t really done much research on the series either; only a little bit of Wikipedia to remind me of character names and such.  So don’t expect behind-the-scenes info or anything.  That said, I’ll refer back to my previous post and just compare the series for the most part and not get into individual episode plots, although I will mention the occasional blisteringly stupid thing that Alex Drake does.  She’s the main character, by the way (played by Keeley Hawes) and will be the focus of much of my ire.

However, that’s not where we’ll start.  Let’s start at the end of Life on Mars.  The end of Life on Mars had Tyler finally having to make the choice to either stay where he was with Hunt et al or go back to the life he knew before.  Unfortunately, in order to return to his old life, he has to destroy the one he’s made for himself in the ‘70s.  The choice is regretfully made and everything falls apart.  Tyler is returned to his old life and everything seems normal, except there is no joy or colour any more, and Sam falls into increasing ennui, perpetually unsatisfied with the world he now inhabits.  Eventually he makes another choice and throws himself off a building in a bid to return to the retro world.  He arrives, manages to undo (most of) the damage he inflicted upon leaving it and they all go down the pub and off to more adventure or whatever.  The overarching question ‘Am I in a coma, travelled back in time or just mad?’ is left unanswered, as all three options are still (relatively) valid.  This, in my opinion, is an excellent way to end the series and the programme as a whole; giving the audience something to think about and a talking point to mull over with other fans of the series.  Then Ashes to Ashes comes along.  And fucks everything up.

Within the first few minutes, all the ambiguity of the ending is destroyed.  Yes, the modern world is the real world.  Yes, Tyler was in a coma the whole time.  Yes, he genuinely committed suicide and died shortly after impact with ground.  Bravo.  Way to ruin one of the best endings to any TV series in the 25 years.  And it only took three minutes!  As with Tyler, Drake suffers a traumatic injurious event to send her maybe back in time into a coma and she meets up with Gene Hunt and the others.  Except Sam Tyler.  Moreover, it’s the 80s now.  And they’ve moved to London.  Here is where I have another problem.  Tyler was hit by a car and put into a coma.  Drake was shot in the head.  To me this just seems like blatant one-upmanship (as well as far less likely to actually, you know, result in a coma).

Anyway, Drake does a whole bunch of stupid, condescending and unself-aware bullshit throughout the various episodes that I’ve seen, but I’ll save my main gripes about her until tomorrow.  Today, I’ll just briefly (too late) compare a few characters.

1: Gene Hunt.  He was veering dangerously close to caricature in Life on Mars, but in this series he has completely thrown himself into being an utter bigot.  His ‘non-PC’ character was very popular and the lines written for him were very funny in the last series, so the writers seemed to have amped those up massively for the new series and ignored the subtleties and depth to his character as a result.  Don’t get me wrong.  Gene Hunt is a funny character and important to the story.  Glenister clearly has a great deal of fun playing him and his knee-jerk intuition was a superb counter to Sam’s analytical coldness.  They played off each other well and both seemed to be made better by their rivalry, each incorporating positive traits from the other and changing.  Only apparently Hunt has not changed at all.  This is a major source of annoyance to me because not only (despite everything in Life on Mars) has Gene not changed to be more thoughtful and less bigoted, he has actually got worse, further denigrating Tyler to irrelevance in the context of the series.  Prick.

2:  Annie Cartwright.  She isn’t here.  Fair enough.  She was very closely linked to Sam in the last series and bringing her back wouldn’t have served much purpose in character development.  Her replacement however, Shaz Lombard, is no replacement at all.  Where Annie was a strong, caring character and served as a sort of counsellor to the alienated Sam, Shaz is pretty useless.  She is just the typical ‘female side character’ used in a programme to look pretty, do nothing of any real consequence and get in trouble so she can be rescued.  That was more or less her entire character from I saw.  A massive step down from her predecessor.

3: Test Card Girl.  She’s not here either.  Instead, we get a clown.  Now, I know that as horror clichés go, a creepy clown is about as played out and tired as a creepy little girl, so I can’t really argue on that front.  What I can bitch out though is the fact that the clown is relentlessly one-note.  All he does is appear in Drake’s eye line every now and again, scare the shit out of her and be silent.  Occasionally he’ll run menacingly towards the camera.  That was round about all he did.  Again, the ambiguity that was very much there in the character of the Test Card Girl is completely stripped out for the clown.  The Girl was scary, but not because she was threatening.  It was because she was so otherworldly and unnatural.  This clown loses out on that because there is no communication between him a Drake.  Sure, the Girl wasn’t often directly helpful, being cryptic as hell most of the time, but what she said was relevant and her character was a useful expositional element when necessary, doubling as an potential indication for Tyler’s madness.  The clown just fails.

Anyway.  That’s it from me at the moment.  Lunch is over (happens faster and faster each time, I swear!) and my bitching about the character of Alex Drake will begin tomorrow. So long!

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