My name's Jared Hansen. I turned on the TV to watch my favourite show at 8:30 on a Thursday night. Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time to when Chris Chibnall was meant to be writing? Either way, it's as if I'm on a whole other planet. Now if I can just find out the reason... actually I don't know what I'll do. Forget I brought it up...
Last night's episode of Life On Mars really demonstrated the importance of script writers. Because everything suggested that it was written by some guy who'd only seen half the first episode and decided that was all he needed to know.
One of the things that suggests this is the fact that the episode effectively revolves around Maya. If someone had happened to miss last night's I can well imagine them scratching their heads and saying 'who?' at this point. Well, do you remember Sam's petite Pakistani DS love-interest from the first five minutes of Episode One? Yes, the exact same one that hasn't been mentioned once in the intervening 12 episodes, and, judging by Sam's advances towards Annie, he's forgotten about her as well.
Curiously, the episode suggests that Maya has been visiting Sam every day in hospital... which is slightly odd considering that last time we (sort of) saw her she had been abducted by a serial killer. Of course, the end of the episode had a suggestion she was alive thanks to Sam's tampering with his own past, but this was immediately over-ridden with the nutjob who gave Sam the information running around wildly screaming "NO! BAD JOKE!" Man, I love that episode...
So, if you're following this, if Maya's alive that means that Sam is both in a coma and actually in 1973. So the big question is - WHY THE HELL AREN'T ANY OF THESE PEOPLE WEIRDED OUT? Come on, his black future-mentor, his mum, and now the mother of his future girlfriend have all meant a completely identical guy in their past, ALSO a Detective Inspector ALSO called Sam Tyler, and don't find this strange in the slightest? Sorry, am I thinking about this too much.
But enough about that. Terrible writing. It isn't so much that the ep is about Maya being why it's terrible (though it doesn't help) but, as I said, the guy not getting the show.
Firstly... the characters. What the fuck? Everybody except Sam is an incredibly poorly-thought-out cardboard-cutout, based on whatever lines of dialogue he saw from them. I'll be the first to admit that once you get to DS Ray "Moustache" Carling there isn't much depth, but you can usually count on some. Here's the logic going on last night:
Ray Carling: If he does anything at all, it will be either incompetent or racist. He's a third-tier character so obviously he does nothing of interest, but I guess I should give him ten lines just to keep the actor happy.
Chris Skelton: Hmm, I can't remember anything about this character, but he's young so obviously everyone will treat him like crap. But as a twist, I'll have him deserve it. Everything about him will be stupid. Or occassionally horny mixed in with stupid. I guess I'll put in some sort of hint that he might grow up to be a decent copper.
Annie Cartwright: Let's see... it's a woman. So... really womanly. A real woman character. Doing women-y things. She can be... I dunno, the voice of conscience. And the hostage. General stuff that doesn't require a penis.
Phyliss Dobbs: What? ANOTHER woman? Oh, it's an OLD woman. That's fine. She can be sarcastic in one scene or something.
Nelson: I'm bored now. You can be in somebody else's episode.
By far the worst, though, is everybody's favourite - the Gene Genie, the Mullet of Steel, the Big Sheriff, Hunt Make-Fast, Egg Butty Man, 20G Fistslam, Flask McAlco, The Ace of Racist, The Offensothon 12000, DCI Gene "Motherfucking" Hunt. How did he get him so wrong?
Well, I'd guess the guy stopped watching after his first two scenes where, from memory Gene punched Sam out twice. Because the reason we love Gene Hunt, as much as we would be absolutely terrified to ever actually meet him, is that he does actually want the write thing, and no matter how much he hides it we know his moral code isn't actually too different to Sam's. In fact, in the episode apparently called A Conflict of Interests, there's more than a hint that he started out with exactly Sam's attitude, but the nature of the job soon disillusioned him utterly.
In this episode, though, Gene Hunt is a psychopath through and through. Every single scene (rather than just most) he is pissed off and shouting, he has to visibly resist punching Chris' lights out, and he kicks the shit out of corpses. Most ridiculous of all is actually a major plot element - that Gene, who prides himself so highly on being the Sergio Leone-esque Sherrif of the 'small town' of Manchester, who strives to maintain an iron-grip over his officers and their actions... hires a murderous gangster named Toolbox (played by the terrifying bastard lovechild of DI Lytton and Bernard Fanning) to do his dirty work.
It helps that Sam is just as shocked as I am at this revelation.
Toolbox and his behaviour also suggests to me that this story originated as the most retarded script ever submitted for the short-lived, completely-off-the-fucking-wall gangster series Lock, Stock as the character relishes in that show's combination of the grittily revolting and the unbelievably camp. He shows up with a sackful of ferrets to nibble a man's testicles off. He ascends from underneath in his run-down theatre playing a church organ as a prelude to a torture session. He is a fucking cartoon character.
The assumption inherent, that Life on Mars isn't much of a show to be taken seriously, may also explain the plot revolving around heroin as a 'new' drug in Manchester. I admit that my knowledge of the history of drug use is practically non-existant, but I do know that one of the biggest drug-bust operations ever took place in 1961, twelve years earlier, and involved a multi-million dollar load of herion transported in vintage cars to the US. Thank you, French Connection!
So, anyway, I won't get into the whole Pakistani racism subplot in the story because it's exactly the same as the Irish racism subplot in The Bombing only more poorly written. All you need to know is that this episode has the most retarded ending ever.
Sam and Gene go back to Toolbox's theatre-cum-slaughterhouse to watch him kill an innocent man (!!!!) when Sam goes "Hey, that's a very Asian looking rug!" See, because the heroin was in a warehouse full of Middle-Eastern rugs, this is a highly incriminating piece of evidence, specifically of the type you are not meant to leave on plain view when the police come around. Then Gene or somebody says something about where's Annie and, what do you know!, she's tied up in a chair in plain sight. Toolbox and his partner then pull out guns and take Gene and Sams'. It's kind of odd that they're carrying them because generally they only get guns their guns when they're sure they're going to meet armed resistance but this plothole doesn't really amaze. And then... Chris shoots the woman. Simply because if he hadn't this episode would be even worse because as I said, Chris is inexplicably treated like a retarded kid throughout the entire episode, at one point even being told to shut the fuck up before he has opened his mouth.
I mean, come on! Earlier he orders two women out of a bed because they're naked, even though Sam has already said otherwise. Firstly, Sam is a hero to Chris. Secondly, Chris is nervous around girls as demonstrated in... let's see... every episode he's appeared in! This begs another question - does Life on Mars HAVE a script-editor? If so, what did the first draft of this shit look like?
This was a real disappointment, because I thought last week's was the best one that they'd done. It was sort of spoilt by the terrible last minute twist, but I can easily pretend that never happened. Much as I hope to with this episode. BRING BACK CHRIS CHIBNALL!