Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Life on Mars finale: now with added update!

The finale of hit series Life on Mars was broadcast on BBC1 last night (fear not, you'll find no spoilers here, if you didn't watch the show yet). Co-creator and writer Matthew Graham faced the uneviable task of resolving the question asked in the show's title sequence: was Detective Sam Tyler insane, in a coma or had he travelled back in time to 1973? The final fifteen minutes made my head spin several times, and I'm sure smart-arse media students will be writing their dissertations on the layers of meta-textuality wrapped around Graham's solution - but I couldn't care less about that.

My sole concern was simple: would the ending be emotionally satisfying? For me, Graham and the production team at Kudos pulled it off, with something to spare. They well and truly nailed the dismount, giving the audience all the expected answers while still leaving enough questions dangling for people to debate afterwards. Most importantly of all, the show finished with Sam where he most wanted to be - and where the audience most wanted him to be. There must have been no end of head scratching involved in finding the chosen solution.

One of Life on Mars great strength's has been musical selections to accompany crucial moments, and the finale was no exception. A scene between Sam and Annie was set to an acoustic number that sounded like Cat Stevens to me [which shows how much I know about the music of 1973[. A check of the relevant page on the BBC's website revealed the track was I Hope I Don't Fall in Love With You - by Tom Waits. Guess his Billy Goat Gruff voice came later, thanks to years of whisky and cigarettes. The other standout musical moment was a quirky cover version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. That was by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, a Hawaiian performer better known as Iz. Expect to see both of those selling well on iTunes today.

The finale owed a lot to Life on Mars' pilot. Key scenes and dialogue from the first episode were echoed in the last, reminding us what had driven Sam to where he was. No doubt there will be naysayers whining about how all the loose ends weren't tied up, or the whole thing was too contrived - get a grip! Of course, some people may still be wondering if Sam knows he's in the bestselling show, but that didn't matter to me. I was happy and satisfied with the ending, a lot more than with the final episode of 1960s mindbender The Prisoner. Goodbye, Sam Tyler. Now, bring on the 1980s spin-off series...

UPDATE: There's a fascinating online interview with writer Matthew Graham that reveals his thoughts about the Life on Mars finale, along with some behind the scenes secrets about the forthcoming spin-off Ashes to Ashes. Spoilers aplenty, folks!

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