Dear T.V. – Stop Sucking. Love, Kelly (Or, how I blithely and innocently watched “Life On Mars” and now my life is terrible.)

First, let me be clear. I’m gonna spoiler the hell out of this show. I’m going to tell you that after a promising (though rocky) start, this show failed so spectacularly, so prodigiously, and with such absolute and perfect authority, that it was almost like watching performance art. It was like watching a cautionary tale in health class, but instead of going insane on that demon dope, or getting pregnant the first time you get your knickers in a tangle, it was, “Be careful, young film makers and t.v. writers, because this kind of god-awful train wreck can HAPPEN AT ANY TIME.”

Mostly, I just don’t want you people to make the same mistake that I did. I don’t usually write about television, but I am making an exception with this one, just because I care about you, my dear readers, and I want to protect you.

(Granted, most people are much smarter than me, and have already pre-read the reviews on line – which are universally TERRIBLE. But I didn’t. And now I have to suffer the consequences FOREVER.)

Look, I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for a superfly seventies outfit. For me, it’s the meth of the fashion world  – the crack of clothes – and I honestly can’t get enough. And I am willing to give my visual entertainments all sorts of benefits of the doubt, if they have actors parading themselves in taupe suede fitted jackets with a sweet little subdued flare at the hip.

Even if the show sucks.

So sue me.

So this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I started watching “Life On Mars” – a show that went from promising to massively sucking, to OH MY EFFING GOD WHAT DID YOU JUST DO – so thoroughly, that I simply cannot accept that it wasn’t intentional.

Life on Mars

Now, Life on Mars – from its beginnings, in theory – should have had everything that I could ever want from a television show. Hints of sci-fi/reality-bending subplots? Check. Tough ladies?

These lovely ladies are ready for duty! Gretchen Mol is the latest femme fatale suiting up for a role, starring as a '70s-era cop on the hit new series, "Life on Mars." Check.

Gritty urban drama? Check. Emotionally distant, yet secretly vulnerable men? Check. Mysteries abounding – coming up like crocuses in April? Check. Vaguely nerdy and sissy-boy sidekicks? Check. Excessive drinking? Hooo, boy, check. Handlebar mustaches coupled with trucker sunglasses?

lifeonmars Life On Mars Is Dying OutCheck and check.

What more do I need? Apparently a lot. So the jist of this interesting-concept-turned-middle-school-fiction-assigment-penned-one-hour-before-it-was-due is this: Sam Tyler, uber-cop, is hit by a car while pursuing a superbad lady-killing rapist guy and is sent back in time to 1973. He has an apartment and a job – though he doesn’t know how he got either – and he’s expected to fight crime without all of the fancy tricks of a 2008 cop.

I know, right? What was I thinking. I should have quit right there – but THOSE OUTFITS!

mean seriously, give me a guy in cords and a hip-length leather jacket, and – I’m not kidding- you have me at hello. (Yes, I have neither dignity nor pride. WHAT?)


So Sam Tyler, right before the accident that sent him from his frumpy 2008 outfit into his superfly 1973 outfit, was very concerned about the safety of his girlfriend – also a cop (played in this show by one Lisa Bonet) and is very concerned that the big bad lady-killing rapist guy has her in his lady-killing clutches.

And that little subplot lasts about two episodes. And then there are strange voices on phones, and little robots that creep into his nose – oh, and RACE RIOTS (narrowly averted) and WOMEN’S LIB. And some other things.

The thing is, even though the dialogue was almost uniformly wooden and there were some scene transitions that were positively schlocky, I actually enjoyed watching it most of the time.

Loved the hair.

Loved the music.

Loved, loved, loved the clothes. And I honestly liked and cared about the characters. I was interested in what was happening to them, and was intrigued by their avoidant camaraderie, and the strange, mystic edginess of the story itself. Despite the problems, despite the plot holes, I was pulled in enough to keep watching.

And then. Right at the end……

Honestly, it hurts – it hurts I tell you! – to write it down.

You know in sixth grade, when your teacher made you write short stories, and the kids all had to share their stories with the class, and no matter what, you had to say something positive about the story that your classmate read, even though there might be absolutely nothing good about the story at all? Especially, if that story was just a bunch of t.v. scenes that the writer just threw together at random, and then had their main character just wake up at the end and discover that it had all been just a dream?

And remember how you hated that kid for writing such an awful story, and you hated him for wasting your time, and you hated him for being a total affront to literature, learning and Western Civilization?

Yeah. It was just like that.

Except instead of it just being all a dream, he was, apparently, in a state of sleep-stasis on a spaceship going to Mars (of course, after two years sleeping, they all woke up in their pods with short hair, short fingernails and no one had wet themselves – nor were they hungry or thirsty, but nevermind). And then there were some father issues. And also a bit about unrequited love – all in the last six and a half minutes.

And then they stepped out of the spaceship and were on Mars!


It was so bad it was almost beautiful.

I mean, I almost have to hand it to the writers. They successfully pulled off the equivalent of a T.V. heist. They stole from every cop show imaginable – they RUINED seventies fashion for me FOREVER – and they milked the system for advertising bucks for an ENTIRE SEASON. All using a steaming, reeking, oozing pile of poo. Amazing!

Still, the soundtrack was awesome, and has inspired a David Bowie song-fest in my house, which is always worth the price of admission.

8 thoughts on “Dear T.V. – Stop Sucking. Love, Kelly (Or, how I blithely and innocently watched “Life On Mars” and now my life is terrible.)


    I watched this show for its entire limited run. I thought it was fun, I enjoyed it…and then the last episode happened.

    Pain, pain, pain in the heart.

  2. I know RIGHT? Ted and I just sat there on the couch with our mouths hanging open. “Well,” Ted said. “That just happened.”

    And then it kinda wrecked the rest of it. Like if it ended in the episode previous, I probably would have said – “Yeah, there were some plot holes and a bunch of stuff didn’t resolve, but I liked the characters and I liked the mystery and the music and I LOVED THE CLOTHES.”

    But now. Uff.

    • Yeah, I probably should’ve started there. In general, the UK versions of things beat the pants off of the American version. I hear, for example, that they’re making plans to do a US version of “Misfits” which makes me indescribably sad. That show is ridiculously good, and will doubtless be ruined here.

      • Oh god, really? NO! It’s like Being Human all over again. And Life on Mars. I really, really love Misfits, but the whole thing works for me because of its unique Britishness.

        Are we really so bankrupt for ideas in the states? When did the UK become an idea mine for our studios? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just RUN the UK versions??

        • But then we’d have to remind ourselves – again and again – that Britain’s got us beat. And then Hollywood will have to shut its doors in shame.

          In fact, Mr. Tolbert, your proposal sounds suspiciously like A COMMUNIST PLOT!

          Alert the Tea Party.

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