It’s no surprise that the sequel/spin off to the celebrated Life On Mars has caused quite a stir: it was kind of inevitable that Ashes To Ashes would be considered not quite as good by critics. All manner of negatives have been chucked its way: it lacks the ambiguity of LoM. It takes inspiration from stuff like Dempsey And Makepeace instead of The Sweeney. Even Gene Hunt has been accused of being more like a “horrible dirty old man” than in the original where he was apparently infinitely cooler.
This hasn’t stopped ATA being a big hit of course: myself, I prefer AtA to LoM. I have to admit I was somewhat underwhelmed by the leviathon that was Life on Mars. It wasn’t that I thought it was bad, far from it: there was some fantastic talent attached both acting and writing-wise and I can’t say I wasn’t entertained when I watched it. I suppose it lacked resonance for me. I wasn’t alive in the 70s (bar just under four months of 1979); I never liked The Sweeney which was on repeat by the time I watched it; I wasn’t keen on the supposed ambiguity. As far as I was concerned, it was OBVIOUS Sam Tyler was in a coma; not only did the phones give it away I thought, I was raised on an 80s/90s diet of Thomas Covenant, Labyrinth, Quantum Leap etc where people would enter other worlds thanks to accidents, invitations from goblin kings, time portals and so it goes on.
But hey, what do I know? I didn’t write on either show – more’s the pity. So I asked a man who has, the lovely Mark Greig who incidentally has written the last TWO episodes of Ashes to Ashes as well as an episode of the second series of LoM, but we won’t hold that jealously against him. Much! Over to you Mark…
Who would win in a fight, Alex Drake or Sam Tyler?
Alex. Not only is she smarter, she’d smack Sam senseless whilst he was still discussing what the rules of engagement should be, and does Gene really have to be the referee?
I like ATA more than LoM: does this mean I should be smeared in honey and left for the ants?
Not to rob ants of a hard-earned meal, but no – that is not a bad thing. I think I’m with you. Though I reckon LoM was more consistent in tone, the period in which ATA is set is more personally meaningful (I lived it! That soundtrack is that of my teenage years, whilst LoM’s was that of the dreary Radio ruddy Two I was forced to listen to on long car journeys. Bloody Stewpot Stewart). I find its protagonist much more interesting than LoM’s. Alex feels more complex and recognisably human to me than Sam, and better reflects 21st century attitudes and conflicts.
I get the sense that for people who engaged with LoM so much that the very idea of ATA drives them into a frenzy of loathing, what they responded to was a nostalgia for the certainty and clarity of issues in the 70s. Wouldn’t it be great if life was so simple that Gene could solve every problem with a swift knee to the goolies? Well maybe, but Britain changed. A lot. And has continued to change at an accelerating pace. ATA reflects the insecurities, paradoxes, and complexities that change brings. I hope.
While I have the opportunity, I’ll stand up for Keeley, who I think has been a revelation in this part; a real career maker, I hope. Keeley as Alex got a bit of a pasting early on from some critics who were, typically, confusing the female actor with the female character – I reckon what they really objected to was the image of a professional woman who is smart, articulate, funny, confident enough to take on anyone – and who binge drinks and likes sex. Would a male actor have been criticised in the same way? I suspect not.
And Ashes is more fun.
Some critics say they can’t invest in Alex’s journey like they could Sam’s because ATA lacks the ambiguity of LoM: it’s apparent from the outset that it’s make believe. What’s your take on this?
Whereas LoM wasn’t? There are other reasons for not investing in Alex that I could understand, but that? Dimwits.
There was some confusion re: Sam’s demise in LoM – so much so that his case file had SUICIDE stamped on it in ATA, just to clear it up. Why do you think People weren’t sure what had happened to Sam?
Because they didn’t want his story to end, they would create a tangled logic web that would somehow allow him to carry on living both in a ‘real’ 1973 and a ‘real’ 2008. Whatever – he’ll always be alive in their hearts.
Ep 4 of Ashes – it’s got so many levels. It (more or less) works as a conspiracy thriller whilst being a pastiche of the same, it’s got a meaty mother/daughter betrayal element that helps illuminates Alex’s motivations, it’s an affectionate satire of socialist politics of the early 80s, particularly feminism (the woman converting Chris to the cause in the ‘wimmin in the cop shop’ sequence? That was me, that was. God help me), it’s an extended homage to one of my favourite tv series of all time, ‘Edge of Darkness’ (not only does the ep reference it on numerous occasions, the structure itself is an homage. It’s even got a dead daughter putting in an appearance!), I thought Catherine did a great job and paced it brilliantly (often a bugbear in stuff I’ve had on), it makes me laugh, and I wrote it very fast to an unexpectedly tight deadline. And I got Philip and Keeley in their underwear. Sometimes stuff just works, and this one did.
One review I read accuses ATA of “stalking” Gene Hunt, like we’ve become fixated on him. what do you think of this comment? If we are “fixated” on Gene Hunt, why do you think this is?
If we are – and I hope we’re not – it’s because Gene makes things simple. There’s a bad man. I will hit him, and then I will put him in jail, and he will go away, and life will be safe and simple, and you can leave your front door open all day, and neighbours will talk to each other, and children will walk to school instead of being driven in urban tanks, and we will be a community rather than a group of individuals living in the same place.
See what I mean? Of course it’s a fantasy…
UPDATE: Any Keeley Hawes fans out there, check out her unofficial fansite here…The marvellous Cubbie has also provided a link to this site and Mark’s Q&A as well. Thanks Cubbie!
So, which show do you prefer and why? Over to you and have a fab weekend…