03 April 2009

Life on Mars and viewer betrayal

Before we get started, I need to make clear that I am talking about the U.S. edition of Life on Mars, not the U.K. one.

Also: Spoilers ahoy!

Okay, so the wife and I saw the commercials for Mars when they started airing last September. Interesting enough premise: cop named Sam Tyler gets hit by a car in 2008, wakes up as a cop named Sam Tyler in 1973. People use typewriters and there are no cell phones, women are disrespected, hijinks ensue, etc. etc.

Oh, and Tyler wants to get back to 2008, because he was engaged or something. He is not cool with 1973.

Time travel interests me, so I figured I'd give the show a shot. Along the way, it grew on me. Sure, the writers relied way too heavily on Tyler forgetting he was in 1973 and referencing stuff like the internets and DNA evidence, but overall I liked the characters and the storylines were fairly entertaining.

It was fairly clear from the beginning that this was all in Tyler's head, and that he's in a coma in 2008. Then, towards the end of the series (only 17 episodes, similar to the British version's 16) the writers started taking an intriguing direction, where it seemed like everyone in Tyler's world represented a different part of his psyche... or something. The ambiguity kept me coming back. I like TV shows that make me think. See: LOST.

So Mandi and I were having a fun time trying to unravel the whole thing when the show announced the series finale would be April 1. I was impressed that the producers/network had decided to play the BBC card and create an entirely encapsulated story with a beginning and an end instead of following the footsteps of every other U.S. TV show and running it for as long as it got good ratings. This usually pushes shows far beyond the point that they are any good. See: Jump the shark. Smallville comes to mind.

We tuned in to watch the finale on Wednesday night and everything seemed to be going swimmingly. Tyler resolved some daddy issues that had existed for the entire season, he develops a relationship with the girl cop, Annie, and things are good.

At this point, there are a few different directions the show could have taken and not been totally lame.

Instead, the producers inexplicably chose the totally lame option.

In short, Tyler is actually an astronaut on a manned mission to Mars. He's in stasis, and the ship's onboard computer has been creating a reality for his brain to handle the two-year sleep on the way to Mars. And he's not alone. No, the rest of his crew is made up of his fellow cops from his 1973 reality.

Turns out the astronauts were allowed to choose what reality they wanted during their long voyage, and Tyler chose to be a cop in 2008. The ship went through a meteor shower (or something?) which threw a glitch into the computer programming, throwing Tyler's fake reality back into 1973, and inserting things from his real reality into the new fake reality.

Bottom line, nothing on the entire show was real. Nothing.

Now look, outside the hokeyness of the final scene (and really, it was bad), what ticks me off most of all is that the producers and writers betrayed their viewers. TV is all about buying into realities. You are presented with a scenario, a character, a location, and you're asked to suspend your disbelief and go with it, because it'll be fun.

That's what I did with Life on Mars. Sure, the reality the show portrayed every episode was more than likely fake, but I was rooting for Tyler to get back to his real reality. And when it turns out that this real reality is also fake, it's no fun.

The TV show Dallas was a popular prime-time soap opera that ran from 1978-1991. I've never seen a single episode of it, but it's worked it's way into my consciousness by what it did with its 1985 season.

The writers killed off one of the show's main (and more popular characters) as the actor portraying him wanted to leave the show. Fair enough, things like this happen all the time.

Then in 1986, the actor wanted back in, and the show was more than happy to take him back. Oh, but wait, his character is dead, and this isn't the type of show that allows cloning or resurrection.

Solution? Pass off the entire 1985 season as a dream had by one of the other characters.

Let me run that by you again: The writers passed off an entire season of their show as a dream.

That's just crazy. And it's exactly what Life on Mars did on Wednesday. The show's viewers were told that the reality they'd invested time and energy into was fake.

Call me crazy, but something about that rubs me the wrong way. Imagine if the LOST writers did this. Or even a show as trivial as My Name is Earl. Not a good feeling, right?

As I mentioned earlier, the Mars writers had a few directions to take, and in my opinion, they took one of the easier ways out. Ugh.

Oh well. As Mandi said last night, "At least you hadn't been watching the show for six or seven seasons."

But who knows? Maybe one day that will happen. Expect the crazy from writers and you won't be let down, right?

1 comment:

Steve-O said...

I thought about watching this one, now I'm glad I didn't. Wa ha ha, I have many unwasted hours of my life that you can never have back. Wa ha ha!