03 April, 2006

Life on Mars

The best new popular drama series in a while, for my money, is 70s throwback cop show Life on Mars.

What certainly helps is that it was created by three A-list writer-creators: Matthew Graham, Tony Jordan and Ashey Pharaoh. They were locked up in a hotel by the production company Kudos until they had come up with some ideas for new shows. They were determined to avoid doing just another cop show but as Graham told the Radio Times, "we realised that was what people actually wanted. So we talked about our ideal cop show and we agreed it was The Sweeney. We agreed we couldn't really do The Sweeney again, so that was when we came up with the idea of taking a cop from today and throwing him into that programme." Rejected by Channel 4, it eventually found a home on BBC1.

I personally also like the fact that while it is accessible for an audience, it also challenges us at the same time - something too few shows do. While you have the strand of traditional police procedural, there's also the sci-fi strand of how Sam got there, his coma and the people trying to communicate with him. There's also another strand relating to the differences between the 70s and the 00s in terms of police, ethics and morality - which also manages to be a source of plenty of good gags. And for those members of the audience old enough, there is of course the nostalgia strand: "I had one of those!" And of course there's the obligatory "will they-won't they" relationship between the PC DI and the WPC.

Graham said, "Paul Abbott gave this lecture recently where he said, for God's sake, television has got to start thinking out of the box a little bit and and taking some risks. What we've tried really hard to do is make a show that's accessible. It's not a weird show. it's odd but it's never Twin Peaks; we just wanted to do something different. What's great is that the BBC have utterly supported us. They've said all along, 'To hell with it. We're not going to compromise.'"

Ashley Pharaoh interview

Life on Mars is being repeated this week on BBC4 as part of its 70s theme week.

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