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October 4, 2015

Life on Mars: Life is a Rock (series finale)

by Brad Trechak, posted Apr 2nd 2009 1:12AM
Life on Mars(S01E17) It's the last episode ever of the American version of this show. I'm not sure if it's appropriate or not, but it happened on April Fool's Day, as well. They certainly took the show to its most literal conclusion possible. As I write this, I'm still processing a lot of the story.

Comparisons are inevitable, and the ending of the British series was hands-down better. However, this one was good for a couple of laughs and wasn't completely outrageous (close, but not completely).

To summarize for those who want the heavy spoilers now: it turns out that Sam is an astronaut (let's not forget that his nickname throughout the show has been "Spaceman") on Earth's first mission to Mars in 2035. While in a deep sleep for the two-year journey, his brain is manipulated by miniature brain-robots into believing that he's from 2008. However, there was a glitch and suddenly he's in 1973. In short, it was all a dream.

They went full sci-fi with that ending. I recognize the budget was limited, but shouldn't they have been weightless on that ship (okay, that's nitipicking). An even bigger piece of fiction would be the concept that Ray Carling would ever be hired by any space agency anywhere ever.

The show used good themes, such as family, controlling your own destiny, and being a stranger in a strange land. I cheered when Annie made detective. I cheered when Sam got over his daddy issues. Having Harvey Keitel ("Major Tom") end up being Sam's father in 2035 struck me as a little weird (isn't he a little old for space travel?), although the 1973 Gene Hunt and Sam Tyler were pretty much at a father/son relationship at the end.

The fact that he was dreaming does explain a lot, such as why it seemed more like a cop show than reality. Or why Sam Tyler kept getting his ass kicked by his "father" despite supposed years of police training. Or why Sam could pick a lock on a set of handcuffs with a toy.

We'll never know how the creators would have dragged things out if the show had made future seasons. I would have liked a little more exploration of Ray Carling's relationship with his wife, but alas, it will never be.

I liked the cameos by several characters from past episodes (including the imaginary Windy. It's such a Quantum Leap relationship between her and Sam that she might as well be named Al). The sudden backtrack through all the previous episodes was cute, as well.

One minor quibble: they should have played Bowie's Life on Mars at the end, particularly considering that they were literally on Mars.

For the last time, favorite Michael Imperioli line of the episode: "How many times does one guy have to crap on your head before you stop wearing it as a hat?"

Overall, the series wrapped up nicely with an ending that was satisfying. And while Life on Mars has ended, I still eagerly await the soundtrack. Are there any nagging questions that you have left from the series? Tell us in the comments.

May you always find home in the place that you are.

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I'm sad,sad,sad--the last show was pre-empted where I live by basketball. I have NO idea what happened and from what I've read, missed a fairly decent ending. Really enjoyed the show!! Any chance of reruns?????

April 07 2009 at 5:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

referring to #57 comment.......the question being how could Obama still be president in 2035....I noticed I was not the only one who caught that.

April 07 2009 at 3:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It was one of Obama's daughters, silly.

April 07 2009 at 3:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Karen M

A friend of mine who is very technical somehow snailed me 2 discs of the LOM soundtrack. Maybe he just read off which songs they played, and happened to have all of the tunes, because he compiled two MP3 discs. EXCELLENT. I am something of a 70s music afficionado and I was constantly amazed at the obscure songs they chose instead of the obvious easy stuff.

April 07 2009 at 9:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good discussion here!

I was a huge fan of the UK series but actually hated their lame finale so for me this ending, which, OK, was a bit silly for sure, brought 'closure' (sorry) for both.

Apart from the twin tower shot in the first ep, which has to be one of the most emotional moments in TV history, I started out disliking the US version and almost gave up. But in the end I grew to like it just as much.

It always seemed to me that the cultural/morality gulf between the Manchester UK of 1973 vs today was/is far greater than the same in NYC (which by 1973 already had degrees of diversity, equal rights, etc). I suspect this was why the UK version avoided using London and perhaps the US version could have made this dynamic work better if they'd chosen a less cosmopolitan city. To me, this device always tended to feel much more manufactured in the NY version.

Regardless, the series worked for me.

I am, however, still royally pissed off by what I consider the biggest, overt flub of the series and I have to vent (even if it has been well discussed in previous posts): the mention of a "dance club" in Prague in the stewardess/swingers ep (Annie suggesting saying that's where she and Sam met in the story she was concocting for their undercover assignment). Obviously this would have been impossible in Czechoslovakia in 1973 on many levels. I guess some young script assistant who skipped history class but had a wicked awesome backpacking trip in the 1990s got involved. But someone up the chain of command should have caught that. C'mon.

Anyway, on to Ashes to Ashes!!!

April 05 2009 at 3:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As for references to "The Wizard of Oz", don't forget that Frank Morgan was the name of the actor who portrayed many characters in that film - most notably Professor Marvel and the Wizard himself.

I was caught a bit off guard by the ending, but it makes the title of the series make sense. I loved this show. Many of my faves over the years have been canceled too soon - i.e. Firefly and Pushing Daisies. I wonder what it will take for the powers that be to realize the public doesn't all love reality TV 24/7. I love a well-written show. I had hoped "Life On Mars" would be what succeeded "Lost" as my must-see-TV after it ends it's run. Albeit, it wasn't to be. Does anyone know if they plan to do an American "Ashes to Ashes"? I don't even know if that's doable with the American show's ending. I definitely will be checking out the British version of the show.

April 05 2009 at 1:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

These last couple comments have really summed up my feelings about this show, which I probably watched less than half of. But I saw enough and read enough to appreciate it, and I understood that it was based on a british show that lasted only one season, so I REALLY liked the idea here that this show told a story that wasn't dragged out a wrapped up with an appropriate end--be it corny or not.

Except, why did he read Gulliver's Travels to Annie in 2008? That seemed to be out of place with the ending...

April 04 2009 at 2:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to donkey23's comment

I don't know...unless somehow Annie in 2010 is mom...not Rose...since "Major Tom" is dad in the end...

April 05 2009 at 1:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And yet here's what's interesting: when I shut the TV last night, I was p.o.'d. The ending seemed sort of stupid at first. But I've thought about it a lot over the last 24 hours, and it's grown on me. It makes sense. Clearly this is what the writers intended from the start - all the clues were there.

And isn't any fictional TV some writer or producer's dream anyway?

Enjoy it for what it was - a Tootsie Pop. A cop show wrapped around a clever, perplexing mystery that kept you watching for clues. I grew up in New York City in the 70s, and it made me nostalgic for a simpler (though dirtier and rougher) time.

Here's an odd coincidence: Gretchen Mol was in a movie about 10 years ago called The Thirteenth Floor. It was sort of a bad "Matrix". It's also a time travel film, with modern day people going back to the 1930s. And (sorry if this spoils the ending), that movie also had a final plot twist in the not-too-distant future. Did anyone else pick up on this?

Don't be too hard on the writers and producers of this show. It appears to me they had a plan and stayed as close to it as they could, though they probably had in mind a few more episodes to lengthen the arc.

But to hell with ABC. I'm done with them. Over-the-air TV, which has to play to the lowest common denominator audience, is going the way of the sliderule, typewriter and record player. Within 10 years most creative "television" will be distributed on-demand or on-line, with a la carte pricing. People like us, who want to save a show like "Life on Mars", will just have to pay for it.

April 03 2009 at 5:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Use of lyrics notwithstanding, "Starman" was such an integral part of the show form the first episode (bothside of the pond) on - why would they sub in the Elton John song (ad nauseum) instead of wrap it up properly with "Starman?" They even set it up with Sam saying something like "why does it always come back to David Bowie?" when watching the screen near the end... I can only guess some contract dispute for the final show???

April 03 2009 at 2:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I guessed the end of the show. Look at my comment # 9 and notice the date.


My only question who/what is the old man and the girl? The little girl that fell off of the roof.

April 03 2009 at 11:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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