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TV Tonight: British (Commonwealth) Invasion

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Tonight sees the debuts of the American adaptions of Life on Mars, Eleventh Hour, and Kath and Kim, which are from Britain, Britain and Australia respectively and are surprisingly good, a bunch of hoo-hah and painful, respectively. Busy with a print deadline, so I’ll refer you to my earlier roundup review of this season’s imports to elaborate.

Well, I’ll elaborate just a smidge on the good one, Life on Mars.

The reason I say Life on Mars is surprisingly good is that it had a rough road coming to existence, with a lot of cast and producer turnover—often, but not always, a bad sign. How does it compare with the British original? It’s been a while since I watched the first season, and I tend to think it doesn’t matter: (1) because it needs to stand or fall on its own and (2) because like The Office, if it is to do that, and sustain its premise over a much longer American run, it will have to be different. That, and I can’t claim to be an expert on the social mores of Britain in the early 1970s, outside of watching Monty Python and listening to glitter rock.

That said, the pilot’s picture of 1970s New York is plausible and visually well-imagined: there’s a showoff scene where the protagonist (a cop who gets hit by a car and wakes up in 1973, if you haven’t heard) believes he’s dreaming and goes for a walk, believing that, at some point, his subconscious will run out of details. The camera does a 360 and we see a wholly recreated NYC ’70s street—the clothes, the grime, the cars, the signage, the storefronts, everything immaculately filthy.

Also, an excellent supporting cast (with the exception of Lisa Bonet, the present-day girlfriend, who is a disaster but thankfully doesn’t have too much screen time). Michael Imperioli was born to wear the big mustache.