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Life On Mars: "All The Young Dudes"

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Well, the cold open was clever enough this week—Gene and Ray bust up a bunch of hoods unloading a truck full of stolen VCRs (or whatever the 1973/4 equivalent was; something bulky and expensive, for sure), and when the hoods run, Ray ends up tackling one. He pulls the guy's ID, hands it to Chris, and we find out the dude on the ground is "Sam Bono"; who, looking up, turns out to be none other than our very own Sam Tyler.

I'm a sucker for this sort of thing, and I doubt I'm alone in that. I dig the sense of a mystery created just five minutes in, and the slight shake up that mystery gives to our expectations. The shake-up doesn't really matter much in "All The Young Dudes," nor do the comments about Sam's "dark side" ever seem like anything beyond a perfunctory attempt at depth; it's the sort of shrug-and-a-pass style writing we've come to expect from this series, all commentary, no content. So you look to the little things. Hey, Rose Tyler is back. Hey, Sam has some legitimate reasons for not wanting to talk to his younger self. Hey, I definitely did not see that ending coming.

I'm often at a loss as to how much I should include in the way of plot summary in these recaps. Most other shows I cover, it's not too hard, but given that the only people reading these by now are the die-hards, I'm assuming y'all have watched the ep, same as me. Maybe you don't really get anything out of having the story rehashed? Or maybe you're just waiting for a brilliant writer like myself to sort through the pieces and make a pretty picture out of 'em.

Doesn't much matter—if I don't talk about the plot, what the hell am I going to talk about? Sam is undercover trying to get in close with a particularly nasty Irish crime boss named Jimmy McManus. The incident on the docks (plus some creative abuse at the police station) gets him a face-to-face, and Sam manages to impress by taking on and beating the crap out of one of Jimmy's more mountainous henchmen. But Jimmy's got a sister named Colleen who, wouldn't you know it, just happened to be Sam's babysitter when he was just a sprout. When Sam goes to visit Colleen, Rose Tyler is there picking up her son, and she's mighty confused that "Detective Skywalker" is going under a different name and speaking with an Irish accent. (Jason O'Mara's own, presumably.)

The undercover plot is about what you'd expect from this show. Sam hooks up with Colleen, Jimmy pretends to be angry and he isn't, lots of drinking ensues. Things did pick up near the end when Jimmy claims to know that Colleen's been ratting him out to the cops; he demands Sam shoot her right there in the bar. Sam's response is to come clean as a cop, turn the gun Jimmy gave him to do the deed on Jimmy himself—but the gun isn't loaded, and it was all a trick to force Sam out into the open. Colleen turned him in, which makes her and her brother easily the episode's most interesting characters; the twists here weren't half bad, but Sam's "I'm a cop!" moment seemed incredibly stupid to me. But then, Sam's never struck me as the brightest bulb in the box; how else would he keep making the same future/past mistakes?

Still, he's not a complete idiot. He visits Rose to ask her to stay away from McManus, and she asks him to talk to Sammy; he's been upset ever since Vic left town. Sam refuses, which was nice, and I really liked him talking out his concerns to Colleen and Annie. He's not worried about some kind of McFly-type paradox, at least not directly. He's concerned that the potential inherent in a conversation with one's younger self, the opportunity to warn, advise, predict, is so immense, that you'd almost have to screw it up, no matter how good your intentions were. On a better show, these doubts would've made this episode a home run, but here, they're just a brief reminder that time travel stories don't have to suck. And then it gets nearly undone by Sam's conversation with his younger self—apart from the Star Wars quotes, Sam's speech isn't bad, but the horrible morphing of young Sammy into old killed the scene on arrival.

Also, if you're going to have a character worry about his dark side, it would be a good job to actually make some effort to show that dark side. An effort beyond just having him get a little too into a bar fight. But hey, sweet Jim Croce song at the beginning, right? And having Chris and Ray get shot in the end by McManus was a surprise. I'm not sure it was a good surprise; there's no emotional impact or stunning realization, just a "wow, I didn't think that was gonna happen. I wonder if they're dead? Maybe I can watch this week's Lost while I'm doin the recap." (God, that theoretical me is just so unprofessional.) That's probably the best way to tell a show isn't ever going to pull itself out of the gutter, that it isn't going to make some kind of beautiful Hail Mary play so things will all make sense; when two major characters can get gutshot in the final minutes, and you're just happy that the credits are about to roll.

Grade: B-

Stray Observations:

  • Colleen: "Woo me." Apparently, wooing means touching a girl on the side of the head, and then screwing her. Ah, romance.
  • Two more episodes left. What'll I do with my Wednesday night's then?

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