The premise of Life On Mars is that in 2008, Detective Sam Tyler was hit by a car and knocked unconscious. When he woke up, he found himself in 1973, without any idea how he got there or how he could get back to his own time. The people he meets treat him as if he belongs in their world, and he soon falls back into the routine of being a police officer, albeit in a far different environment than he's used to. Signs abound, clues pile on clues, and yet the mystery remains the same: what the hell is happening to him? And is there anyway to make it stop happening?
I mention this now because, for a good forty minutes of “Let All The Children Boogie," that premise was all but forgotten. Tonight was a little better than the Russian mob junk Noel was stuck with two weeks ago, but it suffers from one of the same basic problems; the writers are ignoring what is hands down the coolest aspect of the series in favor of settling for a light, thoroughly trite procedural. Tonight’s Special Guest Star was a glam rocker with a penchant for groupies, drugs, and half-assed mysticisms; when one of his fans disappears in the wetlands of New Jersey, the rock star (who was there at the disappearance) is convinced she was taken by a UFO. But we all know she wasn’t, and that’s where this show has lost me.
One thing I will say in the series’ favor is that the cast has grown on me. I actually like these guys, which makes putting up with their formulaic adventures somewhat more palatable. While Sam and Chris try and track down the missing Rocket Girl (aka Emily Wyatt), there was some decent soap opera goings on at the precinct, with Gene trying to solve the mystery of who Sam nailed in the file room, and Sam growing more and more concerned at the consequences of his affair with the boss’s daughter. Unsurprisingly, every conversation Gene had with or in front of Sam heightened that concern, which got old fast; but at least there’s some sense of a relationship being established between the characters, with Ray’s guffaws, Annie’s unhappiness, and Sam’s ever increasing flop sweat.
Plus, hey, more Maggie Siff this week, that’s always nice. She pushes for more time with Sam, and he initially shrugs her off. (Which makes no sense; Gene isn’t scary enough for us to buy Sam being that worried about repercussions.) But after getting catty with Annie over our man out of time, Maria makes another play, this time showing up at Sam’s doorstep naked but for a raincoat. He tells her this will one day be a cliché; I’m not sure I want to live in a world where Maggie Siff showing up at your doorstep naked but for a raincoat is a cliché. Regardless, they hook up again, and since Gene finally figures out Sam’s shtupping his little girl at the episode’s end (for a while he assumed it was Annie; it’s a nice scene where she covers for Sam by confirming this), there’s probably going to be trouble down the road. Trouble meaning in this case Harvey Keitel looking blank and then shouting something and pretending like he just hit somebody.
Haven’t gotten into the episode’s main plot, but it’s the sort of thing that’s familiar by now. First we’ve got our stereotyped seventies touchstone—the glammed up sexed out rocker, Sebastian Grace—and then everyone spouts all the facts about glam rock that one could expect to read off a Hard Rock Café placemat. The brief appearance of a “UFO” allows us to contact an eccentric who can offer some vague platitude that makes Sam think he may have found a way home; which at least means we can get a few references to the whole time travel thing. There’s a red herring in the form of an overweight stalker with a shrine built to the missing girl in his apartment, and it all climaxes with Sam thinking he’s found a way back, only to wake up buried in mud with a dead girl in his arms. Professor Wallace Shawn gives a recap (I kept waiting for a Great Dane to wander onto the set—Sam could make a passable Fred), and everything’s back to normal.
Boo, I say. And boo I say again. There was no point to any of this; the Case Of The Disappearing Groupie never rose above mildly diversion levels (turns out the “UFO” was an experimental helicopter whose thrust actually pushed RG down into the muck, where she drowned; so there’s no aliens and no murderer), and we didn’t even get those scant handful of weird moments that I try and cling to keep myself interested. The writing had some decent lines—the conversations between Annie and Grace weren’t bad, at least—but apart from being happy Wallace Shawn got another paycheck, nothing in this episode made me give a damn. Hell, they’ve even gotten lazy about the nature of Sam’s reality; we spent lengthy time with both Chris and Annie outside of Sam’s presence, which means if this is a hallucination, it’s got a long reach. (I can’t remember if this is the first time we’ve had multiple scenes without Sam around, but it just seemed so egregiously sloppy tonight.)
I don’t hate it yet, so I’ll probably keep doing these write-ups a bit longer; I hate the idea of letting something this bland beat me. But the last I heard, the ratings haven’t been so good on Mars, and if this one was to disappear in the next month or so, I can’t say as I’d blame anybody.
—To the good, we got songs by the Kinks and Bowie tonight.
—To the bad, we also got the interminable “The Last Planet I Kissed,” by Sebastian Grace And The Electric Insects. They even structured the closing montage around the fucking thing.