Customer Review

7 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Certainly flawed, but overall quite interesting, and surprisingly post-modern, 3 April 2008
This review is from: Ashes to Ashes: Complete BBC Series 1 [2008] [DVD] (DVD)
It is probably wrong to compare Ashes to Ashes to the previous Life on Mars, despite the fact that both programmes come from the same creative team and exist in the same thematic universe. Still, Life on Mars was such a benchmark and such a surprisingly rewarding piece of work that such comparisons are really hard to resist. With Life on Mars we had an intelligent piece of television that offered a great story, subtle character interaction and a genuine imagination; blending elements of science-fiction with psychological character analysis, as well as juxtaposing ideas of archaic, twentieth century police procedures with the more high-tech but sterile policing of today. Ashes to Ashes is somewhat similar in the respect that the idea of self-analysis and an attempt to correct the future by way of the past is central to the development of the main character, but somehow it lacks the dynamics or sense of overall purpose that really made Life on Mars such a valid and exciting piece of work.

At its most extreme, you could argue that the series here is nothing more than a shameless cash-in; with the producers and writers copying the format of Life on Mars completely and giving us more of Gene Hunt and his particular blend of politically-incorrect, heart-on-sleeve policing against an environment of warm nostalgia. However, even here, the use of the early 1980's as the principal timeframe already shows the character of Hunt to be something of a woeful anachronism; as out of time as the stranded heroine Alex Drake against a backdrop of feminism, class war, immigration, privatisation and a gradual acceptance of homosexuality. Also, the potentially interesting political climate, with the shadow of the Falkland's, tyranny of the Tories, confrontation between races, terrorist attacks and the royal wedding are all reduced to minor details intended to flesh out the creation of a world that is continually undermined by shoddy writing, haphazard direction an attempt to condense the more iconic aspects of 80's culture into a sort of microcosm that feels at odds with a decade supposedly in its infancy. Or is it?

The thematic concerns this time around are less about the clashing of cultures and backgrounds in a way that makes for satisfying drama, and more about the creation of a self-aware universe that not only comments on itself but on the notion of the "sequel". As with the audience, Alex Drake understands completely the world that she has entered into and is trying to control it to her advantage. She knows about the characters because she's experienced them through the writings of Sam Tyler in the same way that we the audience experienced them by actually watching Life on Mars. This does rob the programme of some tension, particularly in the first couple of episodes before the characters finally settle into their new roles and the broader aspects of the story become apparent, but it does open the story up to more intriguing ideas and interpretations regarding the role that Alex has in creating the world from her own memories and distorted idea of what the 80's really were.

Unlike Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes was less immediate and for me, and this was the programme's greatest flaw. Once it gets going its fantastic; the examination into Alex's parents and the factors that could possibly have led to their demise is rich with drama and emotion and really pays off in the final episode. However, for me, there were far too many lose ends leading up to this, and far too much of the writers having DCI Hunt do outlandish things in an attempt to appease the audience who buy into the whole "iconic" thing and want Gene Hunt catchphrases on their-mobiles. The emphasis on the drama should have remained with Drake consistently, because it is here where the story comes together; with more interplay between her and her parents and less of the Hunt sailing a speedboat under the arches of Tower Bridge and firming machine guns, like he's some colourful cartoon caricature. Or maybe that's the point?

Given the fact that the first three episodes were so weak that I almost gave up on this completely - there didn't seem to be any direction in regards to the plot in the same way that Life on Mars so skilfully blended the past, present and visions of Sam Tyler into a jaw-dropping drama - the only way I could interpret Ashes to Ashes was as a post-modern pastiche akin to Takashi Miike's Dead or Alive trilogy. And it makes sense; with the world of Ashes being a complete "construct"; a self-aware artifice create by the character for the character as she lays dying with a bullet in her head, attempting to make sense, not only of the historic chain of events that led to this tragedy, but also the world created by Sam Tyler that was never fully explained. Sure, there are flaws in this theory, but there are also flaws in the show; with far too much pandering to the whims of Hunt-aficionados and less of the tight, tense, labyrinthine blending of self-examination and the self-preservation of a dying brain.

It will be interesting to see where the writers take this in the second series. Hopefully we will have more of Alex and more of an insight into the creation of this world in the respect of tying up the loose ends of the second series of Life on Mars. At any rate, if you're looking for more iconic Gene Hunt action then Ashes to Ashes won't disappoint. It's louder, bolder and less subtle than Life on Mars ever was, and here he's pretty much the main character. If you want to involve yourself in the story of Alex Drake and her highly emotional plight then you might have to overcome some serious flaws in the first three or four episodes, but believe me, it's probably worth it.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 7 Jan 2013 03:04:49 GMT
Novice Loin says:
Keep on keeping on Jonathan. You observe with derision and lacerate with precision. Good qualities in a wannabe critic ( is it one e or two ? )
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