Series one of Ashes to Ashes, the spin-off series to the brilliant Life on Mars is now airing on BBC America (BBC Canada has already shown it) while the second series is soon to start on BBC1 in the UK.
How does this series compare to its predecessor? The original was, well, original, funny, innovative, sad, nostalgic but most of all extremely well written. The story of the modern day cop who finds himself back in 1973 and doesnít know if he is lying in a coma, has really travelled in time or is simply mad was groundbreaking in its concept and seemed to touch the nationís nerve.
Ashes to Ashes, the title again taken from a David Bowie song, has some of the same characters. Of course the iconic Gene Hunt, played by Philip Glenister, and sidekicks Ray (Dean Andrews) and Chris (Marshall Lancaster) are the stars but Sam Tyler (John Simm) and Annie (Liz White) are both absent.
The eye candy is supplied by Keeley Hawes who plays DI Alex Drake. She has been investigating the suicide of Sam Tyler in the present day but is shot and finds herself back in 1981. Here she meets Gene and the gang who she has read about in Sam Tylerís notes of his experiences in 1973. She also believes, as Sam did, that it is her mind playing tricks.
The action has not only progressed a decade but the venue has also changed; we are now in London not Manchester. The mundane reason for this move was that Philip Glenister wanted to be near his family. In the context of the story, though, it is hard to imagine the real Gene Hunt ever wanting to leave his beloved Manchester.
Ashes to Ashes is also a clever series. The writing is sharp and witty and sections are terrifying. The twist at the end of series one is very clever and entirely unexpected. 1981 saw the consolidation of Margaret Thatcherís rule, the emergence of the yuppies and the deregulated bankers (yes, it started then!). That year also witnessed the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, the reputation of the police took a nose dive with allegations of brutality and issues such as homosexual rights and womenís rights were taking centre stage. All these events are portrayed in each episode.
Good as it is, I think Ashes to Ashes lacks the grit and originality of Life on Mars. There is some good music, of course, the acting is perfect, and the attention of period detail as good as the former series. But there is just a seen-this-before feel about the show and it could become a little tired. Nevertheless, it is still one of the best things on television.
(Sadly, I hear that the US version of Life on Mars has been cancelled. Some things just donít translate! Happily, the DVDs of the original will be available for region 1 some time in the summer.)