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23 April 2010 @ 09:09 pm
Life on Mars, later than everyone else  
So far I've seen eps 1-4, and for some reason I'm finding the whole show much harder going than I anticipated. Some notes:

...oh, Life on Mars. What are you doing?

I watched the first two episodes last night. Lots of good things... but, really, did you just put Sam's girlfriend Maya into serious danger, by, like, minute five, for no other reason than to give him motivation? What a waste of Archie Panjabi. (And it's pretty spotty motivation, anyway--since it hardly comes up that she's apparently in mortal peril, and who really *needs* motivation to want to get back to their own time period? Not being stuck in 1973 isn't enough motivation?) Don't they hand out cards about how you're not supposed to do that, yet? And if they don't, shouldn't they start? (If you have, like, six hours to kill, you could go to TvTropes and look up "Disposable Woman," "Stuffed Into the Fridge," and "I Let Gwen Stacy Die.") (Also, um, did Sam just alter time in the very first episode? This had better come back up.)

Also, I watched the behind-the-scenes stuff, and I am *really* not best pleased by the repeated assertions that Sam Tyler has to learn more "humanity" from the show's overtly racist, misogynist, in-fact-just-plain-everything-ist Gene. I can't get on board this whole "Gene lives life to the fullest, unlike Sam" train, where "living life to the full" apparently means insulting and demeaning everyone who isn't just like Gene.

On a related note, the idea that Sam's by-the-book police skills have made him lose touch with his feelings and humanity is just silly. Oh no, he's so forensic and doesn't get mustard all over the evidence! How *will* he ever feel the humanity of the cases? He doesn't know how to "live in the jungle," one of the showrunners/writers says (or possibly the director), which, what? What is so great about guys planting evidence on people and beating people up whenever they feel like it? Maybe it's because I'm deeply suspicious of Gene and people like him, but I'm not hankering for wild-west justice, the Gene-as-sheriff motif they keep bringing up. *He* says that he's never stitched up someone who hasn't deserved it, but--I'm supposed to just trust that, and want Sam to learn something from this man, when he looks at people like me and doesn't see them as people? What does "deserve" mean in this case, besides "Gene thinks they're guilty"? What stops him from thinking someone's guilty because he's got the wrong skin color or accent or happened to be in the wrong place? (Well, actually, the answer to that is supposed to be "the law.")

I haven't mentioned due South in a while, but--this is the kind of thing that people on the show occasionally say *about* Benton Fraser ("Are you human, Fraser?"), but the show is always very careful not to fall into that trap itself. His devotion to the law, to justice and principle, doesn't make him less human. And in fact, he's passionate *about* the law; he loves it. And his by-the-book methods *allow* for deep compassion, or at least understanding, because he always appeals to the thing outside himself instead of making assumptions, and when the evidence doesn't fit, he asks why not. In "White Men Can't Jump to Conclusions," everyone else takes a look at the young Black man from the bad neighborhood who has gunshot residue on his hands, and says, that's it, he must be guilty; people from that neighborhood are just like that. Benton questions the logic, listens to the evidence, lets it tell its full story. I want Sam to be like *that*.

I continue to watch Life on Mars, and the way it uses female bodies to advance Sam's development or moral decisions is really, really grating on me--in a way that isn't true of something more blatant (like, oh, practically every crime show out there right now, from Law & Order: SVU to Castle*), where it grates, but not in the same way. Most of the time, on the crime drama shows, the crime is not *about* the protagonist(s). They may occasionally over-identify with the victims of the crimes--maybe the young girl reminds Castle of Alexis, say--or they may have gotten into the profession for personal reasons that are reflected in the crimes (as with Olivia Benson's backstory on SVU). But the crimes are not usually positioned *as* a learning experience or a dilemma for the protagonist.

But LoM has done this in every episode so far. Should Sam be like Gene, or like Sam? (And I've already gone on at length about the fact that this very question is insulting to me: what is so good and glorious about Gene?) When Sam tries to solve crimes like a 20th-century boy (okay, 21st, but that's not how the song goes, is it?), people, usually women, get hurt. And then Sam angsts about it. It's always All About Sam--except when there are *men* involved in the crime, apparently, because then the men have their own goals and wants instead of being straight-up passive victims. The men can try to save their mill or provide for their families, and Sam provides the bittersweet gaze of history (yeah, sorry, that mill is totally going under, but it's going to make an awesome block of flats one day), but he's not working out his own issues over their stories in the same way that he does with the women. And that's an episode in which his police method is successful--he solves the crime that no one else could--and no one gets hurt because of his actions. (Someone gets hurt, but it's for being an idiot with a gun.)

This was particularly off-putting in episode four, where the dead woman exists only so that Sam and Gene can have a heart-to-heart about how poor widdle Gene feels so bad about taking bribes, boo hoo hoo--and then turn around and clean up Dodge. The camera looks up at them as they stride into the nightclub, rock theme music blaring; back at the station, it's nothing but applause as they bring in the crooked owner.

But--for me, I couldn't give a toss. Where was all this heroism when it was the cops' turn to actually do their flipping jobs and arrest this man the first time he committed a crime, instead of turning a blind eye and opening a hand for a bribe? I am not all that interested in Gene's "redemption" or the bad cop making good. It's his job to be a good cop. And I don't like my buddy stories with corpses at their heart, thanks.

*I have this weird like-apathy relationship with Castle, in that I sort of wish it were a show about all the same characters hanging out in a coffee shop. Or a show about Castle and his family, which is easily my favorite part. I could not care less about the crimes, most weeks. I am kind of just watching the show for when Castle geeks out about stuff, including his daughter.
viomisehuntviomisehunt on April 24th, 2010 04:00 am (UTC)
Well, it aint PC
There is a lot to be offended by, but I think the audience is supposed to be offended by Gene, shocked by Gene, and maybe, especially the older audience, a little ashamed, because Gene is where we were.

In 1974 they didn't have good forensic practices on either side of Pond--the science wasn't available, but they solved crimes, some kind of way. And they made a lot of mistakes. The Crown Prosecuter's office (I went to the official website when Freema got the L&OUK gig) is relatively new(compare to DA in the US) at least in the way the work now.

But Gene isn't a "good" guy. He is what, thirty years ago, passed for a good policeman, but he was also the kind of person who was starting to make us uneasy about ourselves.

If this show was made in the seventies, no one would blink an eye at Gene's behavior, except the racist bit, and all he had to do was show (by helping someone) that he's just reflecting the time. In the sixties and seventies we expected to see an edgy, hard bitten cop, who we suspect should be in anger management. But we didn't have anger management in 1974. For domestic violence We had AA, and hopefully some cop, (I lived in a small town) who knew your Daddy and wouldn't accept your hubby beating up on Jim's little girl. We knew there were brutal methods, racist/sexist behavior among some police officers and it had to be sorted out. Gene doesn't get any better--wait to you see Ashes to Ashes. (There are big reminders the Angie Dickerson, long legs, brass knuckle carrying Police woman image.) The first episode of the new season of Ahses to Ashes pushes that "button" and shoves Gene unforgivably aggressive behavior in our face, and it crosses lines. But the audience know he needs to be stopped, but he lives in a time when his behavior is acceptable, because he does get the job done. And that is the scary thing about a period peice--about an espcially tumltous period of time. Ashes to Ashes has that nasty message that women want to the brute in the Male protector back. So yeah, when it comes to romance I'll take Frasier any day. But I think men and more than a few women like Gene. It's that fatal: I can make him a good, gentleman. (No you can't...but you see Sam and then a woman who should know better fall right into the trap.)

Gene's a nasty character, he is sexist and racist and a number of other things, so is his team. And these people grow and don't grow in weird ways. It reminds me of those old cop/soldier films; the last person you want in your living room for a quiet date is the very one you want around to save your life if there's a maniac after you. And they have that miltary POV.

I think by the end of the show, we're supposed to ask: how did we get from a "good" cop, horrible bully of a person like Gene to someone like Sam?

Edited at 2010-04-24 04:55 pm (UTC)
tempestsarekind: books and flowerstempestsarekind on April 25th, 2010 12:00 am (UTC)
Re: Well, it aint PC
I'm not really offended by Gene himself, though. I mean, yes, his behavior is offensive, but it stands to reason that if you're going to set a show in the '70s, then you ought to show what the '70s were like. I wouldn't *want* them to paint a nicer, but inaccurate, picture.

I think my problem is the expectation that Sam is supposed to learn something from Gene, as though there's something that Sam's police style is missing. Which is...just not true, at least not from what they've shown me. Okay, so Gene cares about his city. So does Sam. Sam gets way more emotionally invested in the crimes he's solved so far, despite the producers' idea that Sam is too "clinical" or whatever.

And--at least as they've set up the show--it's not just a clash of cultures, Sam's modern policing against Gene's rough-and-tumble style. Because they make sure that we know that Gene is breaking the laws that *do* exist, even if those laws are rudimentary compared to 21st-century standards. Every time he takes a bribe, or mentions that he could just plant evidence on someone, or even just drives the wrong way down a one-way street, he's saying, "I'm above the law." And that's a really, really dangerous stance for a cop to take. And that's who Gene is, fine, I accept that as the show's premise and even as historical fact--but then the show can't sell me that Sam should take after him in *any* way, because I'm not buying it.
viomisehuntviomisehunt on April 25th, 2010 04:58 am (UTC)
Re: Well, it aint PC
Maybe the lessons--if there are any intended-- are esoteric or spiritual, Sam is there to learn something like charity, forgiveness, understanding? We do take a great deal for granted. Of course when it comes to police work, and ethics there is much Gene has to learn; we would have the same situation perhaps if this were a medical show. We--as a society-- grew in a lot of ways because of science and technology, but did we really grow emotionally. In a way Sam has that "Doctor" (yes as in ,i>the Doctor</i>) arrogance about him when it comes to race relations, forensics, basic behavior. He knows best because he comes from our time when these things don't exist...or at least they still exist but supposedly we confront them.
tempestsarekind: gilmore couch potatoestempestsarekind on April 25th, 2010 06:31 pm (UTC)
Re: Well, it aint PC
Hmm, perhaps. I can certainly imagine a story in which Sam could learn from being in the '70s, and learn to be less arrogant about his "enlightened" position. But I haven't--so far--seen any evidence that Gene is the right man to teach him.
viomisehuntviomisehunt on April 26th, 2010 04:06 am (UTC)
Re: Well, it aint PC
But who is in better need of mercy and forgiveness than Gene?
tempestsarekind: books and flowerstempestsarekind on April 26th, 2010 06:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Well, it aint PC
Oh, I have no problem with mercy and forgiveness for him. But the show's producers have repeatedly said, in the little behind-the-scenes extras, that Sam should learn from Gene and be more like him: that Sam is too clinical, that he "doesn't know how to live in the jungle," and that Chris is the "cop of the future" because he can take some of Sam's traits and some of Gene's traits and become the "perfect" cop. Which indicates that there is something about Gene's way of being a cop that we should keep. And I haven't seen it.
viomisehuntviomisehunt on April 27th, 2010 05:35 am (UTC)
Re: Well, it aint PC
Gene's way of being a cop that we should keep The show is manipulative.
I really liked Life on Mars, and I liked Ashes to Ashes, mainly because Gene is such an A-hole, and poor Sam keeps banging his head against the wall to make Gene better, because he likes him and Gene does something for him that can't be easily re-payed. And there will come a time when you think, maybe Sam reached Gene.

Gene is an instinctively good detective-- as opposed to being a "good cop". He's not a good cop. He's bad cop. All the time. And because he's a good detective,--and we learn has better morals than the people in Internal affairs trying to bring him down -- he's not going to change. In the US, the plot goes along the lines of the racist fireman, lets call him Rob, who braves a burning house to bring out the little Chinese girl and her teddy bear. Rob even speaks to her Mandarin. We in the audience melt and say ahhhh, Rob is not really a racist, although for five episodes, Rob made working at the station almost impossible for that nice Fireman Woo... Yes, the #@%$ Rob is a racist, but the writer know and we know -- even in real life--the little girl's parents will not give a darn how he treated Fireman Woo. So we're manipulated: Do I like being manipulated by writers? It depends on how well they do it. There was a similar plot on Ashes to Ashes, with one of the least likable of Gene's team, that had me in tears and ready to bake the man cookies.
However, if the first episode of season two of Ashes to Ashes is any indication, the writers do seem to think that the audience approves of his brutality, as opposed to the audience forgiving Gene's A-hole-itis because he's good detective.
I'd say your concern, criticism and questions are in good order. In Ashes to Ashes the writers, creates, in Alex, a woman quite capable and willing to smack Gene back, or pistol whip him if necessary, and even, from the psychologist's point of view, look at him as the manifestation of some deep seated sexual fantasy where she wants the cave man and she wants permission to dress "like a tart" because she looks darn good and sexy and likes it. And in a really heart wrenching scene, she meets her mother...well I don't want to spoil it for you.
But in the new season of Ashes to Ashes, the first glimpse of Gene just made me stop, because what he does is not okay. The show has already pushed every boundary possible, but the writers know where the hypocrite in us lies, and out came,in my case, the hypocrisy.
I like the show because Gene and Alex have a hot attraction, and Gene, finally has met someone who makes him want to become a better "person", re-examine his life, watch what he says. Now, consider my attitude towards Martha and Ten: I'm livid about the enabling relationship, but well, this doesn't seem the same. Ashes to Ashes Season One played us like Issac Pearlman on a violin. Still I don't want a show where Gene feels free to give his fellow police officer a rap across the mouth to get her up and moving.

I guess enjoying the show would depend on whether or not you're willing to let the writers play with those darker, maybe not so evolved feelings, and how far they can push buttons before you turn it off. It only is scary when the audience says: Yeah, lets get back to those days, because hopefully we have gotten better-- and mean it.
tempestsarekind: books and flowerstempestsarekind on April 27th, 2010 04:00 pm (UTC)
Re: Well, it aint PC
Thanks for this. I'll have to think about it as a I continue to watch the show. I'm willing to watch offensive characters, and to let the writers take them relatively far--it's the way that they seem to be setting Gene's behavior up for *approval* that keeps pulling me up short.

Also, there is the fact that I quite like Keeley Hawes. :) So if Ashes to Ashes ever comes out on DVD here, I'll probably be spending even more time with Gene.