Life on Mars
Background: Life on Mars is my current all-time lucky find. The first series of this show just aired in the UK and hopefully it’ll come to Australia soon or get a DVD release of some sort.
What is it?: John Simm plays a manchester-based detective who gets hit by a car. When he wakes up he finds that he has travelled back in time to the 1970s… sexual equality and political correctness are things of the future, cops can do whatever they like, and forensic science is at a near-primitive level.
Why it’s great: It’s like a rollicking, balls-out 70s British cop show (ala ‘The Sweeney’) with a big budget and 21st century cleverness. The by-the-book cop/street-smart cop dynamic is given loads of new life with the 70s/00s dynamic of the show’s two leads. It’s also ambiguous as to whether John Simm has travelled back in time or is really just living inside his head during a coma. The writing in this show is spectacular and it’s full of great moments.
Background: This British 70s science-fiction/survivalist show ran for three seasons. All three series are available on DVD, and the show sometimes gets a run on UKTV.
What is it?: A plague has wiped out 99% of the Earth’s population. Law and order is kaput. It’s every man, woman and child for themselves. Think ’28 Days Later’ without the zombies.
Why it’s great: It’s a nightmarish future scenario that has been played out in many films, books and television series. This 70s entry is very British and very contemporary in setting, the science-fiction aspect is minimal and there’s a real unnerving edge to the story… you never really know where the show is going to go.
Background: Another British show. This one is more of the soap opera variety… a kind of pre-cursor to ‘Queer as Folk’, only not as gay. Ran for two series in the mid 90s. Pretty sure it’s available on DVD. Apparently a ten-year reunion episode is due to air in a couple of weeks in the UK.
What is it?: A bunch of yuppie-scum/lawyer types share a flat. Some are gay, some hate gays… there’s all sorts of sex, drugs and screwing around.
Why it’s great: The show never jumped the shark. It was smart and stopped after just two series, and did everything you possibly could’ve done with the characters without taking it too far. There were no taboos in this show, it wasn’t afraid to fuck with it’s characters and the audiences perception of them and it never compromised. Characters didn’t ‘learn’ or ‘change’ over the show’s run… it was entirely realistic in the way it portrayed people’s attitudes and didn’t fall prey to stereotyping. In short, it pushed the envelope.
Background:This mid-90s American science fiction show ran for just one season before being cancelled. It’s available on DVD, and – amazingly – it has dedicated fans despite it’s relatively short run.
What is it?: Earth has become crowded and it’s becoming increasingly clear that humans are unable to live indefinitely in space stations (due to a mysterious illness). So some brave colonists are dispatched to ‘Earth 2′, a newly discovered planet with a breathable atmosphere and an environment similar to Earth’s.
Why it’s great: ‘Earth 2′ was by no means a perfect show. I just seem to have a soft spot in my heart for it, as I watched it when it was on TV back in 1994 and a certain degree of nostalgia comes to mind when I think about it. I think the main reason I liked it was because of the enormous potential it had… so many great ideas were possible, and the show hinted at a number of continuing storylines that might’ve made this one of the great cult science-fiction shows of all time. The two alien races featured, the Terrians and the Grendlers, were pretty cool too. I guess this show is the one that got away!
Background: ‘The Prisoner’ ran for 17 episodes in 1967, and was created as a vehicle for popular 60s television actor, Patrick McGoohan. You can get the entire series in a boxed set on DVD.
What is it?: Widely considered to be the cult tv show to end all cult tv shows, ‘The Prisoner’ concerns an un-named spy (McGoohan) who decides to retire from his position. However, upon announcing his resignation he is kidnapped and taken to a mysterious village where he is interrogated over and over again, and from which there is no escape.
Why it’s great: ‘The Prisoner’ is a surrealist masterpiece chock-full of WTF moments. From the beautiful location-filming in the Italian-themed village to the turn-of-the-century fashion motif and giant murderous plastic bubbles, ‘The Prisoner’ is a true one-of-a-kind experience. Each episode throws up new surprises in where you expect the story to go – just when you think you’ve seen every scenario that could possibly befall McGoohan, the village throws up a new one that befuddles and distorts your view of what’s going on.