Life on Mars: Combo DVD Review

(Acorn Media)
Series 2 (U.K.) Series ••••½ Picture ••••½ Sound •••• Extras •••½

Consider this a tale of two cities. Er, planets. Series 1 of the British Life on Mars (Review) concerned itself with the existential question faced by Detective Sam Tyler (John Simm) - namely, is he really policing in Manchester in 1973, or going mad and/or in a coma in the present day? The eight episodes comprising Series 2 lead him to the definitive answer. Production values established in Series 1 remain just as high here, culminating in a bloody, highly stylized train robbery in the final installment. And the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix totally delivers all-channel impact during the car-bomb explosion that rocks the outset of Episode 3.

Kudos to those in charge of the bonus materials, as a spoiler alert appears before each one. (If you haven't watched any of these episodes yet, it would behoove you to follow said warnings to the letter.) While this batch of extras lacks the every-episode commentaries accompanying Series 1, the retrospective documentaries are equally insightful and build upon the analysis put forth in Series 1. Three behind-the-scenes docs add to the show's mystique and the meticulous care in constructing it.

The U.S. shift-to-New York version of Mars received the blessing of the show's U.K. creators, though its conclusion in Episode 17 (one more ep than the Brit show's total run) is markedly different. No spoilers here - all I'll say is that while it was indeed a controversial ending for many viewers, I found it to be satisfying and relatively logical. Besides, to follow the U.K. series plot point by plot point would have been, well, pointless.

The lead characters are essentially the same, though there's definitely a difference between Philip Glenister's gruff, quipmasterly Gene Hunt and Harvey "Bad Lieutenant" Keitel's prickly squad commander. Advantage: Glenister. Actually, the U.S. Mars quipmaster is Michael Imperioli's Ray Carling, he of the perfectly unruly period hair and bushy fu manchu, and Imperioli savors and spits out every line and gag with the gusto of an extended mustard belch (to borrow Carling vernacular).