Let’s face it, Life On Mars was written by a couple of oversized boys who just happened to be extremely gifted at writing science-fiction meets police drama.
Episode five of series one proves this point exactly.
This is a boy’s episode first and foremost. It’s about football, blood, pubs and Annie’s breasts get a look-in too. It’s got slapsticks, one-liners and brawls. Yep, it’s definitely one for the lads.
It’s also one of the episodes where the crime aspect really drives the majority of the plot. This is where the “creepy stuff”, as Annie calls it, takes a back seat but also throws out massive clues (or is that just hindsight on my part?).
A Man U supporter is murdered near a Man U pub. Man U plays. Man City on Saturday. Gene thinks a City fan has done it. Sam thinks otherwise. Cue usual argument and juxtaposition of policing prodecures. Twist? Man U obsessed hooligan has done it purely to spark a massive gang fight on match day.
It’s a fairly basic plot, but I really enjoyed this episode. Ok, so the retro football outfits are enough to make me cringe ever so slightly (why were the shorts so short?!) but everything else is going for it. The “chicken in a basket” moment is a brilliant example of modernity whacking its head against the wall of antiquity.
But this is Life On Mars, not Morecambe and Wise. And so the weird must come in somewhere. Test Card F girl is downplayed, but she still manages to give Sam possibly one of the biggest clues to the weird montage of walking through a forest and hearing a scream, the leitmotif of the series. “Daddies always let you down.” Sam clearly has ‘Daddy’ issues…
This is where I suspect I’ve let my hindsight run away with me. Let me know if you spotted this the first time round. I don’t remember catching it on the first time I watched.
My favourite character of the episode has got to be Ray: “I’m arresting you… for driving like a div”. He’s coming out of his shell. The character is fleshing out into something more than a background supporter.
Chris, however, I felt got a short straw. Marshall Lancaster is very good at playing the village idiot, but sometimes I got frustrated that all the jokes landed on him. Maybe it’s a case of pitying the underdog. It is good to see that change from series one, Life On Mars to series three, Ashes To Ashes. He’s come perhaps furthest out of the lot.
Artistically, there’s also a lot going for the episode. There’s grimness to the pub scenes – men come here to drink and forget the world outside. Men come here to be part of the tribal instinct again. Maybe I’m philosophising too much. The colours are simplistic, allowing the reds and blues of the opposing teams to be the focus of any shot they’re found in.
The pace, which I felt lagged in episode three and four, has picked up significantly. Maybe I’m just a fan of a fast tempo (I read Dean Koontz, I’m ashamed to say) but I like my fifty minute chunks to have a pace that matches the atmosphere.
SJ Clarkson somehow gets the feel of the episode perfectly and projects it into the wide shots of Manchester streets. You feel part of the city he gives you, part of the street football that dominated the alleyways 4pm-6pm before your mam called you in for tea.
The darkness is never fully forgotten. The fight at the end is bloody, brutal, and even has drums that bring out that tribal nature, something animalistic. Sam’s speech to Pete in the fight scene at the end has real passion in it. You wonder whether Sam was in the midst of that football violence. The horrors of football hooliganism today still leave memories imprinted on a sport’s conscience.
I’d forgotten how much I’d loved this episode. It’s odd, given how bloke-ish it is. Perhaps it’s the quality of the camerawork, the excellent direction and visuals, the as-usual outstanding performances (oh dear, hand me the hyperbole award)?
Or maybe it’s a little deeper than that. It’s an episode which explores the darkness of the clan, and how the human animal can twist a simple game into violence and bloodshed.
All in all, I still know absolutely nothing about football. What’s offside again?
Read our review of episode 4 here.