'Ashes to Ashes': The lighter side of 'Life on Mars'

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In case you're ever playing a game of TV analogies: "Ashes to Ashes" is to "Life on Mars" as "The Bionic Woman" is to "The Six Million Dollar Man."

But it's unfairly reductive to paint BBC America's "Ashes to Ashes" (9 p.m. Saturday) as just a distaff version of the original British "Life on Mars." The two shows exist in the same universe but "Ashes" offers a lighter take on a similar concept.

In the present, Detective Inspector Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes) investigates the case of cop Sam Tyler, the protagonist of "Life on Mars," who was hit by a car in the present and woke up in the 1970s, trying to find his way back to the future.

When Drake is shot, she finds herself in 1981 working with Tyler's former co-workers, including Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister). Unlike Tyler, who never seemed sure of what had happened to him, Drake is quite certain she's somehow trapped for a second between life and death and believes everything that goes on is happening in her head.

'Ashes to Ashes'
  • When:9 p.m. Saturday, BBC America

"Good morning, imaginary constructs," Drake chirps to her new co-workers upon arriving at the office one morning. She approaches her situation with a cheerful disposition and looks at it as a puzzle to be solved.

In addition to working cases with her co-workers, Drake begins to investigate the deaths of her parents, who were killed in a car bombing just a few months after she arrives in 1981.

With news this week that ABC has canceled the American version of "Life on Mars" -- but intends to wrap up the story and give fans closure -- "Ashes" offers an opportunity to continue to follow similar characters. Regardless of how the American "Mars" ends, it's easy to jump into "Ashes" knowing what stateside viewers know about the "Mars"-"Ashes" universe.

At a January press conference, "Ashes" co-creator Ashley Pharoah acknowledged the mythologies of the British and American "Mars" will diverge.

"We swapped endings drunk in a Manhattan bar, so I know theirs and they know mine," Pharoah said at a BBC America press conference in Universal City, Calif. "There is a larger mythology. ??? When finally the whole franchise comes to an end, we've got a terrific ending."

That probably won't be for some time. The British "Mars" ran for two seasons and Pharoah projects "Ashes" will last for three.

"Our earliest decision was to change the male-to-male dynamic from 'Life on Mars' and get a female into the middle of the story," Pharoah said of creating "Ashes." "'Life on Mars' references back to the very male, British cop shows in the '70s, and we wanted more sort of a 'Moonlighting' feel, a brighter sense. We thought it would be really good fun to take Gene Hunt on a journey with a very strong woman, feminist, intellectual from our time."

If the early "Ashes" episodes are representative of the series, this show will indeed be good fun.

Contact TV editor Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv .


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