Typically for me I missed the hype of the BBC series Life On Mars a few years back but managed to acquire the first series on DVD last Christmas (that’s not the Christmas just passed, it’s the one a year ago). I have a pile of books to read as long as your arm and a pile of as-yet unwatched DVDs as long as your leg so I finally got around to watching Life On Mars this Christmas and wow, it’s brilliant!
For those like me who are several years out of date with everything (for example generally I wait until a band has broken up or died before I become a fan, not by choice, it’s just the way it seems to pan out) then the premise is that a police officer from the modern day – Sam Tyler – is involved in a car accident and wakes up in 1973 somewhat confused and still a copper. He’s not sure if he’s in a coma imagining the whole thing or has travelled back in time and his boss – DCI Gene Hunt – is a classic 70’s Sweeney-style copper who’s happy to fit someone up or beat a confession out of them just to get a result – quite contrary the current 21st century methodical approach to policing.
What made the show such a success was the way it approached the problems of racism, sexism, homophobia, police corruption and other issues of the day and showed how they came to be and why life was like that back then. By having a politically correct 21st century metrosexual thrown into that world he was a fish out of water feeling like he was on another planet and the contrasts between the attitudes in our world and that of the 70’s made me feel like I’d stick out a mile then. However what was even more clever was the way it demonstrated how nowadays crime is out of control, the police are caught up in red tape and politics, any sense of community is lost, and for all our freedoms, high technology and enlightened thinking, the world of the 70’s has its merits. By the end of the second and final season he’s become more at home in the world of the 70’s than the 21st century (I’ll leave it at that and not spoil the ending). The acting was excellent, the story-lines compelling, the music the pick of the 70’s (most of which reminded me of my early childhood) and Gene Hunt was a fantastic character with classic exchanges like this:
SAM TYLER: You’re an overweight, over-the-hill, nicotine-stained, borderline-alcoholic homophobe with a superiority complex and an unhealthy obsession with male bonding.
GENE HUNT: You say that like it’s a bad thing!
We watched season one over a couple days (having stayed up until 2.30am the first night) and immediately ordered season two which we consumed with similar gusto. It was entertaining, sad, thought-provoking and in a way made me long for the world I grew up in where a hoodie was a type of jumper, not a teenage, uneducated hooligan with no work ethic and a fondness of drinking and violence. A world where you could go out without locking your door and you knew all your neighbours. Having said that the 70’s had more than its fair share of problems like football hooliganism, women treated as second class citizens and a host of other social ills. But it’s sad that while in a lot of ways we’ve become more tolerant, understanding, technologically advanced and supposedly civilised, when I look around and read the news I can’t help but feel that in my lifetime society has never been more fractured, terrified, lawless, selfish and politically correct to the point of madness.
I often wonder what would happen if I went back in time to the early 70’s, met my father and told him what life was going to be like by the time I was his age. What would he think? Would he believe me? And would I want to go back to it? I’m not sure I would. If nothing else with my fondness for flowery shirts I’d fit right in!