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Life on Mars rare example of successful U.S. adaptation The New Normal Login to vote
originators praise adapted series
life on mars rare example of successful u.s. adaptation
alex strachan, canwest news service
published: monday, january 26, 2009

the english and the americans are two people separated by a common language. occasionally, though, they do read things the same way.

take life on mars, for example. few expected the u.s. adaptation of one of the most recognized and respected british tv dramas of its day to hold a candle to the bbc original, especially after the remake became mired in behind-the-scenes controversy and had to undergo extensive revisions -- including a new script and a new supporting cast -- before a single minute aired on its parent network abc.

life on mars, they said, was the new viva laughlin, last year's disastrous u.s. remake of the british, bafta-winning gangster musical blackpool.

instead, the new version has earned the grudging admiration and respect of its critics. it bowed in october, and pulled in just enough viewers to warrant a full season pickup. the new life on mars returns with new episodes wednesday.

and last week, it drew just what might be the ultimate accolade -- praise from the original series' co-creator, ashley pharoah, and british actor philip glenister, who played hard-living, hard-hitting det. chief inspector gene hunt in the original. that's the character played by harvey keitel in the set-in-new york version.

pharoah and glenister, appearing via satellite from london where they were promoting bbc's new life on mars sequel, ashes to ashes -- which has been updated to the early '80s and stars keeley hawes, of spooks fame -- came not to bury the u.s. remake but to praise it.

"i've seen eight episodes in all," pharoah said.

"they're very generous, very interested in what we did, the mistakes we made and the decisions we made. i'm very pleased with it, and i hope it's doing well for abc. "it feels part of the life on mars family."

asked to compare glenister with keitel, who plays hunt in the u.s. version, pharoah said, deadpan: "philip keeps his clothes on more" -- a reference to keitel's memorable appearance in abel ferrara's bad-cop classic bad lieutenant.

"no, i was lucky enough to meet harvey early on in the process," pharoah continued. "there aren't many actors in my life, apart from philip obviously, who i'm nervous about meeting. it was amazing to be with him on his home patch. the first thing he said to me was how he thought philip gave an awesome performance, and then he borrowed my phone and phoned him."

glenister recalled the moment. "he promised that he would wear the white slip-on shoes as an homage to me, which is one of the greatest compliments i've ever been paid, quite frankly," glenister said.

pharoah said the 1975 british police series the sweeney was an early influence on life on mars.

of contemporary u.s. series, pharoah says he was most struck by the wire.

"generations of writers and actors here have been taken by the wire," he said. "i watched the wire with my jaw on the floor it was so brilliant.

"there's a huge difference between the american and the british systems of making television. if you look at the two life on mars side-by-side, you see that difference. our life on mars, for good or ill, is a much denser show. it's more poetic, i think, because we knew we only had six, 12 or a maximum 18 episodes to work with. whereas abc is obviously hoping its life on mars will go 60, 70 episodes. that's the point of your television, isn't it? you can't have a guy with his head in his hands for 60 episodes."

asked if he will eventually run out of david bowie songs to adapt into tv series, pharoah laughed once more.

"they haven't started on tin machine yet," he said.
 
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