Although the producers aren't likely to run out of David Bowie songs, they have largely exhausted any hint of originality with this slavish sequel to "Life on Mars" -- which feels less like a continuation than a remake with an arbitrary gender switch, a la "The Next Karate Kid."
Although the producers aren’t likely to run out of David Bowie songs, they have largely exhausted any hint of originality with this slavish sequel to “Life on Mars” — which feels less like a continuation than a remake with an arbitrary gender switch, a la “The Next Karate Kid.” Mostly, “Ashes to Ashes” is an excuse to again enjoy Philip Glenister as the thuggish police DCI Gene Hunt, approximating the character Harvey Keitel plays in ABC’s U.S. version. Beyond that, “Ashes” lacks genuine spark — suffering from a slightly ironic been-there, seen-that quality.
For those who missed “Life on Mars” and ABC’s ratings-challenged adaptation, Det. Sam Tyler was hit by a car, only to wake up in 1973, uncertain whether he was in a coma or had somehow journeyed back in time. Meanwhile, he worked cases — aided by his 21st-century knowledge — under the scrutiny of the Neanderthalic Hunt, in what amounted to a cheeky spoof of ’70s copshows like “Starsky & Hutch.”
In this series, co-created by Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah, Keeley Hawes plays Alex Drake, a modern detective shot in the head in the opening minutes, catapulting her back to 1981. As a twist, she’s been looking into Tyler’s case, and finds herself assigned to the very same DCI Hunt — who thinks nothing of slamming a suspect’s head against his car — in the year not only of Princess Diana’s wedding but, closer to home, the year in which her parents were killed.
So can Alex potentially thwart her parents’ death, solve her own mystery and find a way back to her young daughter — all while investigating cases with Hunt and his crew? And can the show avoid the impatience that ultimately made the British “Mars,” clever as the concept was, feel like it limped toward the final leg of its 16-episode run?
Alex’s gender does open the door to further explore the era’s sexual politics (“You can’t give a person who gets periods that much responsibility,” a male colleague mutters), but much of that was still addressed in the first show, and Hawes’ dry performance doesn’t seriously alter the dynamics. Moreover, the surreal visual elements meant to stoke the mystery surrounding her status — including, no kidding, nightmare images of a malevolent clown — are especially tired, as if pilfered from a Stephen King miniseries.
While one can sympathize with the BBC’s desire to wring additional mileage out of the “Mars” concept — particularly since their programs generally come with an arbitrary built-in expiration date — introducing this new-cop, same-situation revival to prolong the scenario plays as forced and uninspired. What’s next, a stricken cop vaulted back to 1983, titled “Let’s Dance?”
Then again, that trip, too, would probably involve a lot of the same old steps.