Ashes to Ashes

By Paul F. Montgomery
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 2 | Posted Mar. 17, 2009

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Saturdays, 9pm. BBC America

I’ve never been shot—not fatally, anyway. Neither have you. So who’s to say that a bullet to the brain doesn’t result in an extended trip back to 1981? Such is the fate of detective and police psychologist Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes, The Bank Job) in Ashes to Ashes, the latest import to BBC America. The series is something of a sequel to the original Life on Mars, whose American remake both debuted and tanked this season on ABC.

Executed by a rambling lunatic in the present day, Alex wakes up on a yacht in the 1980s, seemingly in a Duran Duran video. Unfortunately for Alex, the party is being raided by the London Metropolitan police led by Detective Inspector Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister), last seen in the early ’70s world of Life on Mars. The brash, stocky Inspector Hunt steals the show in his blood-red Audi Quattro.

The recreated 1981 of Ashes feels authentic (maybe even more so than in Freaks and Geeks), though most UK productions don’t tend to look fresher than 1981 anyway. But it’s all there: the shades, the ’staches, the stretched-out sweaters. This isn’t simply a throwback, though.

It turns out Alex has fallen into the role of a recently transferred detective, working with Hunt and his team. So in addition to her own metaphysical mystery (Is she dead? Hallucinating? Is there a way out?), she’s also embroiled in an ongoing drug war, Miami Vice-style.

The series also tackles that perennial time travel conundrum: “Can I meddle with the past without blowing anything up?” It’s a tempting proposition for Alex, as the date of her parents’ death draws near.

This dark wonderland wouldn’t be complete without the presence of an ominous white rabbit. In this case, it’s a creepy stalker clown (think Bowie in his own “Ashes to Ashes” phase). It’s a heady time warp story, often cold and harrowing (repeat: stalker clown), but the tongue-in-cheek period-setting levels it out.

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1. Dave Carr said... on Mar 17, 2009 at 08:39PM

“Those Brits really know how to stagger a telvision drama. Just when things get stale (or maybe just when the audience realizes they wants more, the show ends (The Office) or gets a premise face lift. Maybe if Amercan approach was similliar, we'd get something more than the LAW AND ORDER/CSI/CLOSER Geust Actor/Actress of the week syndrome

Excellent review. I'll check it out”

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2. Caroline said... on Mar 18, 2009 at 08:15AM

“My God, what have they done to Keeley Hawes' hair?

I don't know whether to be impressed or horrified.”


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