Saturday, 28 February 2009

LIFE ON MARS (US) 1.11 - "Home Is Where You Hang Your Holster"

Saturday, 28 February 2009

"It don't matter what you do, it don't matter what happens. You'll always be
No-Nuts Norris. The one that don't belong. The novelty. The party favour."
-- Ray (Michael Imperioli)

Spoilers. I still don't feel like there's a unifying idea tying LOM:US together, but this episode presented itself as a significant piece of the jigsaw puzzle. So, will it tally with previous "clues" from earlier stories (the "hobo angel" that spoke to Sam in church, Project Aries from a few weeks ago), or is this just a way to keep leading its audience around by the nose?

"Home Is Where You Hang Your Holster" is steeped in Wizard Of Oz references, primarily a gross overuse of the song "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" (a better arrangement of which beautifully haunted the UK original's finale.) The teaser is one of LOM:US's most compelling, though -- as Sam (Jason O'Mara) and Gene (Harvey Keitel) arrest a politician called Bobby Prince (Armand Schultz) after catching him with a prostitute. Prince then confides to Sam that he's from the year 2009, and has a handful of pop-culture knowledge to prove his story (the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Red Sox winning the World Series twice, the first black US President.) Unfortunately, as Sam convinced he's met a fellow time-traveller who may be able to help him, Bobby is shot dead by an unseen gunman inside the police department -- his dying words to Sam being that he'd found a way home, hence his murder.

Gene orders a lockdown of the whole building so they can find the shooter, trapping a ragtag assortment of Cluedo-esque prime suspects inside: a Chinese delivery man (Eric Chan), a pimp (Hector Lincoln), a bride (Annie Meisels), a groom (René Ifrah), Bobby's prostitute Misty (Quisha Saunders), etc. Gene's daughter Maria (Maggie Siff) also finds herself locked in, which makes Sam uncomfortable because he suspects Gene has discovered Maggie was his filing room conquest.

It's a slight plot, but allows for more characterization and fun mytharc stuff than usual. In a strong subplot, Ray (Michael Imperioli) and Annie (Gretchen Mol) investigate Prince's activities in the wider world, and it gives writer Meredith Averill plenty of opportunities to hammer the point that Ray (often written as a likeable grouch) is a truly misogynist caveman. We meet his under-the-thumb wife Denise (Laura Benanti) -- whose passion for sewing her husband can't understand, and who daren't cut her long hair short because of his reaction -- but the truly startling moments arrive at the end, when Annie proves her worth as a detective, and even saves Ray's life, but finds that her actions only infuriate Ray even more, leading to a very uncomfortable private confrontation. Imperioli and Mol are a great deal more interesting than O'Mara and Keitel at times, so putting them together really sparkled.

Disparaging to the leads as that was, the Gene/Sam scenes actually seemed to click here much nicer, with their mutual mixed feelings approaching the highs of the Glenister/Simm chemistry in the BBC series, briefly. The last scene, with Sam asking to be sent back to Hyde, was particularly amusing and closer to how the Keitel/O'Mara partnership should work. It was also nice to get the feeling that Gene wasn't too upset about discovering Sam's had sex with his daughter (he's clearly decent husband material), but more concerned about his estrangement from his daughter in general. This episode ends Maria's storyline, which is probably a wise move, but I still feel there was more to achieve, as the Sam/Gene/Maria dance lent LOM:US a dynamic that was actually entertaining to watch unspool.

What stopped "Home Is Where You Hang Your Holster" securing a higher rating was the disappointing way everything played out, considering the inciting start. The prospect of getting big answers with the arrival of another time-traveller (who has a similar chalkboard of theories in his apartment) only led to more of LOM's surreal tropes (people talking candidly only to Sam's ears, buzzing TV sets, ringing phones) and the episode's one significant reveal (an English gent with a White Rabbit walking cane, called "The Wizard" in the credits) felt a bit too on-the-nose.

18 February 2009
ABC, 10/9c

Writer: Meredith Averill
Director: David M. Barrett

Cast: Jason O'Mara (Sam), Harvey Keitel (Gene), Michael Imperioli (Ray), Jonathan Murphy (Chris), Gretchen Mol (Annie), Gretchen Mol (Annie), John Cenatiempo (Sizable Ted), Maggie Siff (Maria Belanger), René Ifrah (The Groom), Eric Chan (Chinese Delivery Man), Hector Lincoln (The Pimp), Jason Kravits (Jerry), Laura Esterman (Sue Moyer), Malachy McCourt (The Wizard), Sharon Puterman (Clerk), Dominick Mancino (Detective #1), Annie Meisels (The Bride), Quisha Saunders (Misty/Elena Kastin), Laura Benanti (Denise Carling), Corey Stoll (Detective Russell Ventura) & Armand Schultz (Councilman Bobby Prince)