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(photo credit: courtesy)
Fire up the Quatro, folks - Gene Hunt is back.
Fans of the UK series Life on Mars got a new lease on life last week with the local debut of the follow-up, Ashes to Ashes. This marks the return of one of our favorite characters, Chief Inspector Gene Hunt, a misogynist, motor mouth and hurricane of a man who's one of the most entertaining figures to hit our shores.
The previous series - which has since been remade into an American version - focused on Sam Tyler, a detective brought back in time after an accident to 1973. This time around, the focus is a lady in distress.
Policewoman Alex Drake specializes in psychology and lives quietly with her daughter Molly, in London. One day she's plunged into a hostage situation with a man who insists he knows her.
"I knew you as a little girl, you've got your mother's eyes, Alex," he says, grabbing her daughter and fleeing before she can stop him. Molly's released, and Alex sends her home with her godmother to celebrate her birthday, promising to catch up later. "It's a hard, screwed-up world, y'know. But if you trust me, I can try to help you get through it," she tells Molly.
But when Alex gets into her car, the gunman's waiting in the backseat. Taken to a deserted dock, she hears him sing a familiar song, and when he calls someone to tell them he's got her, he adds: "I've got a piece of your past standing in front of meâ€¦I'm gonna tell her the truth, why her parents died." Trying to get into his head, she attempts to reason with him, but he'll have none of it and shoots her dead.
Or so we think.
As in the previous series there is plenty of stop-action and the bullet is suspended in mid-air as it heads for Alex. In that split second, she sees visions of a clown, her parents, her daughter, then wakes up - dressed like a prostitute aboard the Lady Di, where a party's going on.
It's 1981, the year her parents were killed, and Alex, like Sam before her, is stuck in the past, unable to get back but constantly hearing echoes of Molly and her real world.
She's in police limbo.
Fortunately, she's in good hands. Within moments of being taken hostage again, this time by a drug dealer. She's rescued by Hunt, who zooms to the scene along with Ray and Chris, the two other zany regulars from the first series, in an orange Audi Quatro, replacing the Coronet used in the previous series.
His gray boots emerging from the car, Hunt rises up Eastwood style and tells the bad guy: "Today, my friend, your diary entry will read: Took a prossie hostage and was shot by three armed bastards!"
It's the same wonderful Gene, thank God, played to perfection by Philip Glenister, who's written the usual punchy lines. Commenting on the skirt Alex is found wearing, he remarks, "If that skirt was hitched any higher, I could see what you had for breakfast."
Searching for an explanation as to why the man who shot her in real life is now a central figure in a current drug case, Alex takes a look at Gene's computer. "There's nothing on this hard drive but the time and date," she says. "PONG! I've got Pong!" yells Gene.
There are also all the cultural trappings of the '80s presented throughout, including Tab and a Sony Walkman, making for a great trip down memory lane.
Alex is determined that arresting Arthur Layton, the man who shot her in the future and is now a suspect in the drug ring she and Gene are investigating, will send her back home. But when the arrest is made, she's still stuck in the past.
Like Sam, whose story and suicide she's studied, Alex tries to get information from her television. But all she can hear is a voice telling her she'll never make it back to any of her daughter's parties. Confused but determined, she vows, "I am not going to die - I am coming back to you, Molly."
Keeley Hawes (Spooks) is very convincing as Alex, and there's only been a little tinkering with the original series, London replacing Manchester. Otherwise, the brilliant tension between past and present, the great writing, music and the fabulous performances are all back. Plans are already afoot for a second season, so viewers should buckle up for further rides with Gene Hunt in this superbly entertaining continuation of an intriguing idea.
Ashes to Ashes airs on HOT Channel 3 Saturday nights at 11:30 p.m.