Above: Everyone's favourite doppelgangers (and such sound genetic science!) 'identical cousins' - Patty & Cathy.
Alter egos, parallel universes, out of body experiences - there has been something of a recurring theme in my telly viewing over the past two weeks.
Starting with 'Drop Dead Diva' in which the 'soul' (for want of a better word) of bimbo model Deb, gets a second chance to make something of her life in the body of lawyer Jane who is on the operating table having just taken a bullet for her adulterous boss. The twist is that while shallow Deb is a toned, blonde size 8 slinking about in a body hugging sheath of a dress, Jane is a fat, virtually make-up less supposed frump who, despite an addiction to self help books, is quite intelligent and gives a damn. I was ready to be un-amused but did find it mildly entertaining. I'd probably give it a second go if it didn't clash with 'Ashes to Ashes' (see below). The 'net is full of reports about its poor ratings and imminent axing so a third chance may be out of the question.
Now 'Ashes to Ashes'* is not 'Life on Mars' II. Except that's exactly what it is of course but sans John Sim and sans the wonderful poignancy and unease that gave the hairs of the back of my neck and my tear ducts a regular work out. This time the protagonist is female, DI Alex Drake, and she goes back in time to 1982. And who does she encounter but the still delightfully un-PC Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) and his team, now based in London. It isn't 'Life On Mars', but it does get you in, not least because of the sassy and sarcastic commentary Alex (Keeley Hawes) maintains on what she assumes is a shock-induced fantasy world and then there's all the lovingly fabricated 80s popular culture references. Think I'll stick with it - which, I've just read in the Herald Guide, means sticking with 2 series and 16 episodes!
'Wire In The Blood' has been transplanted too, but not just from north to south England, it's gone stateside, to Texas to be precise (shamelessly evoking Ry Cooder's music at every opportunity). The formula had started to get a bit tired in gritty old serial killer capital of the UK, if not the world, Bradfield, and is really just a bit too wheezy and predictably gratuitous now. Robson Green is milking his Tony Hill character to get every last drop out of the franchise but at least he is still Tony Hill and it isn't a ghastly US remake a la The Office, Kath & Kim etc (Wikipedia has a list of US remakes - it is telling how many say 'cancelled after 2 episodes' or 'pilot only made' - Kirstie Alley as the Vicar of Dibley, pulease!)
'Our' Toni Collette gives a virtuoso performance as Buck, Alice and T, multiple personalities (or manifestations of dissociative identity disorder as we've all learnt to correctly call the condition) of the eponymous heroine of 'United States of Tara'. I feared this Spielberg produced series might be smugly & self consciously 'out there' but in fact it achieves a directness and believability in its dialogue and situations rare in US TV productions. It reminds me of Spielberg's early films like 'Poltergeist' where family dynamics and conversations were so authentic. I believe this is down to Diablo Cody, the screen writer, whose work I haven't seen before but will look out for in future. The support cast is all excellent especially Keir Gilchrist as Tara's knowing, gay son Marshall. He gets my award for TV quote of the season: "I think I know my literary boners" asserting his interpretation of an E M Forster (I think) novel to his English teacher in class.
The silliest ever showcase for comedy actors to show off and explore alternate versions of themselves remains 'Red Dwarf'. I caught one of the 'Ace Rimmer' episodes last night where Chris Barrie gets to be marginally attractive (if also a bit of a 'smug git') as an Indiana Jones type hero for a few scenes. This classic sci-fi spoof has explored the concept of parallel universes and different realities in many episodes perhaps most strikingly in 'Parallel Universe' where the crew meet alternate versions of themselves: the analogues of Lister, Rimmer and Holly are female and they inevitably hook up with their counterparts, while the Cat is revolted by his alternate, a scruffy dog lacking all grace and finesse.
My absolute favourite out of the body, walk a mile in my (high heeled) shoes, psyche swapping, gender bending TV comedy drama though has to be 'Boy Meets Girl'. In this ITV series a man's and woman 's identities get transposed by a freak lightning strike. I just love it! Rachael Stirling deserves a BAFTA or three for a knockout performance as Veronica Burton, a yuppy fashion journalist suddenly 'inhabited' by morose, breakfast cereal addicted, conspiracy theorist, Danny Reed. Martin Freeman (already doing a lovely job of voicing Danny's thoughts trapped inside Veronica) will no doubt get to flex his acting muscles a bit more in coming episodes. I can't wait!
*Footnote: Having been an incredibly daggy teen I didn't know that 'Ashes to Ashes', like 'Life on Mars', takes its title (and its recurrent clown figure imagery) from a David Bowie song & video clip. I only learned as much on this week's 'Spicks & Specks'! A spooky Mulder coincidence or a triumph of cross promotion?