Thursday, 16 April 2009

The Wild West's finest lawman: Gene Hunt

With the long-awaited return of British tv series Ashes to Ashes imminent, it's a good time to remember the greatest modern Wild West sheriff Gene Hunt. And by Gene Hunt I mean the character portrayed by Philip Glenister in the UK tv series Life on Mars and most definitely not Harvey Keitel in the just ended (in poor fashion IMO) US remake of the same title.

Admittedly Gene Hunt is a cop in 1970s Manchester, but he is still at heart a Wild West sheriff. In fact it's pleasing to note that Philip Glenister also sees him as a sheriff, so that's what he is. Aside of course from being an overweight, over-the-hill, nicotine-stained, borderline-alcoholic homophobe with a superiority complex and an unhealthy obsession with male bonding.

Gene shows his love of westerns with the posters on his office wall of the Man with no name films along with Gary Cooper in High Noon. When the lads are playing football in the office he's more concerned that they might dirty Gary Cooper than that they're playing football in the office. But aside from a clear interest in westerns he acts like a sheriff too.

1970s Manchester is a frontier town where everyone trusts their lawman and he knows everyone. If a crime is committed, he doesn't waste time on pointless activities like detection, as he knows who did it. It was the bad guys. It's just a matter of strapping on a gun, racing round to the bad guys' hideout then ordering them to give up as they're surrounded by armed bastards. Then after a punch up all that's left to be done is to beat a confession out of them in the cells before moseying on down to the saloon to drink his body weight in whiskey. It was a simpler time.

Gene's finest western moment for me comes in episode 8 of season 1. Here the escalating body count doesn't concern him as much as that the gangsters have been polluting the glorious genre of the American Western by making mucky versions of his favourite films, including Once Upon a Time in her Vest.

Sadly, when the inevitable spin-off sequel Ashes to Ashes came along the Gene Genie is no longer a sheriff. The times, the need to respect a criminal's rights as much as the victim's, and Keeley Hawes's perm have worn him down and he can no longer stitch up whoever he fancies for the crime. But he still wears the cowboy boots and he also got in episode 3 to wear a poncho and dress up as Clint Eastwood.

For season 2 of Ashes to Ashes we have been promised a return to the darker side of Gene that was shown in Life on Mars. So here's hoping that when the Gene Genie returns, he does so in top form and he remembers he's a sheriff again.

Youtube seems to have taken a lot of Gene Hunt clips and classic one-liners away but here's a couple of good moments. Firstly Gene's legendary non-pc speech where he manages to insult every minority group on the planet in about ten seconds. And then from Ashes to Ashes, his classic meeting with Lord Scarman explaining where it all went wrong.



How did the American version end? I must say I loved the UK life on mars but couldn't get on with Ashes to Ashes.

I.J. Parnham said...

Don't read on, folks, if you don't want to know or if you love the British original. Sam Tyler wakes up to discover it has all been a dream. He's really an astronaut on a mission to Mars and he's been playing a virtual reality computer game designed to keep his mind occupied on the long journey while he's in stasis. He opted to to play a game in which he's a 21st century cop, but the programming went awry and put him in the 1970s.

He awakes when they reach Mars. Gene is another astronaut and is his dad. Annie is the mission controller and the mission is to search for life with a specific mission of searching for traces of old genes - They are looking for Life on Mars and are on a gene hunt. Geddit? Clever, eh? Oh, I can't go on, It's just too tragic for words!


For a moment I thought you were kidding there - I'm not sure how I feel about that.


The more I think about it although the UK Life on Mars is far better than the two episodes of the US one I've seen I actually think the US ending is better and at least makes sense. The UK one where Sam killed himself to go back when he was in a coma so it was all imaginery never made sense to me. But Life on Mars - mission to mars - looking for signs of life, Genes etc. I actually think that makes more sense.

I.J. Parnham said...

LOMUK split viewers between those who hated the ending and those who loved it, and LOMUS did the same. Which is fine! I liked the UK one and hate the US one for exactly the same reason that you like the US one - it makes sense. Both endings rely on the big no-no ending of 'it was only a dream'. To make that type of ending work takes a lot of effort and in that the US version got a bum deal when the show was cancelled before its time so there was little in the way of build up. But with it making sense, that's sort of it. You think, that makes sense, then move on and forget about it. There's no emotional resonance 'n all that.

With the UK one there is some emotion involved. Sam lived in a monotone present day, created a dream world that was more organic and where he felt alive, so he killed himself to return to it. That might not make sense, but it's a powerful idea that lives on, and it's capable of other interpretations, which means people will think about it for years to come and make their own sense out of it.


Yep Ian - to each his own. The thing with the UK ending that gets me is that when sam was back in Gene Hunt world he wasn't dead, but in a coma. So killing himself would not take him back. But as you say there are those that loved the ending. Me I prefer the UK show but think the US ending rocks.

tottenhamboy said...

Just a minor point... I am a freemason, and was reading your comments on the Episode 2 of the current series which I haven't seen yet. Why is it.. no matter what the plot is on these shows... I noted your comment 'turning to the dark side'... hmmm. I remember Midsomer Murders did a mason special too... they always portray masonry in a bad light. So many preconceptions which continue to dazzle even the most intelligent of writers and authors. Just a point.. that is all.

I.J. Parnham said...

I agree that it is amusing and bemusing the way masons are presented in otherwise good shows. I think Morse did it too.

On the other hand I don't tend to get too uptight about it. To me it's less about preconceptions than drama stereotyping. Scientists wear white coats, lawyers are all bent, coppers drive round in fast cars solving crimes... now authenticity compared to that would be a bit dull. I mean there probably aren't many stories you can do with charitable masons doing good in the community!