Super Bowl Live, BBC1
Life on Mars USA, FX

The Super Bowl holds a fascination for British viewers, even if most of us haven't a clue what's going on

Staying up to watch the Super Bowl from the UK is like eating Hershey chocolate from the US: there's a trace of what makes the stuff good, but the memory only makes you pine for the real thing.

I'm no hardline sports fan, but the Super Bowl is more than sport: it's a pop-cultural event. (And there are plenty like me: this year's game surpassed the finale of M*A*S*H to become the most-watched American TV show of all time.) Hence I have an informal agreement with a few equally under-athletic friends to find a widescreen set on which to see it each year, even if it means a miserable time at work the next morning.

Our imitation of Stateside sports fandom remains a sorry one. The La-Z-Boys are more likely Ikea sofas. The hot-dog rolls lack the greasy sheen of an American bun. The nachos aren't big enough; the melted cheese isn't processed enough; the beer isn't weak enough. While the BBC couldn't entirely conceal the in-game advertising – for the "Doritos Half-Time Analysis" or the "Intel Post-Game Show" – Limey audiences are denied the blockbuster commercials that give Americans something to talk about in the interminable pauses between plays.

So while the ads rolled on CBS, the BBC was saddled with stale banter from what was obviously the Match of the Day studio, decorated with a single American football helmet in hope of disguising it. Sitting on the pundits' couch in place of Alan Hansen was Alex Smith, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and a man who manifestly ought not to be in shirtsleeves, gamely re-explaining the rules of his sport to host Jake Humphrey.

Teams are not "teams" in the US; they're "franchises". The Indianapolis Colts, favourites to win Sunday's Super Bowl XLIV, are originally from Baltimore, but were bought and shuffled westward by some billionaire owner or other. Which would have been one good reason to support their opposition, if we hadn't already possessed a handful more: like the fact that the Saints are from New Orleans, and have triumphed over the adversity of Katrina; or that they'd never been to the Super Bowl before, and were thus the underdogs.

My friends and I spent the first hour or so of the game – which lasted four hours – trying to remember the rules without letting on that we'd all forgotten them since last year. "So, how many quarters are there?" somebody whispered. The Who played at half time, and we were at least qualified to play air guitar in time with "Baba O'Riley". But by the end we'd given up on understanding much of what was happening on the field, and resorted to yelling quotes from Jerry Maguire and Any Given Sunday.

American football is strategic and mechanical, made up not of fluid play but of pre-ordained moves that are rarely disrupted by circumstance. Complex thought is required only of the coach and his quarterback; everyone else is meticulously positioned meat. Americans seem less obsessed by the plays than by the statistics to which each tiny detail of the game contributes, which is why the screen forever flashes with captions like "First onside kick inside third quarter during Super Bowl" and the post-match analysis might note that "Brees [the Saints quarterback] was 32 of 39 overall for 288 yards, with two touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 114.5 QB rating".

By the time the game ended at 3am GMT, there had been approximately 10 seconds of bona fide footballing excitement for the uninitiated viewer, when Saints cornerback Tracy Porter intercepted a pass, disappeared through a gap in the defence and sprinted 74 yards to score the game's final, winning touchdown. As for the ads, which I sought out the following day on YouTube, one of them was for an evangelical anti-abortion organisation, and another was an in-joke involving US talk-show hosts Jay Leno and David Letterman. Just like the rest of the night's action, they'd leave most British viewers baffled.

Speaking of transatlantic mis-translations, I always thought Life on Mars a tad overrated, but the series (which ended in the UK in 2007) had the conviction to maintain its ambiguity to the end. We never learnt conclusively why Sam Tyler woke up in 1973 having his balls busted by Gene Hunt. Whoever rewrote the finale for its US incarnation, screened last week on FX, had no such faith in mystery. Tyler awoke in a spaceship, in 2035, on his way to the red planet; I kid you not. The software designed to keep his brain active while in stasis had malfunctioned, leaving his thoughts stranded in the Seventies. His mission was a "gene hunt" to find – you guessed it – life on Mars.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece