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
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little