My latest TV discovery is Life On Mars. Of course, like almost everything else I’m watching these days, it’s on Thursday night. Life On Mars is based on a BBC show; I tried to watch the original version on BBC America, but I never could remember when it came on… The premise of the show is deceptively simple: New York City detective Sam Tyler is hit by a car while pursuing a suspect and wakes up in 1973. There, he adjust to attitudes, cultures, and law enforcement techniques that seem nearly foreign to a man from 2008.
The early 1970’s is lovingly and painstakingly recreated on the show. The music is awesome, the costumes appear authentic, and the visuals have that earthy, sort of burnt-orange-filtered look that all our pictures from the same period seem to have. I have to admit, the World Trade Center was a jarring sight for me as much as it is for Sam Tyler when he first sees it in 1973 on the show… The writing is crisp and clever, with enough humor injected amongst the bleakness of some of the situations, and the acting is top-drawer stuff. Jason O’Mara presents a bemused and conflicted angst in Sam Tyler, and Harvey Keitel is amazing as Tyler’s loose cannon of a boss…in fact, the show is worth watching for Keitel alone.
The show’s central mystery is obviously trying to figure out why Sam Tyler was transported back 35 years. He puts forth several theories: paranormal activity, alien abduction, a coma, etc. For what it’s worth, my money’s on the coma theory, due to several things Tyler has seen in 1973. I feel like this conceit will add layers to the show as it goes on, and it elevates the show above what could be a simple retro procedural.
Hopefully, Life On Mars will gain some traction and be in for the long haul. Check it out on Thursdays at 10:00 on ABC. I think you can even see the first two episodes on ABC’s website.