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TV Detail: Life on Mars review—series premiere on ABC

October 9, 2008  |  10:59pm
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The latest British import to hit American network TV is a cop show with a twist. In the original Life on Mars, which aired Stateside on BBC America the last two years, detective Sam Tyler is hit by a car in the year 2006 and wakes up in his beloved Manchester, U.K., in 1973, not knowing how or why he got there, whether he's traveled through time, lying in a hospital bed in coma and dreaming of the past, or just plain crazy. Like AMC's Mad Men, the show explored sexism and abuse of power, but Life on Mars was much more explicit in its judgments with a protagonist with modern-day sensibilities.

In ABC's version, Sam Tyler (Jason O'Mara) is a 2008 detective with the NYPD, transported back to 1973, where the Twin Towers stand tall over the skyline. The location and a bigger budget are among the few changes. As Tyler wanders the streets of New York, he says, "My mind can only invent so much, so I'm going to walk until I can't think up any more streets or faces or arguments. Details, there are only so many details."

But the details are endless, from the buildings, the cars, the advertisements, the fonts and the the clothes and hairstyles of the many, many extras. It's fun little trip back to a time when things like warrants and lawyers were unnecessary niceties. Just unusual enough for sci-fi geeks like me and plenty of crime-solving for the procedural fans. Plus, Harvey Keitel plays the police chief.

Back in Manchester, the show wrapped a tight storyline into two seasons. It'll be interesting to see if, like The Office, the Americanized version uses the original plot as a baseline to add its own flavor. But if it doesn't cut through the overcrowded mass of cop shows, it'll never get the chance.

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