Life On Mars was originally broadcast on the BBC and shown in America on BBA America. I watched the original show religiously. It lasted two seasons and had a definite plot arc. I loved the series, but was unhappy with the final episode. If you’re interested to find out why you can search and find my thoughts on the final episode.
I tell you that because you have to know about my history with the show. I will try not to write too much about how the ABC version is similar or dissimilar from the original, but it will doubtlessly influence my reviews.
The show opens in present day New York City. Homicide Detective Sam Tyler (Jason O’Mara) and his Partner Maya (Lisa Bonet) are racing with alarms blaring to a crime scene where a possible serial killer is held up. why discussing bringing Sam to see Maya’s folks. Yep, they’re dating, and we’re to believe it’s serious.
While the police are in the process of breaking down the suspect’s door, the suspect comes back with groceries. When he starts to run, Sam Tyler chases him down and arrests him. Are you paying attention?
Colin Reems, aka the suspect, is presented with evidence linking him to the crimes (photos, fibers under the victim’s fingernails, etc). Alas, the defense lawyer has video of Colin playing Craps at a casino all night long. So the police must have the wrong man.
When Colin is released, Maya remains suspicious decides to start surveillance of the suspect on her own. Meanwhile back at the station it’s revealed that Colin has a twin brother and it’s him playing in the casino. Oops.
Maya’s not answering her cell phone, so Sam Tyler races down to her last known location and discovers a her jacket with blood on it, but no Maya to be found.
Sam takes off in his Jeep SUV heading back to Colin’s apartment. With David Bowie’s “Life On Mars” playing on his iPod, Sam gets out, but the realizes he forgot his police radio in the SUV, when he turns around to head back to the apartment he is struck by a car and thrown to the ground.
And we’re in…
1973. I turned four that year so most of my memories are of the later parts of the decade. Your nostalgia mileage may vary, but I expect to experience a lot of it.
Actually Sam hasn’t realized the time change yet. He just knows he’s someplace else. There’s a sign in the back ground advertising the construction of the “Cataldo House”, Colin’s apartment. David Bowie’s “Life On Mars” plays on an 8 track cassette in a Dodge Charger.
While Sam tries to figure out what’s going on a police officer approaches and tells him he can’t park his car there. Sam’s confused, but his name is on the registration, so it must be his. That’s when he looks up and notices, in a dramatic reveal, the twin towers of the World Trade Center looming over Manhattan Island. Already the tone is being set for a slightly surreal series.
Sam’s having a pretty surreal day himself as he wanders the streets of 1973 New York. Eventually he finds his way back to his precinct, which is predictably old school police department. Cassette recorders, phones, smoke in the air, and not a laptop or iPhone in sight.
Unsure if this is some sort of practical joke, Sam asks what happened to his desk, his chair, and his computer. Which earns him the nerdy rejoinder, “Like HAL in 2001?” from inexperienced detective Chris Skelton
Apparently everyone else thinks Detective Sam Tyler is a transfer from Hyde. His introduction to lieutenant Gene Hunt is, how should we say, a bit rough. Hunt introduces him to the Chinese Year Of The Fist and tells Tyler that it’s his kingdom and he’s in charge.
While Sam Tyler tries to absorb his new reality, he hears an operating room in the background and someone charging paddles of a heart defibulator. This causes him to cry out in pain, which earns him a trip to the precinct’s nurse.
Well, actually she’s a member of the Bureau of Policewoman, one Annie (Gretchen Mol) Norris. Detective Tyler remarks to Annie that he was 4 in 1973 (he me too!). He confesses his belief that he is traveling through time. She’s skeptical preferring to believe he’s suffering the effects of being hit by a car.
Homicide lieutenant Gene Hunt (Harvey Keitel) breaks up their little chat and introduces Detective Tyler to the details of a case that sounds very similar to the circumstances surrounding Maya’s disappearance back in 2008. Tyler wonders if that’s why he’s ‘here’.
Down in the morgue Tyler learns that the ways of 1973 police work are a little out of date compared to what he’s used to. Stone age really. Two weeks to get a finger print match, for instance. While he’s still not convinced this isn’t some bad joke, Tyler gets busy learning what he can about the body… such as a sample of fibers in the victim’s fingernails, just like he found in Colin’s victim earlier.
Sam starts to try and connect the dots between the case in 2008 and 1973 and confuses his fellow officers, So Gene Hunt sends him off to his new apartment with Annie as an escort. I like the Lava lamp on the counter. Nice touch.
Sam tries to convince Annie that he’s either a time traveler, a lunatic, or he’s in a coma in 2008 and she’s an illusion (which doesn’t sit too well with her). She tells him the auto accident is giving him paranoid delusions and let’s him feel her heart beating in her chest to prove she’s real.
Later Sam is lightly dozing in his chair with the TV on when the character on screen starts discussing his medical case. Eventually sticking a flashlight into the screen as if it were Sam’s eye. Meanwhile Sam is furiously trying to wake himself up in 2008 or otherwise communicate. But to no avail.
That’s a lot to absorb and we’re only halfway through the show.
A friend of the 1973 victim, Susie Tripper, is interogated by Gene Hunt and Sam Tyler. Sam’s trying the good cop routine, but Gene jumps right to the bad cop and forces Sam to leave while he pulls info out of Susie’s girlfriend.
Later Sam tries to order a diet coke at a bar but switches to a double-scotch when the Barkeep reminds him that their ain’t no such animal as diet soda in 1973 (didn’t they have Tab?).
After convincing Gene Hunt that he can find the killer, Detective Tyler tries to teach the detective’s back at the station a little psychological profiling. Using Annie to help build the profile of the serial killer. But Gene Hunt is having none of it.
So Sam tries to find his way back to Maya and 2008 by finding the key to his time travel along the Yellow Brick Road. First stop, a record store where they find that the material under the victim’s nails was very likely sound proofing material like they use in the demo booth at the record shop. Now that is a coincidence.
They bring in the 1973 version of Colin Reems’ grandmother, who as it turns out filed a complaint a few months ago. Her a neighbor, Willie Kramer, was always playing loud music, but she’s happy now since she can’t hear a thing now. Hunt and Tyler look at each other and race off to Kramer’s apartment.
They find Susie’s friend Denise (?) in Kramer’s sound proofed apartment and, just like in the opening scene, Kramer comes home with groceries in hand. Tyler takes off in foot pursuit. But this time he’s ambushed by Kramer and loses his gun to Kramer who starts talking about how killing Sam Tyler is the only way back, way back home. The delay is enough to give the other detectives time to rescue Tyler and arrest Willie Kramer.
As Kramer is driven away by the police he waves at two young redhead twins, one of whom grows up to be Colin Reems 35 years later. Tyler notices his future suspect and makes the link that Colin’s idolization of Kramer means he will grow up a serial killer.
Later that night Sam Tyler approaches young Colin and confronts him about his idolization of Kramer hoping to dissuade him and set him on the straight and narrow path while debating if killing Colin now would save Maya later. Speaking of Maya her voice comes of the radio telling Tyler she’s safe and to come back home. But Tyler doesn’t know how to come home. Tyler spares young Colin’s life, but is disappointed that he’s still in 1973.
Well, this episode was pretty true to the original BBC series (just transported to NYC) down to much of the dialogue. The communication between era’s was played down just a bit, but the mystery of why and how Sam Tyler ended up in 1973 remains.
I have to say I was pretty impressed by the line up of actors in this episode. You got introduced to all the major players right away. But it was just a brief introduction, hopefully there’s more meat later. Even though I’ve watched the show in it’s previous incarnation, I’ll be watching it again. Both to see how true it is to the original story, but also to see how it differs.
So what did you think? Chime in below.