Life On Mars

Police dramas and police mysteries are nothing new to television -- unless the mystery is what's going on with the police! The very British series Life on Mars defies easy classification with its protagonist's mysterious situation.

In 2006, detective Sam Tyler (John Simm) is on a case when he's hit by a car (as David Bowie's "Life on Mars" plays in the background). When Sam wakes up, he's all better, wearing a leather jacket -- and in 1973. He has a life there -- car, apartment, history -- and a new job: the new Detective Inspector for a local police precinct. His boss Gene (Philip Glenister) is an old-style policeman who's not averse to beating up or framing suspects to get the "right" thing done. His friend Annie (Liz White) is the attractive friend who's Sam only confidante as to where he came from.

But what's happened to Sam? Sometimes signals seem to leak in from 2006: voices of relatives, people speaking about Sam as if he's in a coma. A creepy little girl shows up from time to time, offering cryptic clues. And at the start of the second and final season, Sam is getting messages claiming that "they" are working on bringing him home. In the meantime, Sam doesn't know if he's in a coma, insane, or a time traveler -- but he keeps trying to do the right thing, in the hopes that it'll bring him home.

Life on Mars is a very clever show. There are plenty of anachronisms uttered by Sam, but there's also a sense of desperation as he tries to figure out what's happening to him and how to get back. Many of the situations in the past parallel what's happened to Sam in the present, and John Simm makes Sam a rich character: a decent guy trying to survive and figure things out in a world that may not exist. Most of the other characters are pretty one-dimensional (except for Gene, a brutal flawed man who still believes he's doing good) and exist to support Sam's plight. And with Life on Mars wrapping up after only two seasons, the show resists becoming too gimmicky or wearing out its novelty -- a lesson the people behind Lost should take to heart.

Overall grade: A-

Reviewed by James Lynch

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