October 6, 2008

Series Has a Challenge in Staying Grounded


By Judith S. Gillies

The Washington Post

Detective Sam Tyler (Jason O'Mara) is hit by a car while chasing a bad guy in New York. When he regains consciousness, he's more than baffled to find himself as a member of the NYPD - in 1973.

That's the premise for "Life on Mars," which premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. on ABC.

The series has a top-notch cast, including Tyler's tough boss (Harvey Keitel), a rough co-worker (Michael Imperioli) and a woman (Gretchen Mol) striving to overcome sexism and become a full- fledged cop. Tyler wants to get back to 2008 and his girlfriend (Lisa Bonet) .

ABC's only new scripted show this fall is a version of a popular British series, but it has been stymied by stops and starts for almost two years.

Veteran television producer David E. Kelley shot the pilot for ABC in Los Angeles last summer, but network executives thought it didn't hew closely enough to the original BBC show.

After Kelley left the project , ABC put "Life on Mars" in the hands of Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec and Scott Rosenberg, creators of the short-lived "October Road." They remade the series in New York with a totally new cast, save O'Mara .

"Life on Mars" debuts after "Grey's Anatomy," an enviable slot that speaks to ABC's high hopes for the show . It wll be opposite CBS' new "Eleventh Hour" and NBC's "ER."

The hourlong drama is an interesting take on how things were done in the 1970s - complete with period costumes, music and culture. The time layer adds an intriguing element to what otherwise would be just a snapshot of low-tech (or no-tech) police work.

O'Mara said the key is the series "doesn't play out like science fiction, even though the premise is sort of mind-blowing. It asks substantial human questions."

Tyler hears dispatches from 2008 over the radio, but he doesn't travel back and forth in time. And while he seeks out characters from his past, the show does not explore the future impact of those meetings.

"The spirit of 'Life on Mars' is not to be fussing too much about questions of the time-space continuum," Appelbaum said. "It's about following this character's emotional journey."

However, it may be hard to get past the confusion of how Tyler is in 1973 (which he guesses is because he's insane, in a coma or really has traveled in time). And the unvarnished look at no-holds- barred police procedures won't make viewers nostalgic.

It will be a challenge to keep this series down to Earth.

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.


"Life on Mars" airs at 10 p.m. Thursdays on ABC.

on tv

"Life on Mars" airs at 10 p.m. Thursdays on ABC.

Originally published by BY JUDITH S. GILLIES.

(c) 2008 Virginian - Pilot. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.