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Networks Remaking Shows From Across the Pond

October 7, 2008

By Christopher Lawrence

Forget the housing meltdown, the crisis on Wall Street and the fact that banks are failing faster than Hugh Hefner’s relationships. The surest sign America is in trouble? Even our TV shows are being outsourced.

A quarter of the fall season’s new series are remakes of foreign shows, and two of the British ones – “Life on Mars” (KTNV-TV, Channel 13) and “Eleventh Hour” (KLAS-TV, Channel 8) – face off this week at 10 p.m. Thursday.

But that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

The producers of “Life on Mars” – in which Sam Tyler (Jason O’Mara), a modern NYPD detective, is hit by a car and wakes up in the same job in 1973 – talk about the original series in reverential tones, and their star isn’t far behind.

“I didn’t actually think in a million years that I would be the guy playing the role,” the Dublin-born O’Mara says, “but I was already a fan of it. … And I love the way they told their stories in an edgy, and it seemed like a very fresh, new way.”

Meanwhile, “Eleventh Hour” – which follows the work of Dr. Jacob Hood (Rufus Sewell), a special science adviser to the FBI – comes from writers and a star who were unfamiliar with the British version until they were hired.

And while ABC’s “Life on Mars” is daringly original – or at least as original as a remake can be – “Eleventh Hour” is yet another in CBS’ seemingly never-ending stable of procedural mysteries. (At this point, the network could make a smash hit out of a couple of attractive people trying to solve the daily Jumble.)

Despite its title, “Life on Mars” isn’t set in outer space. The series takes its name from the David Bowie song Tyler was listening to when he was run over, and it serves as a metaphor for his fish- out-of-water status.

As the series develops, Tyler will try to determine whether he’s in a coma, dead, crazy, one of eight or nine other possibilities, or if he’s actually in 1973. He’ll also be searching for a way out of all that polyester. And he’ll try to do his job while surrounded by ancient methods, from fingerprint results that take weeks to colleagues who trample suspects’ rights beneath their zippered ankle boots.

“Life on Mars” boasts a stellar cast, including Harvey Keitel, Gretchen Mol and Michael Imperioli, who’s buried beneath the kind of hair, mustache and sideburns that make you hope he gets to leave them in the makeup trailer every night.

Thursday’s premiere alone, in addition to the Bowie song, includes music from the Rolling Stones and The Who, as well as what is likely the first chase scene ever set to Sweet’s “Little Willy.”

And supervising the whole thing are writer-producers Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec, who worked together on “Alias,” which either means they have the experience to make this crazy idea work, or that it all will fall apart in a convoluted mess sometime around season three.

After the spectacular flameout of last season’s remake “Viva Laughlin,” I’m surprised CBS would even let an English muffin on its airwaves, let alone another English drama. But “Eleventh Hour,” which ran for all of four episodes in the U.K., is a much more seamless fit with the network’s nine other investigative series.

As he sets out to find the culprits behind scientific abuses – Thursday’s premiere focuses on the hunt for a doctor who’s close to perfecting human cloning – Dr. Hood’s world is one of panic buttons, cover names and constant guarding. He has his very own FBI protection officer in Rachel Young (Marley Shelton), because his discoveries have been known to anger powerful people. Or powerful corporations. Or something like that. The setup isn’t very clear.

Also not very clear is just how endangered Hood is. One minute, Young is bringing a stranger to the ground because he was approaching Hood too quickly; the next, she’s retiring to a hotel room somewhere down the hall from him.

And “Eleventh Hour’s” second episode, which finds Hood investigating the heart-attack deaths of three children in the same small town, is a fairly standard whodunit that seems beneath his pay grade.

Still, Sewell, a British transplant like his show, makes for an appealing lead. And while most of his charisma is trapped inside the glum Hood, he lets a little personality shine through in his interactions with Shelton’s icy agent. Their relationship is the show’s one true strength.

“They’ve got this kind of wry, screwball, slightly exasperating relationship,” Sewell says, and it’s clear that was one of the main things that attracted him to the script.

But if executive producers Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, who created Showtime’s “Sleeper Cell,” don’t start playing up that relationship soon, “Eleventh Hour” might not last any longer than the original.

ELSEWHERE

Lincoln (Dominic Purcell) and the gang hit the Strip in “Prison Break” (9 p.m. Monday, KVVU-TV, Channel 5). And the Teutuls unveil their bike for magician Steve Wyrick on “American Chopper” (9 p.m. Thursday, TLC).

Christopher Lawrence’s Life on the Couch column appears on Sundays. E-mail him at clawrence@reviewjournal.com.

(c) 2008 Las Vegas Review – Journal. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.