October 9, 2008

Will America’s Version of ‘Life on Mars’ Be the Hit the British Version Was?

In America, of course, 16 episodes isn't even an entire season. So obviously, there'll be some busking when it comes to explaining why Sam has become an unwilling time traveler.

In the meantime, he must make sense of the culture shock of '70 s mores. Police brutality is a casual pastime. Cell phones don't yet exist, he's a little slow on the uptake to realize. And police forensics is primitive, if it exists at all.

His new colleagues are decidedly old-school. His boss, Lt. Gene Hunt (Harvey Keitel), keeps a flask close by and punches first, asking questions later. Detective Ray Carling (Michael Imperioli) is a crass, lame jokester ("He's crazier than a fruit bat at a cranberry convention," he says of Tyler) with a mustache most would associate with the Village People. Annie Norris (Gretchen Mol), of the Bureau of Police Women, knows better than to let on that she's smarter than the louts she works with.

Tyler's first case in the mean streets of 1973 has eerie parallels to the one he was working in 2008, which is fortunate, because his colleagues think him erratic due to his outbursts about, well, being from the year 2008. That he's able to knit together evidence to catch the perpetrator redeems him, at least temporarily.

The British version, despite Sam's urgency to return to the present and rescue his partner, had an irresistibly larky energy - it parodied tough-guy cop shows like "Starsky & Hutch." This American version has gone through a torturous birthing process (the first incarnation, by "Boston Legal's" David E. Kelley, was scrapped and largely recast), which might account for its relative paucity of fun (though it is fairly faithful in its visual sensibility, a melange of grungy yellows and browns).

Tonight's episode prominently features a lot of pop music from the era. The British version may have done so, as well (certainly, it used the Bowie song), but it had such an inventive drive that that wasn't the only aspect of the show you recalled after watching it.

You were hooked after one episode of the British series. After tonight's not-bad/not-great episode, it's hard to say whether viewers will have been intrigued enough to return.

David Kronke (818) 713-3638 [email protected] LIFE ON MARS

What: Remake of the cult British series about a contemporary police detective (Jason O'Mara) who, after an accident, awakens to find himself stranded in 1973.

Where: ABC (Channel 7).

When: 10 tonight.

In a nutshell: The British series had you hooked by the end of the first episode; here, the jury's still out.

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