Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Based on the BBC television series of the same name, LIFE ON MARS was a compelling short-run series on ABC that benefited immensely from a top flight cast and incredibly skillful filmmaking by its crew.

Police detective Sam Tyler (Jason O’Mara) is hit by an automobile in 2008 and wakes up in 1973, where he is immediately accepted into Precinct 125 as a transfer from someplace called "Hyde." There he meets his new colleagues, led by Lieutenant Gene Hunt (Harvey Keitel, THE BAD LIEUTENANT, RESERVOIR DOGS), a hardboiled, two-fisted, old school cop. He also meets beautiful police woman Annie "No Nuts" Norris (Gretchen Mol, THE NOTORIOUS BETTY PAGE), who despite her obvious intelligence and capabilities, is stuck fetching coffee for her male chauvinist coworkers. Tyler becomes convinced that he’s stuck in the past for a reason, and that if he could just figure it out, he could return to his own time. But what about all those little robots he keeps seeing, not to mention the enigmatic phone calls he frequently receives?

The producers manage to evoke an utterly convincing 1970s milieu, skillfully recreating an era before personal computers, cell phones and Starbucks. The sets are crammed with convincing detail and the New York locations are carefully chosen, disguised and filled with convincingly costumed extras and vintage automobiles. The cast, led by the always excellent Keitel, are, without exception, perfect in their roles, creating characters of unusual depth and dimension. The writing is better than average, with mostly self-contained cases for Tyler and his fellow cops to solve. That some of these cases involve his own, young parents, only makes Tyler’s predicament all that more involving.

The 70s music is great, too.

Fortunately, the producers had warning that the series wasn’t being renewed so they were able to wrap up their story with a final revelation that explains most of the show’s mysteries. It wasn’t quite as unexpected or satisfying as I hoped it would be, but at least it’s a conclusion.

ABC brings the American version of LIFE ON MARS to DVD with a four-disc package containing all 17 episodes. They are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound. Extras include several Making Of featurettes, an unusual feature in which 70’s television star Lee Majors (THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN) visits the MARS sets, a selection of deleted scenes, a blooper reel, and audio commentaries on select episodes.

Though flawed, and suffering a bit from its run being cut too short, LIFE ON MARS is definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re a fan of shows like TWIN PEAKS or LOST and enjoy offbeat dramas laden with fantasy. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would, and found myself wishing that there had been a lot more episodes. Check it out.

BUY: Castle: The Complete First Season