If you did not catch the premier of Life on Mars last Thursday night (ABC), you might want to skip this post. However, ABC is graciously streaming the entire episode on their website, so by all means click on the link above and check it out. If you can make it through the very pedestrian first 5 minutes (typical broadcast network cop show set in present day) you will enter a captivating time warp that delivers plenty of "wow" moments.
Sam Tyler (in a sturdy performance by Jason O'Mara) is an NYPD detective from 2008 who's hot on the trail of a red haired serial killer and also in a contentious romance with fellow cop played by Cosby show alumni, Lisa Bonet. Try not to groan when the suspect turns out to have (oh noooooo) an evil twin who is the actual murderer. The bad guy gets Ms. Bonet, and our distracted hero Sam gets hit by a car on the streets of NYC. This is when it finally starts to get interesting.
In a hallucination that is either space-time glitch or coma, Sam wakes up amidst the burning trash cans and detritus that was early 1970's Manhattan. Sam is confused...his iPod has been replaced by an 8 track cassette tape, but the same David Bowie song is still playing. He doesn't really get that he's "not in Kansas anymore" until he turns around. Oh my God...there are the Twin Towers of the WTC, as if 9-11 never happened. This is a great shocky moment, and sets the tone for all the blast from the past tidbits that follow. It's amazing to think how much the world has changed in just 35 years. In his new (old) world, Sam is still a police detective. But his captain is now a sexist maniac (played fabulously by Harvey Keitel) and his co-cops are the immensely colorful and hilarious Ray (Michael Imperioli) and police woman wannabe Annie (Gretchen Mol). The latter is given the charming nickname "No Nuts" by the captain, in this pre-politically correct era.
I won't give away any of the key plot lines in this pilot, but please tune in if you haven't already, as the 1970's references are fascinating. Am I the only one who found a framed picture of Tricky Dick Nixon oddly comforting, given the haunted house tone of today's political meltdowns? Old Alka Seltzer commercials and Colombo are on the tiny tube televisions (remember antennas?) and the sound track is infused with awesome classic rock and roll, including Bowie and The Who. And even if you have already seen the first episode, it's still worth a trip to the ABC Life on Mars website which has song playlists, photos and a 70's trivia quiz. You can also rediscover the mind numbing joy of playing "Pong", the world's first video game.
The time warp motif is a tricky theme to keep fresh from one episode to the next, but the 1960's are working very well for Mad Men on AMC. For Life on Mars, it looks like the next decade may be just as compelling.