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Primetime Show Reviews

"Life on Mars" Series Premiere Review by Suzanne 10/17/08

Thursdays on ABC

I decided this year to only pick two new shows to follow regularly. Just my luck, I picked "Life on Mars" as one of them. That was a bad mistake.

First of all, it's hard for me to judge it on its own merit because I loved the original British version. So this may not be an entirely fair review. However, I did watch it with my husband, who has not watched the UK one, and he thought this one was pretty awful. He could only stomach one episode. I tried to watch the second one but just couldn't make it through.

Let me tell you why. First of all, the main character is horribly miscast. Jason O'Mara is pretty enough to look at, and I did not find him objectionable when he was in the show "In Justice" (2006), which I loved. Let's put it this way, no one could ever accuse him of over-acting. Just the opposite - he doesn't know how to act. He shows little emotion, and when he tries, it is painful to watch. It would be fine if he were playing the stoic type, but the lead character in this show, Sam Tyler, is not that type and really can't be for it to work.

The premise of the show is that a cop, Sam Tyler, is hit by a car, and he wakes up in 1973. He doesn't know how or why he got there. Is it a dream? Did he travel back in time? Is he in a coma? He doesn't know, and neither does the audience. Everything seems very real, as much as he'd like to deny it. As a cop in the 21st century, he is having a hard time adjusting to the more "barbaric" time of the early 70's with the rampant police brutality, sexism, and racism, not to mention the lack of forensic science and computers.

The police violence aspect is one of the reasons this show doesn't work. The show takes place in New York City in 1973. Cops then and there did not go around beating up suspects and ignoring warrants (as they do on this show). A few years earlier, maybe, sure. But this was after a big investigation into police corruption and subsequent trial in New York City (in 1970). You may remember this from the movie "Serpico" starring Al Pacino, but it really happened. There's no way cops could act the way the ones in this show act and get away with it. So that means the people writing this show have no clue about history. I don't expect them to be experts on history, but if I were setting a show in that time and place, I would at least read up on it. Even a quick read on Wikipedia would have gotten them some answers. This show worked in the UK, which has a totally different history. It would have worked if it had been set in 1968 New York City. However, that would mean the show would not suck in people my age, who grew up in the 70's, to watch a show that has 70's styles and music. The logical thing to do would have been to set it in another American city (or not do the show at all, which might have been wiser).

One gets the impression that the only reason to watch this show is so that we can watch cops chase people and beat them up. If I wanted to see that, I'd probably watch "The Shield" on FX, which is supposed to be very well written, at least, unlike this show.

Besides the rampant police brutality and bad acting, the show has awkward dialogue. People frequently mention pop culture references from 1973 in a non-subtle way. This show really underestimates anyone's intelligence. Apparently we Americans cannot grasp the subtleties from UK television, so we must be hit over the head with a sledgehammer. We have to constantly be reminded about 1973. We have to see lots of running and action as well, otherwise we will get bored (well, that part is boring, too, honestly). The original show was way better. It did have plenty of action, as well as humor, mystery, drama, and great acting. It's really a shame this U.S. version is so bad.

I heard that this show had a lot of production problems before it aired. Originally David E. Kelly directed the pilot, but they threw that out (couldn't have been worse). The casting was a bit different, too. It still starred O'Mara, but Colm Meaney was replaced by Harvey Keitel. Keitel does fine, but he's way too old for this role. It was originally set in L.A., which would have been worse in some ways than NYC, I think. I don't know why they couldn't have set it in some other city or town. ABC has high hopes for this show because it's one of their few new ones, due to the strike. Too bad they didn't put more effort into making it good.

If the UK version ever runs on BBC America again, or comes out on DVD, please make sure you watch it as it's a fantastic show. Skip this one...although my guess would be that it won't be on much longer, since it's so bad.

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Updated 10/17/08 


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