Now we're talking! This is how you import a successful foreign TV show (in this case, a British cult classic) and make it work on our side of the pond. You Americanize it -- or, more accurately, you make it relevant to an American audience, something the people behind Kath & Kim forgot to do. And the remake of Life on Mars does that almost instantly, and again at the end of last night's pilot episode, with a breathtaking shot of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers, standing tall and proud in 1973, the year of their completion. Seeing them again is enough to take time-displaced 2008 Detective Sam Tyler's (Jason O'Mara) breath away, and ours too (especially that nighttime shot of the towers, a view so familiar to us New Yorkers that seeing it again leaves me...well, speechless.)
Speaking of O'Mara, he does a surprisingly good job. I thought his performance would be overpowered by those of Harvey Keitel as Lt. Gene Hunt and Michael Imperioli as Det. Ray Carling -- or perhaps overpowered by their awesome 1970s-style haircuts and facial hair -- but he holds his own. So does Gretchen Mol as Annie Norris, a lone policewoman in a precinct of men who's given such important duties as rescuing kittens and talking down hysterical women. I approach any Gretchen Mol performance with trepidation ever since Rounders, but I'm starting to think that's unfair of me. She's usually a good actress. (I don't hold The Notorious Bettie Page's failures against her. She was the best part of that stinker.)
Aside from the great cast, what's really fun about Life on Mars is how unexpectedly refreshing it is to watch a procedural where it's not all about DNA tests and montages of people doing stuff in a crime lab. All that stuff doesn't exist in 1973. They have to rely on their smarts, on following up leads, on dumb luck and, too often, on their ability to beat information out of people. The cops Sam finds himself working with in 1973 may be the good guys, but they're not good guys.
I don't know if the show will be flitting back to 2008 on occasion or not, but I'd hate to see Lisa Bonet and Clarke Peters go to waste.
I'm already convinced Sam is simply in a coma after his accident, not actually stuck in 1973, but the producers are saying that won't be the solution to the mystery of his time-slip. I'm eager to see what they come up with. The problem, of course, is that if the show becomes too popular it'll run for years and years, and we'll never find out!
The TV Nerd says: This is quite good, and could turn into something special.