Of all the alienated heroes crowding the fall schedule, New York cop Sam Tyler (Men in Trees‘ Jason O’Mara) may be the most estranged. In 2008, he’s chasing a serial killer while suffering commitment issues with his girlfriend and fellow detective, Maya (Lisa Bonet, welcome back). Then — bam! — an accident knocks him unconscious, and he wakes up in 1973. Ultimately returning to his precinct, he finds himself surrounded by polyestered cops — including Harvey Keitel and The Sopranos‘ Michael Imperioli — who are unfamiliar not just with modern police tactics but with modern attitudes: They call a female police officer (Gretchen Mol) ”No Nuts Norris.” Sam’s a man disconnected, out of sequence, trying to get back to 2008 — not that he was any less alienated there.
Based on a popular BBC series, Life on Mars, like Mad Men, makes a long-ago era feel both alien and nostalgic, like in the sweet moment where Sam wanders into a record store and just beams. O’Mara invests Sam with a tricky mix of shell shock and sensibility: Being the pragmatic detective he is, he begins working a 1973 murder that may be linked to his 2008 serial-killer case, buzzing with doubt all the while. Sam believes he must be in a coma, and hopes that once he stops dreaming so realistically, he’ll wake up. ”Details, there are only so many details,” he mutters…and as? he scans the mad bustle of a New York City street, we all settle in for the duration. B+