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Get a "Life on Mars"

Let's get this out of the way quickly: Life on Mars, airing Mondays on BBC America, is (despite the title) not remotely a sci-fi show. It's a cop show with a fantastic twist, but at its heart it's a cop show.

The premise, simplified: A modern-day police inspector named Sam Tyler (the excellent John Simm) is hit by a car and wakes up to discover himself... in 1973. He's still the same age he was, still carries a badge, but now he's wearing groovy threads and driving a 70s-era car. While trying to come to grips with the impossible situation he's found himself in, he's also got to do police work.

It's all a clever way to pit modern, politically-correct and CSI-influenced police work against the way it was done in old-school crime dramas. Tyler clashes with his boss, Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) in just about every imaginable way, including several exchanges of punches. But neither of them is right all the time, and they slowly forge an odd synthesis of modern logical technique and old-school "rough 'em up a bit and then they'll talk" police work.

It's a premise like no other, but at its core it's still a fun '70s police drama, the likes of which we haven't seen since you-know-when. Although Sam continues to hear snatches of conversation that indicate that he might still be in a coma in the present day, that part of the premise never mutes or invalidates what's happening in the "real world" of 1973.

Life on Mars is one of the best police dramas to come along in years. Spend even ten minutes with it and you'll come to understand how lifeless, listless, and soulless shows like CSI and Law & Order are.


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