Series with unique premises never seem to last in the modern day television landscape. Nor do series based off of UK counterparts (The Office being a bit exception to the rule). So when Life on Mars debuted on ABC, the chances of it surviving were already stacked against it. With a time traveling (or something akin to it) cop at the basis for the story, the 70’s set period series took viewers on quite the journey as they attempted to figure out what exactly was going on with Detective Sam Tyler (Jason O’Mara).
After a hit-and-run accident in modern-day New York City mysteriously transports police detective Sam Tyler (Jason O’Mara) back to 1973, Sam finds himself in the cultural hotbed of New York City in the tumultuous times of the Vietnam War, Watergate, women’s lib and the civil and gay rights movements – without a cell phone, computer, PDA or MP3 player — suddenly hurtled back in time when he’s ripped from 2008 after being hit by a car while chasing down a criminal. Stuck in 1973 and working out of the rough and tumble 125th Precinct in Manhattan, Sam has to contend with the urban wilderness of New York, complete with a hard-living bully of a boss (Harvey Keitel) and colleagues who never met a rule they wouldn’t break to catch a bad guy. The good cop bad cop culture of the ‘70s put this 21st century hero on high alert, but before he can change the world, he has to learn to survive in it.
I love series that come on the scene with unique premises. A cop from the modern day world returning to a time period in which he’s a young boy and attempting to solve mysteries and murders that pre-dated the modern day cases he attempted to solve seemed like a genuinely entertaining and engaging concept. A “fish out of water” type scenario, sure, but it was done in such a way that felt fresh and exciting. For awhile, at least; the series ran only seventeen episodes (and was wrapped up at the end…which I’ll rant about later) and even midway through it, it began to run out of steam.
The main problem with the show was it was very unclear what it wanted to be. Was this a series that was mostly drama with a side of humor or an equal mixture of the two? The constant mixture of upbeat 70s music and dramatic sequences made for a jarring delivery for the series, since it never left the viewer with any real idea of what the hell was going on. Normally I don’t mind shows that string me along, but at least with other shows that do that (like Fringe) at least it lets you in on the bigger picture at the end. Life on Mars just kept pulling you along and not giving you anything until it dumped all the details on your lap in one go.
Be forewarned that from here on out there will be some spoilery talk so if you want to see this series without any information about it then quit reading now. The major tag of the story was getting Sam back to the woman he loved in 2008. This is loosened midway into the season when his girlfriend breaks up with him (never mind how), which allows him to focus almost entirely on present day (or present past, whatever). This is stupid. Why? Because now he has no real reason to try and get back. His girlfriend’s all right and she left him…but now he has no reason to return. Sure he still wants to get back, but the need is not so urgent anymore.
But wait, the stupid doesn’t end there. No, if you stick with the series and watch all of the episodes, you’re treated to the big surprise at the end: Sam is really a member of a team on a mission to Mars. He was in a sleep state and what he thought was real was really a dream world and the reason for the time shift was some electrical storm. Ok, the series was already sci-fi but when you pole vault it into space (literally) like that, you’re going to upset some people. I’m kind of glad this series didn’t last longer than it did—it was a ticking time bomb of a concept and it exploded in viewers faces by the end.
Not to say that it wasn’t an entirely unenjoyable trip along the way, mind you. There were plenty of great moments where the technology or situations that Sam were used to in 2008 were completely different or backwards in 1973. This created an endless string of entertaining scenarios, but even with this as a driving force behind the series it wasn’t enough to keep my interest. It simply waivered too much in quality and, as previously mentioned, the humor factor was wildly unpredictable.
Overall Life on Mars is a pure Rental only. The rollercoaster ride of quality that we experience makes for an uneven viewing experience and the final pay off is enough to anger even the most patient of viewers. Then again I guess there was no real safe way to end a series like this—so best to go out in a blast of extreme absurdity.
Disney/ABC brings the set to DVD in a standard four-disc clear Amaray case with dual layer trays. The only insert is an advertisement for the Blu-ray format, which is severely punched and deformed by the prongs that hold the discs in. On the outside is a plain cardboard slipcover that repeats the art beneath it (no embossing or reflective foil to be amused by) and disc art is a nice bit of stylized art that represents the show quite well.
Video is solid and what you’d expect from a modern show. Granted, the sepia tone and yellow blasted visuals that accompany the 1970 settings is extremely annoying at times; why does it have to be colored as such? I’m pretty sure the actual 70’s weren’t covered in a haze of yellow, so why does the entire series have to look like this? I get that it’s to separate the two “time zones”, but considering how little of 2008 we see, it’s a jump that could’ve been made, I think. Ah well. Overall the video is a fine presentation, with solid detail levels. The audio, a DD5.1 mix, is similarly satisfactory; there aren’t a lot of moments in which the surrounds kick in with great force, but there’s some chatter around the room at times, as well as some decent subwoofer output.
• To Mars and Back – Viewers journey to “Mars” with Sam Tyler the cast and producers to see where the “Mars” concept originated and if viewers can figure out where it’s headed. (15:35)
• Sunrise to Sunset with Jason O’Mara – An exhilarating and exhausting day experiencing Jason O’Mara’s Life on Mars. (9:34)
• Flashback: Lee Majors Goes to Mars — Lee Majors steps back in the past on the Life on Mars set with cast and crew. (7:54)
• Spaced Out: Bloopers from the Set (2:43)
• Audio Commentary on “Life is a Rock” with actor Jason O’Mara, Executive Producers Josh Applebaum, Scott Rosenberg, and Director / Co-Executive Producer Michael Katleman
• Deleted Scenes (10 Total)
As is the case with most TV show DVD as of late, the extras aren’t exactly plentiful here. While the list looks like, most of the pieces are pretty short. However the audio commentaries are where viewers will get the most out of the disc. It’s a fair mix of bonus features, but nothing that will stick with you (at least not in the way the ending of the show sticks to you…and angers you).
Like the show this set is worth a Rental only. As entertaining as the cast is (Gretchen Mol especially, who is absolutely perfect in her role), it just doesn’t warrant repeat viewings.
Life on Mars – The Complete Series arrives on DVD on September 29th.