LIFE ON MARS: The Complete Series DVD Review

     October 31, 2009


I long ago realized that my loving a series usually means that it’s doomed. The magic worked again with last season’s Life on Mars. It was, to my way of thinking, one of the best and most intelligent shows on TV at that time. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the series was set — sort of — in 1973. An American version of a BBC hit, the series chronicled the adventures of New York police detective Sam Tyler (Jason O’Mara), who having survived a car accident in 2008, somehow woke up over thirty years before. Each week, Tyler’s “enlightened” views on police and societal affairs were pitted against the “archaic” mores of his fellow cops, especially Lt. Gene Hunt (Harvey Keitel). Sam’s only ally is Policewoman Annie Norris (Gretchen Mol).

But that was only one motif. In with and under his struggles with the past, and attempts to solve crimes without the technology he was used to in the present, Tyler also was forced to try to figure out how he had arrived in the past, and whether he was really there at all. Each episode veered in the direction of one or another explanation: that he really was back in time; that he was actually in a coma; that he had died in the accident, and was in some sort of strange Purgatory; and on and on. Moreover, 2008 had an odd way of bleeding back to him, via radio broadcasts, newspapers, and the occasional odd character. More after the jump:

Life_On_Mars_Complete_Series_DVD.jpgAll 17 episodes are featured in this DVD set, and they lead up to an ending which was quite bizarre — even in the context of this delightfully bizarre series. Although it was a disappointment that the show was canceled, the makers of the series were given sufficient warning to make the series finale. Of course, it is VERY different from the ending of its BBC forebear; moreover, although a single season is short by American standards, the British version, in keeping with UK practice, had only 16 episodes.

In any case, it is immensely entertaining, even if you don’t remember the 70s. The acting is quite good, and the makers of the show resisted the temptation to make the characters — most whose attitudes and views, though common at the time, would be forbidden today — into cardboard cutouts. Instead, even the most annoying of them become progressively more sympathetic, doubtless reflecting Sam’s changing views as he gets to know his colleagues and the urban jungle in which they must operate. The actors take their roles — and improbable plots — seriously. I’ll miss new episodes, but at least the series has found, in this set, a kind of immortality.


“To Mars and Back:” a behind the scenes look at where the concept of the show originated, what it was like trying to keep the period tone, and clues as to where the series might have gone had it lived.

“Sunrise to Sunset with Jason O’Mara:” a documentary trailing the lead actor through a day of production.

“Flashback: Lee Majors Goes to Mars:” wherein the star of the 70s hit. The Six Million Dollar Man, tours the set with Jason O’Mara.

Subtitles: Spanish and French.


A show that should have lasted longer. Really fun romp through the surreal.

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