Detective Chief Inspector Sam Tyler is 100% a product of the “new” school of British policing — he follows the trail of evidence, reads suspects their rights, and leaves personal feelings out of the mix. Just as an important murder case goes bad and Sam’s detective girlfriend is plunged into danger, he gets hit by a car and wakes up to find himself on the same street, but in a different time. Is he in a coma? Gone mad? Or did he really somehow get transported to the year 1973? People here seem to know him as Detective Inspector Sam Tyler, recently transferred from Criminal Investigation Department in Hyde, and he certainly has the credentials and outfit to match.
!>/files/2006/08/annie_sam_11.jpg(Life on Mars)! In addition to having to deal with being an anachronism in the 70s, Sam must also learn to work with a different kind of police force, one where hunches are more important than evidence, getting bad people off the streets more important than respecting suspect’s rights, and a little bit of sexism and corruption are just par for the course. Through his constant clashes with his new boss, DCI Gene Hunt, a hardened lawman, Sam brings a little bit of modern policing technique back to the 70s while learning some valuable lessons of his own. After all, the 70s is not just an age where modern forensic techniques like DNA tests and computerized fingerprint databases don’t exist, its that plus a time of great social upheavel, changing gender roles, new societal norms, labor unrest, war, and scandal. Not only is Sam a fish out of water who has to relearn a profession he thought he had down cold, he is also confronted with a bigger investigation, and one not so easily solved — finding out how he got here, and why, and how he will get home.
_Life on Mars_ is a great concept, a police drama with just a dash of science fiction, and if works because the writers are very keen to get things right, representing both the fun and the very serious sides of the 70s, the actors are marvelous, and the stories are compelling. Sure there are a few repeating themes that drive me batty, and sure many of the British cultural references fly right over the heads of we Yanks, but the show is still an excellent watch and, beause its a BBC drama, there are only 8 episodes to get through in series one.
Want another reason to watch? David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, Boston Public) is producing an American version. Watch the original first, and then see what setting the story in a US context does to it. 🙂