Here's the story: Det. Sam Tyler is after a kidnapping killer in 2008, who apparently has just grabbed his girlfiend and colleague crime fighter Maya. He steps out of his car with David Bowie's "Life of Mars" playing on his iPod- and gets hit straight on by a car. He wakes up with David Bowie still singing the same song, but now off cassette tape- because Sam is back, in the exact same place, in 1973. David Bowie has thus given this series a perfect acoustic segue along with a memorable name.
As is the case with Journeyman and Quantum Leap (3 series, featuring 2 Sams and a Dan), neither Tyler nor we can be sure at first if he is really in the past, or just dreaming in a coma. In Journeyman and Quantum Leap, that question is resolved by the end of the first episode - the time traveler is really time traveling. Further, we even pretty quickly learn why: to correct some bad event in the past. What we never learn in those two series is who is calling shots - who or what is making the time traveler travel?
Life on Mars provides even fewer resolutions in this first episode. There is a hint that maybe Sam's purpose in the past is to learn and/or do something that can help save Maya in 2008. Possibly, Sam has already done a little in that direction, by talking to the kidnapper as a boy in 1973 at the end of this episode.
But unlike Journeyman and Quantum Leap, Life on Mars will be one continuing, over-arching story, with Sam from 2008 back in 1973. I'm glad to see this, since I thought both Journeyman and Quantum Leap gave too much attention to specific episode story lines, and not enough to the backbone of the plot (Journeyman improved greatly in this respect near the end).
Most of the 1973 touches are authentic and excellent. The music is outstanding - in addition to Bowie, it was great hear the Stones "Out of Time". So was a bit with Cannon - the great Quinn Martin detective - on television in 1973. And the misunderstanding of Sam's saying "cell phone" as his wanting to "sell" something was nice.
The NYPD detectives in 1973, though, are a little bogus in their roughing up of suspects and disregard of their Miranda rights. Miranda v. Arizona was decided by the Supreme Court in 1966. I know, it's tough to get every little historical detail right, but Mad Men has set a pretty high standard, and the culture of 1973 cops is pretty central to this new series.
But Life on Mars gets credit for having the courage to use the Twin Towers as a 1973 backdrop. And the shout-out to Fordham University - Sam's likely romantic interest in 1973, Annie, got a degree at Fordham in psychology - certainly makes me and my students happy.
Looking forward to more time in the past- next week.
See also Life on Mars 2nd Episode in America: Coma, Time Travel, Mars Rover ... Life on Mars Goes On in America: What Happens When a Time Traveler Runs Into His Earlier Self? ... Life on Mars #4: All in the Family ... Life on Mars #5 Meets the Wire ... Life on Mars #6 Meets Itself on Television ... Life on Mars #7: Is Annie Real, Or, Is Life on Mars a False Memory
=== But I just came back - don't say I never give you anything - to post this great video of the Stones' "Out of Time" ... whew, "You're obsolete, my baby, my poor old-fashioned baby..." the original, ragged, Rolling Stone 1966 album performance...
And here, courtesy of ABC TV, is entire premier episode of Life on Mars, for your viewing pleasure...
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