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Life on Mars (US): Season 1 - Out Here In The Fields (Review)

Life on Mars (US)

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

INDIELONDON singles out notable episodes from current television series for stand-alone reviews. On this occasion we take a look at the opening episode of the US version of Life on Mars entitled Out Here in the Fields (as aired on F/X on Friday, October 9, 2009).

What’s the story? Partners on and off the job, NYPD detectives Sam Tyler (Jason O’Mara) and Maya Daniels (Lisa Bonet) are close to catching murderer Colin Raimes. After Raimes is released on a flimsy alibi, Daniels decides to track him down without her partner and then goes missing. As Sam desperately searches for her, he is struck by a car and mysteriously wakes up 35 years earlier – in 1973.

Was it any good? Firstly, a confession. I never managed to watch the BBC original of this acclaimed series, so everything was new. It means there’s no real comparison to how the original started or played out.

But, it’s a good gauge of whether this US version stands on its own as a worthwhile endeavour. And the answer is yes.

The opening episode was a breathless affair that contained plenty to hook viewers, including strong performances, a keen sense of music and fashion and a strong, emotionally gripping storyline.

The opening sequences in present-day New York were particularly pulse-quickening as the show began mid-car chase with Sam and Maya rushing to arrest a serial killer, and then having to pursue him in a frantic [and extremely well orchestrated] foot chase.

Within minutes of capture, however, suspected killer Raimes had to be released after an alibi appeared to clear him of blame. Seconds after that and the police realised he was part of a twin and Maya was back on his trail, hoping for a slip-up.

By the time Sam had been able to act to lend his partner support, she was missing and he’d been hit by a car and transported to 1973.

The remainder of the episode recounted Sam’s attempts to figure out what had happened, while helping the ’73 NYPD pursue another serial killer with exactly the same mode of operation as Raimes.

This involved getting to grips with different procedural routines, a lack of forensic support and a general inability to believe his predicament.

But Jason O’Mara emerged as a suitably commanding central presence as Sam, while his supporting cast were equally compelling.

Harvey Keitel, while under-used in this opener, promises to offer plenty of fireworks and volatility as Lt. Gene Hunt , ex-Sopranos star Michael Imperioli is clearly having a ball as the moustachioed Detective Ray Carling and Gretchen Mol was a sympathetic (and alluring) presence as Annie Norris.

The case unfolded in intriguing fashion, the numerous in-jokes at the expense of shifting attitudes and trends were very well realised and often amusing, and the soundtrack was a blast (featuring, of course, David Bowie and The Who among others).

What’s more, the New York setting enabled the show’s creators to include a really lasting image in the set-up, as Sam only realised something was amiss following his hit-and-run when he turned round to see the haunting image of the World Trade Center still standing.

It was THE significant moment of the opening episode, and one that contained plenty of emotional resonance to offset the humourous touches.

Life on Mars may well be inferior to the BBC original in most fans’ eyes, and it’s a concept that requires a huge suspension of disbelief, but on the evidence of this first episode, it’s also a blast.

What did you think?