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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "Life on Mars," a British cop show with a twist, has had two extreme makeovers.
The first time, producer David E. Kelley set it in Los Angeles. The second time, a new team of producers relocated the show to New York. Through it all, only Jason O'Mara, who plays Detective Sam Tyler, survived.
In the case of ABC's "Life on Mars," what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Tax incentives aside, the show truly belongs in New York. Also, not only is O'Mara able to carry the drama, but the new cast members are, without exception, well-chosen.
For those who missed the original when it played on BBC America, the show is about a police officer (Tyler) who is hit by a car while chasing down the guy who abducted his work and romantic partner, Maya (guest star Lisa Bonet). The next thing he knows, he is back in 1973. He's still a cop, but nothing -- from fashion to technology -- is the same.
In the British version, Tyler is convinced he is insane, in a coma or time-traveling. The American version spells out other options but deliberately refrains from becoming enmeshed in the science fiction aspect of the story. Tyler does not go back and forth, and no consideration is given to theories about the future impact of his actions in the past.
Part of the pleasure of watching is seeing how much things have changed in a relatively short time. Tyler grabs for his cell phone, asks for his computer and orders a Diet Coke, all to no avail. On a TV screen, William Conrad plays "Cannon." In the streets, wide collars and stripes are everywhere.
Equally stunning are the social attitudes of the day. The commander of Tyler's precinct, Lt. Gene Hunt (Harvey Keitel), has no patience for warrants or Miranda rights. The only woman in the precinct, Annie (Gretchen Mol), tolerates the nickname "No Nuts" to blaze a trail for future female cops.
The premiere mostly sets everything in motion, particularly the relationships between Tyler and the others on the force. The script, from Josh Applebaum, Andre Nemec and Scott Rosenberg, is true to the spirit of the original and exciting enough to make you swallow the premise and beg for more.
If it holds its own against the final season of NBC's "ER," "Mars" might be orbiting the schedule for years.