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Is There Still "Life on Mars"? Bloody Hell, Yeah.

Just in the nick of time (what with the holidays upon us and the strike in no signs of wrapping up any time soon), BBC America is finally bringing the second season of Life on Mars to this side of the pond.

For those of you who don't know, I'm absolutely obsessed with Life on Mars, which stars John Simm (State of Play, Doctor Who) as Sam Tyler, a police detective who--following a car accident in 2006 during the pursuit of a serial killer who may have taken his girlfriend prisoner--wakes up in 1973 Manchester to the sounds of David Bowie, bell-bottom pants, rampant sexism on the force, and a general lack of policing savvy.

The first season of this groundbreaking series focused on Sam's attempts to get home and to determine whether he had (A) gone mad, (B) fallen into a coma, or (C) truly traveled back in time to the year 1973 and joined up with the Manchester police force under the steely and often pigheaded gaze of DCI Gene Hunt (Phillip Glenister).

At the end of the first season (and shame on you if you haven't seen it!), it was revealed that Sam does appear to be in a coma in 2006... but that doesn't mean that he hasn't also somehow traveled back in time or gone hopelessly insane. Or that the origins of his present situation aren't far more malevolent than he imagines. Sam's connection to the future has grown tantalizingly close, with messages received via radio, telephone, and television that suggest that he is in a coma attempting to regain consciousness. But, by the close of Season Two's second episode, there are a few new questions posed that will make you question the very nature of Sam's condition.

Thanks to the good folks at BBC America, I previewed the first two episodes of the second--and sadly, final--season of Life on Mars, which air tonight in a two-hour block. These combined episodes are astonishing in their complexity, wit, and imagination. Yes, it's no wonder that David E. Kelley would attempt to remake the series for US audiences, but really the thing is perfect just the way it is. In fact, it points to the heights that fellow time-traveler drama Journeyman could have ascended to in different hands.

In Season Two, Sam finds himself increasingly drawn into cases that have repercussions for himself in the future. In the sophomore season's first episode, Sam comes face to face with villain Tony Crane (guest star Marc Warren of, yes, State of Play and Doctor Who), whom he managed to apprehend after decades of murder and fraud in the future. Sam is faced with an intriguing dilemma: can he catch a killer before he kills? And will he go outside of the rules of the law in order to catch Crane? Complicating things further is Sam's utter conviction that Crane is right now sitting beside Sam's comatose body in 2006 and torturing him to death. Will he be able to take down Crane in 1973 before Crane kills him in the future? It's a bravura start to what promises to be an amazing season of such morally grey situations.

That energy is continued in the second episode, which also airs tonight. In this episode, Sam and the CID find themselves caught in the midst of a gang war but when the finger of suspicion points towards one of their own, no one on the team is sure of whom to trust. Meanwhile, Sam comes face to face with his future mentor Glenn Fletcher, whom Sam learns from a newspaper message has just died in the future. As the team deals with having their first black member, Sam must convince Glenn to take a stand and become a role model for future officers. Once again, the series has subtly swung the episode's plot around to directly involve Sam and the results are at once surprising, shocking, and satisfying.

I am not sure what to make of a certain plot twist in Episode Two involving the ramifications of Sam being in the past. This stunner of a reveal is so unexpectedly understated and yet so mind-blowing that it had me up half the night trying to puzzle it out. It also deftly sets up the next six episodes and makes the audience questions some assumptions about Sam's predicament that we've been presented with so far.

But the question many of you are asking, I am sure, is what is going on with Sam's sole confidante and possible love interest Annie (Liz White)? When Series Two begins, the young WPC--typically the butt of sexist remarks from Gene and the lads in CID--finds herself thrust into the spotlight. All I will say is this: say good-bye to that little bowler cap and skirted uniform. As for, er, romantic relations between Annie and Sam? Look for a little development in the second episode that had me almost falling out of my seat, in the best possible way.

Ultimately, while Life on Mars' freshman season lured me in with its spectacle and creativity, Season Two has deepened the aura of dread and hopelessness that surround Sam Tyler and expanded upon its dense mysteries in meaningful and seductive ways. This is first rate television making of the highest standard: beautifully written, acted, and directed, set to an addictive soundtrack of Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Elton John, Uriah Heep, Santana, and Cream, and featuring some of the most memorable characters you're ever likely to meet.

So, come on, why not rev up your Cortina GXL and take a peek at the addictively sublime Life on Mars? You'll thank me in the morning, whatever decade that might be in.

Life on Mars airs Tuesday evenings at 8 pm ET/PT on BBC America.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: NCIS (CBS); Deal or No Deal (NBC); America's Next Top Model (CW); Shrek the Halls/Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too (ABC); Bones (FOX)

9 pm: Cane (CBS); Biggest Loser (NBC); Victoria's Secret Fashion Show (CW); According to Jim/According to Jim (ABC); House (FOX)

10 pm: Cane (CBS); Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC); Boston Legal (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8-10 pm: Life on Mars on BBC America.

Season Two of UK import Life on Mars finally begins tonight with two back-to-back episodes. On the first, Sam Tyler--still stuck in 1973--encounters the younger incarnation of a villain (guest star Marc Warren) of a villain he arrested in 2006, who may have a connection to his current condition. On the second, Sam comes face to face with his future mentor, DC Glenn Fletcher, the team's first black member, as they investigate a string of robberies that point to a turf war between rival gangs.


Anonymous said…
Yay! I can't wait to watch this tonight. I've missed Sam and Gene and Annie. I think this is one of the most intelligent and entertaining cop shows ever on television and I'm really looking forward to seeing what season two brings. Sounds like it's gonna be good!
Anonymous said…
I'm glad to see that someone else is as obsessed with this show as I am. Thank god we didn't have to wait forever to get the second season here in the states. Especially as, per your review, it looks like season two is going to be just as good, if not better, than the first.
Eric said…
If I haven't watched Season 1, should I start watching S2, or wait until BBCA reruns S1?
Hey Eric,

It would be ideal to watch Season 1 first but I think you could still begin with Season 2 and be able to understand what's going on. All you really need to know is that Sam Tyler, a modern day cop, suddenly finds himself in the 1970s. He's not sure if he's crazy or in a coma and, while solving crime 70's style, is trying to deduce what happened to him. It's a fantastic show and, if you haven't seen it yet, I'd say jump on in!
Anonymous said…
I can't wait! The first season of LoM was fantastic and the second season looks to even better. I've missed Sam and Annie! And even Gene!

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