Sunday, March 22, 2009
Living with Life on Mars
One of my favorite television shows is Life on Mars, which has a simple-not-so-simple premise: New York Police Detective Sam Tyler is transported 35 years in the past, from 2008 NYC to 1973. He retains full memory of everything that has happened, and most interesting to me, he seemingly exists in both planes simultaneously.
It is a show about time travel, kind of. Most episodes focus on the sort of trivial personal issues that I would really wonder about if I traveled back in time. For example, Sam keeps running into his mother and himself, who both lived in NYC in 1973. He has to struggle with the dilemma of actively trying to make his life better (warning his mother about his father's true nature, telling his child-self about the future) or whether his meddling could cause irreparable harm. Unlike Back To The Future, Sam doesn't ever pull a Marty McFly / Biff, and try to use his knowledge of the future for personal gain (excluding a small sports bet with a co-worker). Apparently, he also does not have to worry about ripping a hole in the space-time continuum, which is always nice.
Life on Mars also doubles as a 1970s police procedural, and in this, it is shockingly good. If you eliminated all of the time-traveling elements, you would still have a good, gritty detective show. The time travel is just the aspect that elevates it from a good to great show in my mind. (I also giggle delightfully as Sam uses names from the future - Sam Bono, Detective Skywalker - as cover identities.)
When Sam isn't busy trying to crack cases and snog gorgeous ladies, the show focuses on his efforts to 1) figure out how this all happened and 2) how he can "get back" to the present. The show hints that Sam is in a coma in 2008/09 and hallucinating all of this, but it also hints that he has legitimately traveled back, and that others have as well as part of some shadowy conspiracy.
Seeing as less than a season of the show has run, plenty remains unexplained, which I like, although I'm worried that it'll be canceled because of less than stellar ratings before a proper conclusion. It definitely seems like there is some sort of plot and character arc behind the show, since the latest episode had a ridiculously shocking ending; it's not a Lost situation, where the show feels aimless half the time and leaves you to speculate about effing everything.