Pilot Preview: ABC’s ‘Life on Mars’ Probably Not Worth Discovering

Photo: Courtesy of ABC

This week, Vulture's taking a look at the best and worst of the fall season's picked-up TV shows. Which are good? Can anything replace Cavemen? And, most important, what's worth a DVR season pass?

Title: Life on Mars

Stars: Jason O'Mara (Grey's Anatomy), Colm Meaney (The Unit), Rachelle Lefèvre (Boston Legal), Stephanie Jacobsen (Battlestar Galactica)

Network: ABC, Thursdays at 10 p.m.

The pitch: David E. Kelley's remake of the beloved BBC series (the setting is moved from Manchester to Los Angeles) in which a contemporary cop travels back to the seventies where he's free to solve crimes unencumbered by modern-day annoyances, like political correctness and search warrants. Of course, Kelley recently left his role as executive producer, and ABC now plans to either tweak or scrap the entire pilot, so it may end up a sitcom for all we know.

Pilot report: LAPD detective Sam Tyler (O'Mara) is on the trail of a serial killer when his girlfriend, fellow cop Maya Robertson (Jacobsen), gets abducted by a suspect. Understandably upset, Tyler walks in front of a car while listening to the titular Bowie song. When he regains consciousness, it's the seventies and he's wearing bell-bottoms. He stumbles onto a crime scene where he meets his Fourth Amendment–flouting new boss, detective Gene Hunt (Meaney), and learns the LAPD of 1972 is expecting him as a transfer. Tyler suspects he's either dead or in a coma, but a man has needs so he befriends Annie Cartwright (Lefèvre), his department's only female detective, who inexplicably buys his story, and helps him crack a murder case not dissimilar to the one he'd been working on in the future (thereby solving that one too). At episode's end, he considers leaping off a building thinking it's his ticket back to the present, but Cartwright — whom he's known for approximately a day — convinces him not to.
Representative dialogue:

Tyler: I used to get all my CDs here!


Cartwright: Your what?!

Or:

Hunt: "I don't like him. I admit he can solve crimes, but he seems kinda mental."


Breakout star: O'Mara doesn't exude much charisma, and Chaves-Jacobsen gets kidnapped before she has a chance to do any acting. If ABC keeps any of the original cast, we hope it's Lefèvre who transcends her sidekick status and manages to be charming despite her limited screen time.

Worth a season pass? Not in its current form. Kelley's pilot works from the same script as the British version's series premiere, which suffers from trying to speed through the exposition plus pack in an entire episodic story line. The fast pace requires coincidences and logical leaps even more fantastical than the show's time-traveling premise. Still, the original got better as it went on, and there's no telling how ABC might retool it. Maybe it's the next Cavemen!

Mysteries of 'Life on Mars' [LAT]