Life on Mars

Life on Mars Information

Life on Mars is a science fiction crime drama television series which originally aired on ABC from October 9, 2008 to April 1, 2009. It is an adaptation of the BAFTA-winning original UK series of the same name produced by the BBC. The series was co-produced by Kudos Film & Television, 20th Century Fox Television and ABC Studios.

The series tells the story of New York City police detective Sam Tyler (played by Jason O'Mara), who, after being struck by a car in 2008, regains consciousness in 1973. Fringing between multiple genres, including thriller, science fiction and police procedural, the series remained ambiguous regarding its central plot, with the character himself unsure about his situation. The series also starred Harvey Keitel, Jonathan Murphy, Michael Imperioli, and Gretchen Mol.

Life on Mars garnered critical praise for its premise, acting, and depiction of the 1970s but suffered from a declining viewership after its premiere and a two-month hiatus. ABC announced on March 2, 2009 that it would not be ordering a second season. A DVD set of the complete series was released on September 29, 2009.


David E. Kelley was the initial writer and executive producer of the series pilot, but later handed over production responsibilities to others. The executive producers of the show were Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, and Scott Rosenberg, the producers of the ABC drama October Road.

After reviewing the pilot episode, ABC ordered an overhaul. Several members of the cast and crew were replaced, with production moved from Los Angeles to New York to allow producers to take advantage of recently enacted local and state tax credits for shows filmed in that state. The setting of the series was also changed from Los Angeles to New York, taking place at the fictional 125th precinct of the New York City Police Department (NYPD).

The script was rewritten, with permission of the original creators, to remove the "unsatisfying" ambiguity of Sam's story in favor of a "mythological element" and "deeper mystery".

The series premiered in North America on October 9, 2008, on ABC, following Grey's Anatomy. Internationally, it also aired on Global in Canada, on FX in the UK, and on Network Ten in Australia. On November 20, 2008, ABC ordered four additional episodes to the show's original thirteen episodes. After its winter hiatus, the series was shifted to a Wednesday night timeslot on January 28, 2009, following Lost.

On March 2, 2009, it was announced that ABC would not be ordering a second season. The cancellation decision came early enough to allow producers time to wrap up the show's storyline. The network aired all 17 episodes ordered, with the final episode airing April 1, 2009.


In the original ABC pilot, Rachelle Lefevre was cast as Annie Cartwright and Colm Meaney as Gene Hunt. However, in June 2008, both roles were recast in accordance with an overhaul of the series. After revisions by the producers, Jason O'Mara, in the lead role of Detective Sam Tyler, was the only actor kept from the original ABC pilot. He was joined by Michael Imperioli, the Emmy Award-winning actor from The Sopranos as Detective Ray Carling, and Harvey Keitel was cast in the role of Lieutenant Gene Hunt. Gretchen Mol played Tyler's 1973 co-worker, Annie Norris. Lisa Bonet, formerly of The Cosby Show, was cast as Tyler's present-day love interest, Maya Daniels, replacing Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen. Detective Chris Skelton was played by Jonathan Murphy.

Philip Glenister and John Simm, stars of the UK version, had been approached for lead roles in the series, but had turned them down, partly due to family commitments, and in Glenister's case partly due to a fear of becoming "a nutter in The Priory".


Main characters

  • Det. Sam Tyler (Jason O'Mara) "? He often finds his 2008 values in conflict with the 1973 values of his colleagues, and is forced to rely on his wits when the commonplace technologies he's used to from modern life aren't available or don't even exist yet. A Detective Second Grade, Tyler is Hunt's senior ranking detective. He frequently uses pop culture references from his era as undercover aliases, such as "Luke Skywalker" (for dealing with his mother in the era, claiming it is a Navajo name), "Tom Cruise" and "Sam Bono" (when undercover with an Irish brogue). His BBC counterpart is DI (DCI in 2006) Sam Tyler.
  • Det. Ray Carling (Michael Imperioli) "? An ambitious and bluntly macho detective with the 125th Detective Squad, he is arrogant and condescending to almost everyone but his mentor, Lt. Gene Hunt. Carling resents Tyler's arrival, having expected to be Hunt's senior detective. He is short-tempered with his demure wife. His BBC counterpart is DS Ray Carling.
  • Policewoman [promoted to Detective in the finale] Annie Norris (Gretchen Mol) "? A uniformed policewoman with an undergraduate psychology education who has aspirations of making the detective squad, Norris constantly struggles against sexist attitudes about the role of a woman in police work. Owing to her sex, her nickname among the detectives is "No Nuts Norris". She is the only one on the force to whom Sam has revealed that he's from the future "? although she doesn't actually believe him, she's the most willing of any of his colleagues to listen to and offer kind advice about his state of mind rather than simply dismissing him as crazy. After Sam's seemingly crazy prophecy results in him saving her life, Annie is less willing to simply dismiss his incredible stories. Annie fervently wishes to become a detective, like her comrades in the 125th; she is promoted to detective in the finale. Her BBC counterpart is WPC Annie Cartwright.
  • Det. Chris Gordon Skelton (Jonathan Murphy) "? A young junior detective. He is sometimes a bit nave about the demands of police work, but he's also much gentler, more kindhearted and more likable than Ray. He's also the most willing of the detectives to consider that as crazy as Sam may be, he does have valuable and useful skills from which the others can learn something. Unlike his older and more traditional colleagues, he's also a fan of current pop culture, including contemporary glam rock music. In the episode "Take a Look at the Lawmen" we learn his middle name is Gordon. His BBC counterpart is DC Chris Skelton.
  • Lt. Gene Hunt (Harvey Keitel) "? Commander of the 125th Detective Squad, Hunt is a hardened older cop who's largely set in his ways. He accepts and even encourages the casual corruption and physical abuse rampant in the police force, although he lives by a very strict code of loyalty toward fellow officers and honor toward law-abiding citizens even if he personally dislikes them. He is often exasperated by Sam's outspoken insistence on doing things differently, but seems to have a grudging respect for Sam's crime-solving ability nonetheless. He has a long standing rivalry with a fellow police officer, Lt. Anthony Nunzio of the 144th Precinct. His BBC counterpart is DCI Gene Hunt.

Minor characters

  • Maria Hunt Belanger (Maggie Siff) "? A youth social worker who assists when a young child is a witness to a crime. Although she's Gene's daughter, they have a strictly professional relationship and are largely estranged from each other on a personal level. She and Sam are immediately attracted to each other, and end up having sex in the precinct house's file room; she later shows up at his address wearing nothing but a trench coat. However, Sam only later learns that she's the boss' daughter, and desperately tries to keep Gene from finding out what happened. She has no counterpart in the original BBC series.
  • Sizable Ted (John Cenatiempo) "? A fellow detective, known for his strong physical appearance. He is part of Gene Hunt's 125th Detective Squad.
  • Windy (Tanya Fischer) "? A free-spirited hippie neighbor of Sam's in three early episodes, who encourages him to embrace higher consciousness and makes him pot-laced lasagne. It is revealed in the final episode of the series that she is the voice of the onboard computer of the HYDE 1-2-5. Her cryptic statements often have double-meanings that can be interpreted as applying to both an issue at hand, and to Sam's confusing journey back in time; in this regard, she is the counterpart to the BBC series' barman character, Nelson.
  • Maya Daniels (Lisa Bonet) "? Sam's professional and personal partner in 2008. She plays a prominent role in the first episode, when her apparent abduction leads to Sam's car accident, but in subsequent episodes she appears only occasionally in visions Sam sees of a future that may or may not be happening. Her BBC counterpart is Maya Roy.
  • Rose Tyler (Jennifer Ferrin) "? Sam's mother. Struggling to make ends meet, she takes out a loan from a gangster, forcing Adult Sam to step in and protect her. Due to the situation, Sam uses the pseudonym Luke Skywalker instead of revealing his real last name to her. Her BBC counterpart is Ruth Tyler. Changing her name in the American version brought the name full-circle; Sam Tyler's surname was selected by writer Matthew Graham's daughter in homage to Doctor Who companion Rose Tyler. In the last episode, Sam finally reveals his real name to his mother, who smiles, having suspected all along that he was her son in an older incarnation.
  • Vic Tyler (Dean Winters) "? Sam's father in 1973. Sam discovers some disturbing information about Vic, as well as the real reason he disappeared on Sam's fourth birthday. His BBC counterpart is Vic Tyler.
  • Detective/Captain Fletcher Bellow (Edi Gathegi) "? A young, African-American detective in another squad, who will be Sam's mentor and captain in the future and Sam looks up to him as the father he never had. He and Sam cooperate on an investigation into Black militants. He is referred to by his nickname, "Clams", in both 2008 and 1973. His BBC counterpart is DC/DCC Glenn Fletcher, QGM.
  • Agent Franklin Morgan (Peter Gerety) "? Sent to the 125th Precinct from FBI headquarters when Sam's infiltration of an Irish-American gang ends disastrously, Agent Morgan hints that he knows that Sam has been displaced in time, but Morgan has secrets of his own. His BBC counterpart is DCI Frank Morgan. While not mentioned, his line to Sam, "You weren't supposed to peek behind the curtain", in the 16th episode is a reference to The Wizard of Oz; Frank Morgan was also the name of the actor who played Professor Marvel, the door-keeper, the carriage driver, the Wizard's squire, and the Wizard in the movie. Morgan is also the director of Mission Control in the last episode of the series; in that context, his British counterpart is Sam's 2005 surgeon, Frank Morgan.
  • Colin Raimes (Michael Bertolini) "? Suspected serial killer. Sam and Maya are hunting down Raimes for kidnapping and murdering young women. After a chase and a fight scene, he is apprehended, but released because of a seemingly solid alibi. Maya trails him in the park and she is abducted. Sam races to Raimes' apartment, and as he crosses the street, he is hit by a car and wakes up in 1973. His BBC counterpart is Colin Raimes.
  • Jimmy McManus (Peter Greene) "? Irish gang leader in New York. McManus has a "beef" with officers in the 125 precinct, is involved with various criminal activities during three of the later episodes. Sam joins McManus' gang undercover, and McManus shoots Ray and Chris during a pullover, almost killing Chris and injuring Ray. In the end, FBI Agent Frank Morgan kills McManus in a rival shooting, since both were competing in illegal smuggling.
  • Mysterious caller on the phone "? At the end of "The Man Who Sold the World", Sam went to a house to look for a way home to 2008. When he arrived, a man rang him on the house telephone and led him to a headless body. This man is a member of Aries Project, and in the series finale offered Sam a chance to go home. His British counterpart is Sam's 2005 surgeon, Frank Morgan.


Main article: List of Life on Mars (U.S. TV series) episodes
The series centers around Detective Sam Tyler, assigned to the 125th Precinct Detective Squad of the New York City Police Department.

At the show's outset in 2008, he cohabits with his girlfriend who is also his NYPD assigned partner, Detective Maya Daniels. Maya, to Tyler's horror, is kidnapped by a murderer they are investigating. While responding to a lead in Maya's kidnapping, Tyler is distracted and hit by another responding speeding police car. He regains consciousness in the same spot in the year 1973, dressed in period civilian attire, carrying a period-accurate identity card with his badge, and equipped with a vintage automobile, a 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle "? and, astonishingly, he's parked within sight of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. He returns to his precinct house to find an unfamiliar early-1970s police squad, with contemporary equipment and culture which he likens to finding himself on a different planet. However, the detectives have been expecting him, thinking that he is a transfer from a place called "Hyde". His disorientation and frequent reference to things from the future brand him as eccentric, being labeled with the nickname "Spaceman", but he becomes a valued member of the squad.

Later on in the series, with Sam supposedly in a coma in 2008, Maya decided to end the relationship.

Several of the show's plots involve Sam looking into earlier versions of his cases from 2008, such as in "Out Here in the Fields" where he discovers the sociopath mentor of a future serial killer, and in "The Simple Secret of the Note in Us All" where Sam has the opportunity to stop a serial killer early in his career. Additional storylines are driven by the conflict between Sam's 2008 values and the more corrupt, almost vigilante-style policing of the era he finds himself in, while others are driven by Sam's discovery of more personal information about his past in this era that radically reshapes his understanding of the life he's left behind. He engages in an ongoing struggle to figure out what has happened to him, torn between his developing relationships in 1973 and his desire to return to 2008.

His 2008 reality frequently intrudes into 1973 through surreal, anachronistic visions and cryptic telephone calls. In one episode he sees a man in a nightclub wearing a Nirvana T-shirt, in several early episodes he sees the face of George W. Bush on the front page of the newspaper, and he frequently sees Mars rover robots following him or attempting to enter his body.

At other times, he also hints at his knowledge of the future to his colleagues; in a discussion of then-President Richard Nixon he confuses them by asserting that Nixon won't be in office much longer, he makes a veiled allusion to the September 11 attacks when advising them against engaging in hate speech, and he uses then-future cultural references as undercover pseudonyms "? sometimes giving his name as "Luke Skywalker", "Tom Cruise" or "Sam Bono", and giving Gene and a female companion the undercover names "George and Laura Bush".

At the end of the series, it is revealed that Tyler's 2008 and 1973 realities were both fictitious, created by the onboard computer of a spacecraft that is carrying Tyler, Hunt, Norris, Carling, and Skelton on the first ever manned mission to the planet Mars, in 2035. The crew he worked with in 1973 were just virtual reality versions of his fellow spaceship crewmembers. His room number, "2B", is his sleeping unit; his old precinct, "Hyde", and his new precinct, the "125", are based on the name of the spacecraft "? "Hyde 125"; his neighbor, Windy, is the name of the computer A.I.; Frank Morgan, an FBI agent in the series, is the Mission Control flight director; in a reversal from her struggle to be taken seriously as a police officer in 1973, Annie Norris is the ship's commander. To sustain the crew, their minds were routinely kept active while asleep using virtual reality "neural stimulation" programs of their own choosing, but Sam's choice of a scenario where he was a police officer c. 2008 was abruptly changed to a 1973 setting by a computer glitch induced by a meteor-storm. The identity of Maya in 2035, however, is left unexplained. In a twist, Gene Hunt in 1973 turns out to be astronaut 'Major Tom' Tyler "? Sam's father "? in the conclusion. Just as Maria was estranged from Gene in 1973, Sam was estranged from his father until the very end of the series, when he reconciles with his dad before they step out onto the bare ground of the Red Planet.

Recurring themes

  • David Bowie "? Named for one of Bowie's most famous songs, "Life on Mars?", Sam's journey back in time to 1973 is accompanied by this single. Bowie is referenced in a number of episodes besides the first one, including Episode 13, where a deceased activist from the Weathermen Underground and his illicit daughter have Bowie's eyes (of different colors). In Episode 17, Gene Hunt's 2035 character is Major Tom Tyler, a reference to Bowie's song "Space Oddity". He is also referenced by Windy in the last episode of the series ("David Bowie asked me to move to Spain with him and raise praying mantises"). The name of Episode 15, "All The Young Dudes", is a song that David Bowie wrote for Mott the Hoople.
  • The Wizard of Oz "? Like Dorothy in the The Wizard of Oz, Sam finds himself in strange world, always trying to find the way home. In Episode 11, Sam finds another man who says he is from 2009 and has suddenly found himself back in 1973, and "finds the way back home." Judy Garland's "Over the Rainbow" is played throughout this episode.
  • Presidency of the United States "? Sam's initial reality was depicted as contemporary with the show's real world debut, which coincided with the 2008 presidential election campaign; in several early episodes, Sam's temporal disjunction was depicted in part by his seeing photos of, or hearing the voice of, George W. Bush. In an early 2009 episode, Sam meets a New York city councillor who reveals that he's also from the future, and informs him of the election of Barack Obama; he later has a vision of part of Obama's election night victory speech. In the final episode's 2035 reality, it is implied that Malia Obama is the incumbent president.

Matthew Graham comments

In a UK interview with SFX, original creator of Life on Mars Matthew Graham, was asked his opinion on the US remake. His opinion was "Have you seen it? It beggars belief, doesn't it?" He goes on to speak of how he discussed future Ashes to Ashes endings and theories with the US team, stating they thought the UK ending "wasn't extreme enough". He spoke of how strong endings should be there for the viewer to work out, whereas the US ending was like "coming up with something and going 'Hey-hey, you never knew this, but Gene is a Martian!'", which he felt was a mistake.

U.S. ratings

# Episode Rating Share Rating/Share
Air date
1 "Out Here in the Fields" 8.2 14 3.8/10 11.33 #3 #15 (tied) 10/9/2008
2 "The Real Adventures of the Unreal Sam Tyler" 5.7 10 2.7/7 8.47 #8 TBD 10/16/2008
3 "My Maharishi is Bigger Than Your Maharishi" TBD 9 2.5/7 8.06 #11 TBD 10/23/2008
4 "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In the Shadows?" 5.7 10 2.7/8 8.41 #8 TBD 10/30/2008
5 "Things to Do in New York When You Think You're Dead" 6.0 10 3.0/8 9.62 #8 TBD 11/6/2008
6 "Tuesday's Dead" 6.0 10 2.9/8 8.94 #8 TBD 11/13/2008
7 "The Man Who Sold the World" 5.3 9 2.6/7 7.97 #9 TBD 11/20/2008
8 "Take a Look at the Lawmen" 4.0 7 2.3/6 8.89 #7 TBD 1/28/2009
9 "The Dark Side of the Mook" 3.7 6 2.3/5 6.02 #5 TBD 2/4/2009
10 "Let All the Children Boogie" 3.0 5 2.0/6 5.14 TBD TBD 2/11/2009
11 "Home is Where You Hang Your Holster" 3.5 6 2.1/6 5.78 #7 TBD 2/18/2009
12 "The Simple Secret of The Note In Us All" 3.2 5 2.0/6 5.55 #8 TBD 2/25/2009
13 "Revenge of Broken Jaw" 3.5 6 2.1/6 5.66 #6 TBD 3/4/2009
14 "Coffee, Tea, or Annie" 3.0 4 1.5/4 4.58 #13 TBD 3/11/2009
15 "All the Young Dudes" 3.3 6 2.0/6 5.27 #11 TBD 3/18/2009
16 "Everyone Knows It's Windy" 3.5 6 2.1/6 5.67 #8 TBD 3/25/2009
17 "Life Is a Rock" 3.6 6 2.1/6 5.86 #7 TBD 4/1/2009

International Distribution

Country Channel Premiere date
Network Ten 5 February 2009
TV3 Lithuania
TV6 Lithuania
7 November 2011
30 December 2011
[[TV3+ Latvia|TV3+]] 5 January 2012
RTL7 17 April 2012

Fox 9 October 2009

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "Life_on_Mars_%28U.S._TV_series%29" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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