Time Travel and T-rex

Despite an undeserved reputation as a medium inferior to cinema, there are still moments in which television proves to be emotional, visceral and unequivocally transcendent. Such a moment happens in the opening episode of Life On Mars, when modern-day Manchester detective Sam Tyler (John Simm) awakens after being struck by a car, the strains of the Bowie hit that gives the series its name echoing eerily through a panning shot that reveals the 21st century motorway where the accident took place is now gone. So is his neatly tailored suit in favor of a leather jacket, hang-glider-collared shirt and bell bottoms. It's 1973, and Sam Tyler has no idea how in the hell he got here.

A rich mystery with dollops of sci-fi, cop action, and rock N roll, Life On Mars debuted to wild acclaim on BBC 1 earlier this year and premiered last Monday on BBC America. The eight-part series chronicles how Sam—in yet another top-notch performance from Simm, one of Britain's finest—attempts to piece together the mystery of what happened to him, all the while trying to fit in in an era when brute force and machismo dominate his profession, rather than forensic logic and deductive reasoning. To make it worse, he's paired off with chief inspector Gene Hunt—pig-headed, reckless and morally gray, played with ball-busting menace by the wonderful Philip Glenister. Provided Gene doesn't get them killed, maybe Sam can figure out if there's a reason why he's here; the cases he's assigned to seem to hold clues, which he attempts to unravel with the help of smart-cookie female officer Annie Cartwright (exceptional newcomer Liz White). Then again, the hallucinations he's having may mean he's actually still in 2006 in a coma—and this is all a dream. . . .

Idiosyncratic and irresistible, Life On Mars crackles with humor, pathos and flawless dedication to a nation's culture during a particular time in history; the glam-heavy soundtrack (oooh-er, Hawkwind!) definitely adds to the charm. It's already been snapped up for American adaptation, so see the real deal now before David E. Kelley makes a mess of it.

Life On Mars makes you long for a pint o' bitter and a little Slade on BBC America. Mon., 10 p.m. Check local listings for more information.

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