Life on Mars (American TV series)

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Life on Mars
Life on Mars US title.svg
GenreTime travel
Science fiction
Police procedural
Created byOriginal series:
Matthew Graham
Tony Jordan
Ashley Pharoah
Developed byJosh Appelbaum
André Nemec
Scott Rosenberg
StarringJason O'Mara
Harvey Keitel
Jonathan Murphy
Michael Imperioli
Gretchen Mol
ComposerPeter Nashel
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes17
Executive producersJosh Appelbaum
Andre Nemec
Scott Rosenberg
Jane Featherstone
Stephen Garrett
ProducerJane Raab
Running time43 minutes
Production companiesKudos Film and Television
Space Floor Television
ABC Studios
20th Century Fox Television
DistributorDisney–ABC Domestic Television (USA)
20th Century Fox Television Distribution (non-USA)
Original networkABC
Picture format1080i (16:9) HDTV
Audio format5.1 Surround Sound
Original releaseOctober 9, 2008 (2008-10-09) –
April 1, 2009 (2009-04-01)
Related showsLife on Mars (British)
La Chica de Ayer
Обратная сторона Луны
Life on Mars (KOR)

Life on Mars is an American version of a UK 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 British series of the same title produced by the BBC. The series was co-produced by Kudos Film and 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.[1] 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. Shortly after its premiere, the show's momentum was interrupted by a two-month hiatus followed by a timeslot change which led to a decline in viewership.[2][3] On March 2, 2009 ABC announced that it would not be ordering a second season. A DVD set of the complete series was released on September 29, 2009.


The protagonist of the series is 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 radio call as he crosses the street, 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 - rotary dial telephones, reel-to-reel tape recorders, typewriters - 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 human 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. However the final shot shows, not an astronaut boot, but Gene Hunt's signature white loafer taking the first step onto the Martian surface, casting doubt once again onto the ending.



Producers Josh Appelbaum (left) and André Nemec (center) talk with actor Jason O'Mara (right), at Comic Con.
  • Jason O'Mara as Sam Tyler, who is struck by a car in 2008 and awakes in 1973, often finding his modern values conflicting with 1973 culture.
  • Michael Imperioli as Ray Carling, an ambitious and short-tempered detective.
  • Gretchen Mol as Annie Norris, a policewoman who has aspirations of making the detective squad and struggles against sexist attitudes about policewomen in the 70s.
  • Jonathan Murphy as Chris Skelton, a kind but naive junior detective.
  • Harvey Keitel as Gene Hunt, the hardened commander of the detectives.


  • Maggie Siff as Maria Hunt Belanger, a social worker who assists when a young child is a witness to a crime. She is romantically involved with Sam for a brief time during the series, and turns out to be Gene Hunt's daughter.
  • John Cenatiempo as Sizable Ted, a fellow detective known for his strong physical appearance.
  • Tanya Fischer as Windy, a free-spirited hippie neighbor of Sam's.
  • Lisa Bonet as Maya Daniels, Sam's professional and personal partner in 2008.
  • Jennifer Ferrin as Rose Tyler, Sam's mother who struggles to make ends meet.
  • Dean Winters as Vic Tyler, Sam's father in 1973.
  • Edi Gathegi/Clarke Peters as Fletcher Bellow, a young African-American detective.
  • Peter Gerety as Franklin Morgan, an agent set to Sam's precinct when one of Sam's missions fails.[4]
  • Michael Bertolini as Colin Raimes, a suspected serial killer.
  • Peter Greene as Jimmy McManus, an Irish gang leader in New York.


David E. Kelley was the initial writer and executive producer of the series pilot,[5] but later handed over production responsibilities to others.[6] The executive producers of the show were Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, and Scott Rosenberg, the producers of the ABC drama October Road.[7]

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.[8] 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".[9]

The series premiered in North America on October 9, 2008, on ABC, following Grey's Anatomy.[10] Internationally, it also aired on Global in Canada, on FX in the UK, and on Network Ten in Australia.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13]


No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateProduction
1"Out Here in the Fields"Gary FlederJosh Appelbaum & André Nemec & Scott RosenbergOctober 9, 2008 (2008-10-09)1ANY01
After an accident, NYPD detective Sam Tyler inexplicably finds himself back in 1973, where he must help solve a murder that is eerily similar to a case he was investigating in 2008. (Contains elements of Series 1 Episode 1 of UK original)
2"The Real Adventures of the Unreal Sam Tyler"Michael KatlemanBryan OhOctober 16, 2008 (2008-10-16)1ANY02
Sam is in 1973. 2008 only exists as flashes of Sam's memory, assisted by a mysterious robot. A suspect in a series of deadly armed robberies of check cashing stores, Trent, is picked up but let loose for lack of evidence. Trent then attempts another robbery, is killed by Hunt, but not before Trent shoots June the precinct secretary, at the scene. When a witness states that Trent was escorted by uniformed police going into the store being robbed, it becomes a corruption issue. It turns out June was connected to Trent, and this is how the case gets solved. (Contains elements of Series 1 Episode 2 of UK original)
3"My Maharishi Is Bigger Than Your Maharishi"Michael PressmanTracy McMillanOctober 23, 2008 (2008-10-23)1ANY03
When a decorated Vietnam War vet is beaten to death, Sam's precinct is pushed to the brink to find his killers, but not everyone may be happy with the results they find. (Contains elements of Series 1 Episode 5 of UK original)
4"Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadows?"Alex ZakrzewskiDavid WilcoxOctober 30, 2008 (2008-10-30)1ANY04
Sam arrests a man for accosting his mother, only to find out he's a loan shark and she owes him a thousand dollars. When his mother doesn't want to prosecute, she, unknowingly, leads Sam to fall out with Annie. (Contains elements of Series 1 Episode 4 of UK original)
5"Things to Do in New York When You Think You're Dead"Michael KatlemanSonny PostiglioneNovember 6, 2008 (2008-11-06)1ANY05
Sam partners up with Fletcher, his future police mentor, in 1973 to find a Puerto Rican man accused of throwing a black girl off the roof of a building — a case that has the black community up in arms and demanding retribution. Guest stars Whoopi Goldberg. (Contains elements of Series 2 Episode 2 of UK original)
6"Tuesday's Dead"Daniel MinahanAdele LimNovember 13, 2008 (2008-11-13)1ANY06
After a wild birthday party for Ray at the precinct house, Sam receives a phone call from his mother saying he has until two o'clock to pull out of his coma before the doctor will pull the plug, just as Lt. Hunt walks in with news of a hostage situation at a local hospital, they have until two o'clock before the man claims he will kill the hostage. Sam believes he must intervene to save his own life in 2008 and vows that no one will die today. (Contains elements of Series 1 Episode 6 of UK original)
7"The Man Who Sold the World"Darnell MartinMeredith Averill & Phil M. RosenbergNovember 20, 2008 (2008-11-20)1ANY07
While investigating a child's kidnapping, Sam discovers some disturbing information about his father, as well as the real reason he disappeared for good on the day of Sam's fourth birthday party. (Contains elements of Series 1 Episode 8 of UK original)
8"Take a Look At the Lawmen"Brad TurnerSonny Postiglione & David WilcoxJanuary 28, 2009 (2009-01-28)1ANY11
A long standing competition between Lt. Hunt and Anthony Nunzio of the 144th precinct, heats up as both investigate a bank robbery by the Russian mob. Meanwhile, Sam has a liaison in the file room, unaware of the woman (Maggie Siff)'s true identity. This episode was originally broadcast before "The Dark Side of the Mook." (Contains elements of Series 2 Episode 5 of UK original)
9"The Dark Side of the Mook"Rick RosenthalBryan Oh & Tracy McMillanFebruary 4, 2009 (2009-02-04)1ANY08
A mysterious phone call from a tipster leads Det. Sam Tyler to a headless body. A severed head is delivered to the precinct at the same time, thus leading to the discovery of a series of gruesome decapitations that might involve Det. Carling's brother, Eddie. The detectives are interviewed by someone tied to Aries Project. (Contains elements of Series 1 Episode 3 of UK original)
10"Let All the Children Boogie"Michael KatlemanPhil M. RosenbergFebruary 11, 2009 (2009-02-11)1ANY12
When rock star Sebastian Grace (Cheyenne Jackson) receives a death threat, Sam and Chris are sent to provide him with police protection. Chris later accompanies Sebastian and one of his groupies, Rocket Girl, to wait for UFOs in the New Jersey Meadowlands, but Sebastian is arrested for murder when Rocket Girl disappears. Sam also has to try and cover up his fling with Maria before Gene figures out who his partner in the file room was.
11"Home Is Where You Hang Your Holster"David M. BarrettMeredith AverillFebruary 18, 2009 (2009-02-18)1ANY13
A city councilman who is arrested and brought into the 125th on prostitution charges privately reveals to Sam that he's from 2009 and knows the way home, but he is murdered in the middle of the precinct house before Sam can find out the secret. Hunt locks down the squad house to investigate the murder. Ray and Annie were both out of the house at the time and are sent out to investigate leads on the outside, but squabble over how much authority a policewoman should be given in investigating a crime. (Contains elements of Series 1 Episode 7 of UK original)
12"The Simple Secret of the Note in Us All"Jean de SegonzacBecky Hartman Edwards & Adele LimFebruary 25, 2009 (2009-02-25)1ANY10

The squad tries to solve the murder of newspaper columnist Joey Conway. After learning that Conway had visited a gallery owned by Tony Crane, a man whom Sam has arrested in the 2000s for a very similar crime, Sam becomes an advocate for the 1973-style vigilante policing he's usually fighting against, while the media glare has Hunt uncharacteristically insistent on a strictly by-the-book investigation. The rest of the precinct believe the murderer is a restaurant owner whose business was failing because of a bad review in Conway's column.

Note: This is the last episode to air before the show's cancellation. (Contains elements of Series 2 Episode 1 of UK original)
13"Revenge of Broken Jaw"Stephen KayDavid Wilcox & Meredith AverillMarch 4, 2009 (2009-03-04)1ANY09
While the squad tries to find a place to watch the Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton rematch, student radicals from the Weather Underground target the police with bomb threats, and it becomes all too personal to Lt. Hunt, who loses several close friends in the incendiary aftermath. As the investigation heats up, Sam, Annie and Hunt uncover mysterious connections to one of the students and a political science professor. The bomb threats continue as Hunt, suspiciously secretive, attempts to discover the professor's possible connection to the Weather Underground's dead leader; is the motivation politics or revenge, and do the Weathermen have the right target? With the 1-2-5 walking a dangerous tightrope to discover the target of the next bomb, the case takes a totally unforeseen but deadly turn. (Contains elements of Series 2 Episode 3 of UK original and Series 1 Episode 8 of "Ashes to Ashes")
14"Coffee, Tea, or Annie"David PetrarcaAdele Lim & Bryan OhMarch 11, 2009 (2009-03-11)1ANY14
When a Pan Atlantic air hostess turns up dead, Annie volunteers for a dangerous undercover mission posing as the murdered woman to help solve the second in a possible series of brutal homicides. Then, after an unlikely suspect is uncovered, an invitation to a lurid swingers' party leads to an evening full of sensational surprises — not just for Annie and Sam (who attend as a couple) but Lieutenant Hunt also, who arrives with a special guest to mix it up. Juicy sexual escapades bring the swingers' party to a fever pitch, but will the murderer be revealed? Finally, Annie confronts Hunt with the courage of her convictions about her future at the 1-2-5. (Contains elements of Series 2 Episode 4 of UK original)
15"All the Young Dudes"Darnell MartinSonny Postiglione & Tracy McMillanMarch 18, 2009 (2009-03-18)1ANY15
When Sam poses as a streetwise tough to infiltrate a vicious New York City gang led by Irishman Jimmy McManus who is suspected of truck hijackings, he’s pushed to the limit not to blow his cover, and he reveals a much darker side. A bare-knuckled fist fight with a gang member, a late-night deal to buy a truckload of stolen VCRs and even time behind bars at his own precinct are all necessary elements of Sam’s scam. But can he keep up the ruse when he’s told to shoot a bound-and-gagged woman? And his attraction to McManus' sister also seems to be part of a recipe for disaster. Jason O'Mara's real life wife, Paige Turco, plays his romantic interest. (Contains elements of Series 2 Episode 8 of UK original)
16"Everyone Knows It's Windy"Alex ZakrzewskiMike FlynnMarch 25, 2009 (2009-03-25)1ANY16
Following Irish gangster Jimmy McManus' shooting of Ray and Chris, crime fighting gets extremely personal at the 125th Precinct. When McManus is subsequently murdered outside a neighborhood bar and FBI agent Franklin Morgan is sent to the precinct, both sides of the law suspect Sam of murder, leaving him to question his own innocence. With the evidence stacking up against him, Sam must rely on his friends at the precinct to bend the rules as he tenaciously searches for the real killer. (Contains elements of Series 2 Episode 7 of UK original)
17"Life Is a Rock"Michael KatlemanScott RosenbergApril 1, 2009 (2009-04-01)1ANY17
Sam wakes up after dreaming about his 2008 apartment with 1973 characters and is told by his hippie neighbor Windy that he's most likely closer to going back; later on a mysterious caller offers Sam a chance to return to 2008; all he needs to do is complete three tasks, but a confusing set of circumstances inside and out of the 1-2-5 makes him think twice about whether he even wants to go back. At the end of the episode, the final truth about Sam's life is revealed.



In a UK interview with SFX, Matthew Graham—co-creator of the original Life on Mars—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.[14]

U.S. ratings[edit]

# Episode Rating Share Rating/Share
Air date
1 "Out Here in the Fields"[15] 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"[16] TBD 9 2.5/7 8.06 #11 TBD 10/23/2008
4 "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In the Shadows?"[17] 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"[18] 6.0 10 3.0/8 9.62 #8 TBD 11/6/2008
6 "Tuesday's Dead"[19] 6.0 10 2.9/8 8.94 #8 TBD 11/13/2008
7 "The Man Who Sold the World"[20] 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 Moon"[21] 3.7 6 2.3/5 6.02 #5 TBD 2/4/2009
10 "Let All the Children Boogie"[22] 3.0 5 2.0/6 5.14 TBD TBD 2/11/2009
11 "Home is Where You Hang Your Holster"[23] 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"[24] 3.0 4 1.5/4 4.58 #13 TBD 3/11/2009
15 "All the Young Dudes"[25] 3.3 6 2.0/6 5.27 #11 TBD 3/18/2009
16 "Everyone Knows It's Windy"[26] 3.5 6 2.1/6 5.67 #8 TBD 3/25/2009
17 "Life Is a Rock"[27] 3.6 6 2.1/6 5.86 #7 TBD 4/1/2009


  1. ^ Matthew Gilbert (2008-10-09). "Time warp twists a police procedural". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-02-20.
  2. ^ Alessandra Stanley (2008-10-08). "Imports Suffering Identity Problems". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-20.
  3. ^ Dorothy Rabinowitz (2008-10-31). "Out in the Past". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2009-02-20.
  4. ^ Jersild, Sarah (March 25, 2009). "Life on Mars: Friend or figment?". Archived from the original on March 29, 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-30.
  5. ^ Deans, Jason (2006-03-28). "Life on Mars goes stateside" (Requires free registration). Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 2006-03-28.
  6. ^ Steinberg, Jacques; Elliott, Stuart (2008-05-13). "ABC Fall Roster Is Heavy on the Already Proven". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-13.
  7. ^ "Life on Mars — Fall Schedule". Archived from the original on September 15, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-02.
  8. ^ "Hollywood Productions Moving East". IMDb News. 2008-06-03. Retrieved 2008-10-02.
  9. ^ "Life on Mars remake changes Tyler's story". Digital Spy. 2008-07-19. Retrieved 2008-10-02.
  10. ^ Schneider, Michael (2008-05-13). "ABC announces fall schedule". Variety. Retrieved 2008-05-13.
  11. ^ "Global's Fall Schedule: Spies, Time-Travel and Spoiled Teens". Archived from the original on 2008-06-05. Retrieved 2008-05-04.
  12. ^ Kevin McDonough (United Media) (2009-01-28). "TUNE IN TONIGHT: 'Mars' hopes to survive the New York competition". Reading Eagle. Retrieved 2009-02-20.
  13. ^ "Life on Mars canceled". TV Series Finale. Archived from the original on 2009-03-05. Retrieved 2010-05-31.
  14. ^ "Ashes Exclusive". SFX Magazine. 2010-05-22. Archived from the original on 2010-05-26. Retrieved 2010-10-26.
  15. ^ Cf. line "Out here in the fields" from song "Baba O'Riley".
  16. ^ Cf. phrase "My Dad is bigger than your Dad" used by boys.
  17. ^ Cf. song "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?".
  18. ^ Cf. song "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead".
  19. ^ Cf. song "Tuesday's Dead".
  20. ^ Cf. song "The Man Who Sold the World".
  21. ^ Cf. album "The Dark Side of the Moon".
  22. ^ Cf. line "Let all the children boogie" from song "Starman".
  23. ^ Cf. expression "Home is where you hang your hat".
  24. ^ Cf. book "Coffee, Tea or Me?".
  25. ^ Cf. song "All the Young Dudes".
  26. ^ Cf. line "Everyone knows it's Windy" from song "Windy".
  27. ^ Cf. song "Life Is a Rock".

External links[edit]