Some Men Are From Mars… on TV

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Published April 2, 2009

For two full seasons of the British series “Life On Mars,” the producers kept viewers guessing about the condition of the show’s protagonist, a Twenty-First Century cop who got hit by a car and woke up in 1973. Was Sam Tyler crazy? In a hallucinatory coma? Or had he actually traveled through time? When ABC announced the American version of “Life On Mars,” the producers insisted that the more fantastical elements of the original would be toned down, and that the US “Life On Mars” would be more about relationships and police-work in the early ‘70s than about the trippy mysteries surrounding Sam Tyler. And the producers were true to their word—until last night. (LEFT: THEY DON’T BELIEVE IT EITHER)

After 16 episodes of corny, increasingly low-rated retro-cop-show shenanigans, “Life On Mars” aired its final episode last night, and definitively answered the question of what Sam Tyler (played in the U.S. by Jason O’Mara) has been up to all this time. In the UK, the final “Life On Mars” had the character waking up in a hospital bed in the present day, and deciding that he missed 1973 so much that he jumped off a building and killed himself in order to return to the past eternally. In the US? Sam also wakes up… on Mars!

That’s right: It turns out that in the American “Life On Mars,” Sam is an astronaut, who’s been living through a virtual reality experience while in suspended animation on a trip to Mars. And all his fellow cops from 1973? They’re astronauts too! But while his colleagues have been dreaming about tropical islands and girls in bikinis, Sam’s been working out his daddy issues by living the life of a cop in early 70s New York, not far from where he lived as a boy. Why a cop? Why 1973? For that matter, why did Sam dream that he was trying to get back to 2008, when in fact he’s alive decades later (when Sasha Obama is president)? These are questions that will have to go unanswered, since any series that starts with 11 million viewers and ends with five million isn’t likely to be heard from again.

Still: In the annals of colossally stupid ways to wrap up a TV show, “Life On Mars” has now set a new benchmark. Hindsight, perhaps?