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Series / Life on Mars (2008)

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Look at those cavemen go.

The American version of Life on Mars, set in New York City. The plots in the early series were close remakes of the BBC original, only localized in: Sam Tyler of the NYPD is hunting a serial killer, listens to David Bowie, gets hit by a car, wakes up in 1973, becomes a Fish out of Temporal Water who is dealing with the different standards of the time and hears voices in his head and on TV that suggest he may just be in a coma. As the show progressed, it introduced the reoccurring motifs of tiny robots (which may or may not be released into people to prove the existence of a human soul), toy rocket ships, and a mysterious group called the Aries Toy Company (more sinister than it sounds). Even the mentions of Luke Skywalker count. There were also hints of a government conspiracy and even the introduction of another character who said he had been abducted from the future as well. The whole thing was a head scratcher for sure.

Tropes carried over from the British version-

New tropes unique to the American version

  • All Just a Dream:The finale establishes that the entire experience was a "neural-sim" while Sam and his crew — who in reality are all astronauts — were on a mission to Mars. Sam had requested to live through the 2-year journey as a cop in 2008, but a meteor-storm mid-flight caused a glitch in his programming. The setting reverted back to 1973, but he kept his 2008 memories.
    • Or Was It a Dream?: The final image of "Gene Hunt"'s loafer and slacks hitting the Martian ground. This may be just for the visual. It may be Sam's mind calling back the simulation he just lived through. Or it may imply that Sam is still hallucinating somehow. What's real? Do we really even know? Some have wondered if this was deliberately done to provide the possibility in case of a super-last-second renewal.
  • And You Were There: In the finale, everyone from the police force is a part of the crew on the ship to Mars. Windy is the ship's AI. Sam also slept in pod 2B. They crew is on a "gene hunt" for life on Mars (presumably bacterial), and the Gene Hunt of 1973 is Sam's father.
  • Big Applesauce
  • By-the-Book Cop: Sam, Annie, and Chris.
  • Call-Forward: In "Everybody Knows It's Windy", Gene reads in the paper that Vice President Spiro Agnew has just resigned, and comments, "What's next? The President being involved in a burglary?"
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Sam to Vic on two different occasions, most notably in the series finale.
  • Cassandra Truth: A few times, Sam slips some stuff from the future which his colleagues naturally refuse to believe.
    • Working a case involving a murdered man who turns out to be gay, Hunt is surprised the guy kept it quiet. Sam mentions how lots of men are able to stay in the closet and brings up Rock Hudson. Hunt laughs out loud at the idea of "the Rock being gay? He and Doris Day were carrying on like crazy!"
    • When the big Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton rematch is coming, everyone assumes a "washed up" Ali will lose. Sam (who knows Ali will score a decisive victory) can't help cleaning up taking bets.
  • Celebrity Star: See above.
  • Clear My Name
  • Cowboy Cop: Hunt and Ray. Funnily enough, Sam becomes one in his pursuit of a man he recognizes as a serial killer he busted in the future - and because of media scrutiny, the rest of the department is trying to follow procedure to the letter.
  • Cryptic Conversation: The maharishi in "My Maharishi Is Bigger Than Your Maharishi".
    • And again with the angel/homeless guy in "Things To Do In New York When You Think You're Dead."
  • Cultural Translation: That said, it does a very good job of adapting the material into the new setting.
  • Darker and Edgier: Sam's confrontation with his father is much darker than in the British version. In addition to remembering that he saw his father kicking a policewoman to death, as in the British version, Sam discovers that his father was a Diabolical Mastermind who shoots him (twice) and leaves him for dead.
    • Freudian Excuse: We find out "Gene Hunt" is his actual Dad, and they were fighting before he went into the pod.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Hunt may brutal and semi-corrupt but he has his limits. When he finds Carling is blowing off a case just because the victim was gay, Hunt tears into him, snapping it doesn't matter what the man's sexuality was, he didn't deserve to get killed over it and Carling better treat him with the respect of any murder victim.
  • The Ditz: Windy, Sam's hippie (and possibly nonexistent) neighbor.
  • Egopolis: Gene Hunt likes to think of the area policed by the 125 as "Huntlandia, home of the blueberry crepe."
  • Gay Cruising: Chris has a belated realization of his uncle Harold's nature; he goes out "cruising" to lure out a group of homophobic attackers, and meets his uncle Harold (presumably also cruising). Sam and Annie listening in are highly amused.
  • Gene Hunting - Just For Pun This brings up some interesting questions about Sam and his relationship with Gene Hunt's daughter in the simulation
  • Help Yourself In The Past: Sam saves himself a few times, in a few different ways.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Established in "Things To Do In New York When You Think You're Dead."
  • How's Your British Accent?: Sam fakes an Irish accent for "All The Young Dudes"; naturally, he gets compliments on its realism. (Actor Jason O'Mara is Irish.)
  • I'm Mr. [Future Pop Culture Reference]: Sam introduces himself as Detective Luke Skywalker to his mother because it was the first thing he could think of. The name follows him.
    • When he has to cover as a pilot, he uses the name Tom Cruise. He uses Bono when he fakes being Irish as well.
    • When Gene and a woman go undercover with him, he assigns them the names George and Laura Bush.
  • It Runs in the Family: Sam worries that his father's dark, destructive behavior runs through his veins. Several times he lets these urges overwhelm him.
    • Subverted in the series finale when we learn his father isn't really his father.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Ray Carling derides a man who lost all his money on a portable phone company. As he said, "Who wants to carry around a phone?"
  • A Little Something We Call "Rock and Roll": in "Things To Do In New York When You Think You're Dead", except by rapping Ice Ice Baby. It works.
  • Locked in a Room: More than once.
  • Made of Iron|: It's one thing when Sam left the hospital AMA to investigate leads on his personal situation. At least he waited. But Ray Carling is so eager to get revenge on the Irish Mafia for shooting him and Chris Skelton that he leaves immediately after his wounds are sewn up! Though he's in a VR simulation, so this may be part of the program.
  • Mind Screw: So Sam is supposed to be from the future. But the last shot is of Gene Hunt's normal, white slipper hitting the surface of Mars. Is this in Sam's head? Is the whole thing in Sam's head? What's real or not? The ambiguity leaves a lot of people still guessing.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: A few instances, but the most baffling by far happens when a Hooker with a Heart of Gold seduces the protagonist by taking her bra off in front of him (with her back to the camera) and jumping into his bed. In the following sex scene she's enthusiastically bouncing away on top of him... with her bra put back on.
    • This is a nearly shot-for-shot remake of a sequence from the original British series, but in that version she remains topless for the sex scene (which is permitted by post-watershed UK broadcast standards.)
  • Motifs: Many, most notably the little robots that see into your soul and the various rockets/spaceships seen in every single episode. Makes sense in the Grand Finale.
  • Not Named in Opening Credits: Inverted, with Lisa Bonet named in the finale despite not appearing in that episode...probably so as not to give away the show's ending.
  • Prophecy Twist: That coma Sam got visions of throughout the first half of the season is not necessarily his.
  • The Reveal: Say what you want about the American version, but the shot of the World Trade Center in the pilot episode is pretty shocking.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Watching the series over shows that the ending was anything but an Ass Pull. It was very deliberately set up.
  • Right Through His Pants: See Modesty Bedsheet.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Sam lives in apartment 2B.
  • Spoilered Rotten: When it's discovered the victim in a case was gay, Carling (who had been gung-ho at first), blows it off as not important which angers Sam. Carling leaves early to check out a showing of Soylent Green and Sam yells after him "The crackers are people!"
  • Technology Marches On: Invoked constantly in-universe:
    • Sam quickly learns he has to start carrying around change for pay phones as cell phones won't be around for over a decade.
    • Sam often complains over having to physically change the dial on his TV which gets only five channels.
    • While at the forensics lab, Sam asks "what did the DNA results say" and even the scientists have no idea what he's talking about. Likewise, he's thrown to hear a simple fingerprint check will take over a week to process.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Where Sam is from.
  • Twist Ending
  • Waxing Lyrical: Repeated references to Bowie songs.
    • Rose saying, "Look at those cavemen go."
  • Western Terrorists: One episode featured the 1970s student-radical group the Weathermen claiming responsibility for bomb attacks on former colleagues of Gene Hunt's.
  • When You Coming Home, Dad?: Hinted at in the finale.
  • Worthless Foreign Degree: The robber in "Take a Look at the Lawmen" was a scientist in the Soviet Union, but "here I rob bank."
  • Wrap It Up