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Green Bay Press-Gazette

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Take a look at the law man, beating up the wrong guy ...

At least for the past two fall TV seasons, I've made it a point to try out one new show based solely on what looks most promising in previews.

So far, I'm 1-for-2 thanks to "Pushing Daisies" scoring a notch in the win column last year. But oh man, that the god-awful dialogue in "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" is still rattling around in my brain ... well, much like Brett Favre-loving Packers fans aren't about to forgive Ted Thompson anytime soon, I'm not sure I can ever back an Aaron Sorkin-project after that historic debacle.

Which brings me to tonight's experiment: ABC's "Life on Mars."

I'm trying to go in cold and without critical bias, which means reading limited press about the show. So far, I only know that it features two stellar actors, Harvey Keitel (who's apparently 70 years old, dear God!) and handlebar mustache-wearing Michael Imperioli (Christopher from "The Sopranos"), and one I'm only kinda familiar with, Gretchen Mol ("Rounders").

Based on a British drama of the same name, "Mars" is about a contemporary cop named Sam (Jason O'Mara) who gets hit by a car and wakes up as a detective in 1973 Manhattan. Did he travel back in time? Is he hopped up on pain medication? Or is he already dead and the soundtrack to heaven is David Bowie's "Hunky Dory?"

Either way, it promises to be a bit clunky at first as Sam attempts to get his bearings while engaging in "Back to the Future"-ish dialogue about where the nearest Starbucks is, that sort of thing. But the archaic crime-capturing conventions (say that three times fast) of the '70s should certainly lead to some interesting predicaments for Future Cop Sam.

Overall, there's a lot of promise in a show that keeps viewers wondering when/if the time clock will run out, how Sam will skate by knowing there's no escape from a year that saw O.J. Simpson run for 2,000 yards instead of, you know, getting busted for kidnapping (though if Sam sticks around a year, he can catch the Ramones in their infancy. That's worth a time warp headache, me thinks.)

So as long as the writing is sharp and the show doesn't abandon a clever premise to become a by-the-book cop show (something that ruined my beloved "Boomtown" in 2003), I imagine I'll be satisfied. Hopefully, tonight's premiere delivers a good dose of momentum moving forward.

"Life on Mars" airs at 9 p.m. tonight. If you visit, for the first few seconds, the site will flash back to a 1973 computer screen. Groovy!

Now, if you don't mind, I have to go finish my game of "Pong."

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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