Life on Mars (U.S.)

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
Life on Mars (U.S.) TV Poster Image
Intriguing remake of UK time-travel/cop show.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

In 2008, Sam's precinct is a diverse mix of men, women, African-American, and Caucasian officers. In 1973, it's mostly made up of male Caucasians; women are in a separate (and less high-profile) unit. Attitudes about race, gender, and other social issues in 1973 reflect the thinking of the time.


Lots of guns; shots are often fired. Lt. Hunt believes in "roughing up" witnesses, alleged criminals, and even fellow officers. Lots of punching, pushing, and shoving. Scenes show car accidents and people jumping through windows. Bloody clothing is sometimes visible. References to violent sexual behavior and serial killers.


Characters exhibit the sexist attitudes and behavior that were prevalent in the 1970s. Words like "gams" are used to describe women's legs. Some scenes show adults are kissing in bed, but characters are fully dressed.


Language includes occasional use of words like "ass" and "hell."


In the 2008 scenes, an Apple iPod is clearly visible. Lots of visual references to classic 1970s shows like Kojak and Starsky & Hutch. Also features lots of tunes from the early '70s, including David Bowie's song "Life on Mars" and songs by The Sweet, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and others.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lots of references to drinking and being drunk; police officers and detectives are shown drinking scotch and other liquor. Cigarette smoking also visible, as was typical in the early '70s.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this crime series (a remake of a same-named British show) features behavior that would be considered very "un-PC" today but was socially acceptable in the 1970s -- including plenty of sexism and racism, as well as cigarette smoking and drinking. There's also lots of violence, ranging from gunfire to detectives assaulting alleged criminals, uncooperative witnesses, and, on occasion, fellow police officers. While the language is relatively mild, words like "ass" are occasionally heard.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAnna_lana November 12, 2008

Intriguing and funny

I really enjoy watching this show because it involves topics and ideas that would seem completely ludicrous now, but were acceptable in the times, which makes y... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byLuca A. October 31, 2012

One of the best Tv series i have ever seen

I think the overall story is great.
I remember watching this with my father when is was 11 but well thats me. (I watched R movies with him)
It might get spooky... Continue reading

What's the story?

LIFE ON MARS is a gritty police drama that combines old-fashioned detective work and time travel. Sam Tyler (Jason O'Mara) is a modern-day New York City police detective who suddenly finds himself in 1973 after he's hit by a car while searching for his abducted colleague/girlfriend, Maya (Lisa Bonet). Not sure whether he's dreaming, in a vegetative state, or just out of his mind, Sam finds himself working alongside 1973 detectives like Ray Carling (Michael Imperioli), rookie Chris Skelton (Jonathan Murphy), and hardened Lieut. Gene Hunt (Harvey Keitel). As Sam throws himself into his detective work without the help of DNA testing, computers, or cell phones, he must also contend with sketchy police procedures like overt racial profiling and the sexist treatment of female officers like Annie Norris (Gretchen Mol). All the while, he's tormented by glimmers of his former life -- which add to his confusion and make him more desperate to find a way to get home.

Is it any good?

While this remake of the original award-winning British series doesn't have the same sophistication and subtle humor as its predecessor, it succeeds in capturing the original show's overall spirit. It effectively combines elements of science fiction and procedural crime solving in a way that's both mysterious and entertaining. Adding to the fun are the constant '70s references, including popular crime shows like Kojak and songs from a variety of '70s performers.

Not surprisingly, the show highlights some of the issues raised by the era's cultural revolution and features some of the attitudes and behaviors that were typical of that time period. While some of the more negative aspects of the time -- like institutionalized sexism, racism, and unchecked police violence -- are introduced within the context of the time (and usually to Tyler's dismay), they aren't very positive messages. Teens who watch may benefit from a discussion about what was socially acceptable then and why some of these behaviors are no longer viewed as politically (or legally) correct. But that aside, it's fair to say that this series is a great pick for viewers who enjoy a little intrigue mixed into their detective shows.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how and why social attitudes change over time. What role does the media play in changing those attitudes? How have attitudes about women, race, and other issues changed since the 1970s? Why? Families can also discuss remakes of TV shows from other countries. What determines whether a show that started out in another country will succeed in the United States? What details do you think producers include for American audiences that they wouldn't need to include in their original countries?

TV details

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