A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
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.
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?