Do you not like me with my clown? I can see I make you frown. When on Earth will all this end? I’m your friend, your only friend.
When the above couplets are recited by a disturbing little girl with an equally disturbing clown doll whose day job is gracing test cards after hours on the BBC, you know you’re not in Kansas any more–you’re on Mars.
BBC America is showing the second–and final, so I guess we know when on Earth this all will end–season of Life on Mars, starting tomorrow (Tuesday) night with two episodes back-to-back. While they haven’t seen fit to grace us with a replay of the first season to get new viewers caught up, any mild confusion you feel jumping into the second season is a) totally worth it and b) nothing compared to the confusion Sam Tyler is feeling. A police detective hit by a car while investigating a serial killer in 2006, Sam (John Simm, recently seen being awesome on Doctor Who) wakes up in 1973 Manchester (!). Complete with bell-bottom threads and the wailing tones of Mr. Bowie that give the series its name.
The main storyline that threads through the entire series is Sam’s disposition. Is he dead? Is he in a coma in 2006, with brainwaves so messed up they’ve created an amazingly detailed but entirely internal reality for him? Or have he and his modern police techniques actually been transported back to 1973? I’d imagine most viewers of Season 1 have placed their bets on that question by now, but creepy little tidbits like Test Card Girl (now with Clown!), phone calls from the future, and criminals overlapping both eras make any guess an uneasy one.
And the series is just as engaging when firmly grounded in 1973, with period sets, costumes, music, and, most importantly, attitudes leaving modern audiences as nonplussed as Sam is. The show can be grim, dealing with man’s inhumanity to man both great (murder) and small (we’ve not yet left the era of casual sexism and racism, a jarring reality the show best highlights with Philip Glenister‘s brilliant portrayal of Sam’s coarse but often correct 1973 boss). But you kind of have to love a show that balances the potentially supernatural and an era of urban decay with pasty, pudgy men in bikini swimsuits chasing a suspect to “Live and Let Die,” you really do.