Of all the alienated heroes crowding the fall schedule, New York cop Sam Tyler (Men in Trees' Jason O'Mara) may be the most estranged. In 2008, he's chasing a serial killer while suffering commitment issues with his girlfriend and fellow detective, Maya (Lisa Bonet, welcome back). Then bam! an accident knocks him unconscious, and he wakes up in 1973. Ultimately returning to his precinct, he finds himself surrounded by polyestered cops including Harvey Keitel and The Sopranos' Michael Imperioli who are unfamiliar not just with modern police tactics but with modern attitudes: They call a female police officer (Gretchen Mol) ''No Nuts Norris.'' Sam's a man disconnected, out of sequence, trying to get back to 2008 not that he was any less alienated there.
Based on a popular BBC series, Life on Mars, like Mad Men, makes a long-ago era feel both alien and nostalgic, like in the sweet moment where Sam wanders into a record store and just beams. O'Mara invests Sam with a tricky mix of shell shock and sensibility: Being the pragmatic detective he is, he begins working a 1973 murder that may be linked to his 2008 serial-killer case, buzzing with doubt all the while. Sam believes he must be in a coma, and hopes that once he stops dreaming so realistically, he'll wake up. ''Details, there are only so many details,'' he mutters...and as he scans the mad bustle of a New York City street, we all settle in for the duration. B+