We already had an American version of British time-travel show Life On Mars — it was called Journeyman, and it ruled for the half season it was on the air. Sadly, someone decided we needed a literal cover version of Life On Mars, and we wound up with a shadow of the Brit version, as you can see from this side-by-side comparison of one of the most disturbing sequences from the original.
In both versions of Mars, this sequence comes at a crucial point: Sam Tyler, trapped in 1972, has decided to help the cops solve a murder that he thinks may be related to the kidnapping of his girlfriend in the future. So he's giving a little talk about the psychology of the killer, and he decides to bring a woman police officer, Annie, into the mix.
Everything about the British version of this sequence is better. First of all, the sexism of the cops is way more believable — although in the American version, they do have a cop make a weird remark about Annie's boobs. It's way, way more clear that the female cop doesn't belong in this milieu, and in the British version she acts embarrassed, sheepish. In the American version, she's just sort of wooden and never really seems to doubt herself much at all. She's believable as a 1990s woman, but not a 1970s one.
And then there's the fact that in the American version, Sam Tyler does all of the talking — he's just brought Annie over to serve as a prop. (So he can grab her neck as if to strangle her, thus showing there's sexual tension between them.) He doesn't actually need her input, and she has nothing useful to say. (She only has a B.A. in psychology in the British version, not the American version.) It's creepy in both versions, but in the American version it's only creepy because Sam is a creep. The end.
So how does the American pilot (due to be totally reshot with a new cast except for the lead, and a new producer) compare with the British version otherwise? Well there's good news and bad news.
Okay, first the good news: The American version follows the story beats of the UK version, pretty much note for note. There's a guy kidnapping and killing women, and then Sam's (ex?) girlfriend, a fellow cop named Maia, goes after him and gets kidnapped. Sam is upset, and then he's hit by a car and finds himself in 1972. He finally decides to accept the reality of his surroundings and helps the 70s cops to find the same guy who apparently kidnapped Maia in the future.
Also, there's no funkay disco music in the actual episode — that was just for the promos.
Now for the bad news. There's not as much ambiguity about whether Sam is really in a coma. At the very end of the episode, we hear the bleeping and wheezing of Sam's life-support system, indicating to the slow viewers that he really is in a coma.
The relationship between Sam and Maia, his ex-girlfriend and current subordinate in the future, is way way more cheesy and pulpy in the American version. In the UK original, the tension between them is fairly subtle, but apparent enough to hit home. In the American rendition, it's a total sledge-hammer. When the cops go to pick up Colin Raimes, Sam orders Maia to hang back and protect the perimeter. "You can't protect me!" she bleats.
Later, it's Sam (not Maia, as in the British version) who insists that Colin Raimes is connected to the murders after Raimes has a perfect alibi. Instead of Maia being stubborn and insisting on investigating Raimes further, Sam orders her to look into it some more. "I have a feeling he's connected," Sam says. "It's nice to know you have feelings," Maia bleats. He gets all gruff with her and orders her to do his bidding.
And then there are the 1970s cops, who are just way less convincing. I love Colm Meaney, but he's not able to convey the asshole thuggishness of Philip Glennister's DCI Hunt. Meaney's version of Gene Hunt is a total pushover, a pansy. Yes, he roughs up Sam Tyler a bit here and there, but he's way too kindly. In one key scene, Hunt says Dora, a witness, is a "pain in the ass." (Just like in the British version.) But then he turns to Sam and says, "like you," in a sweet fatherly way. And later, Sam actually kicks Hunt's ass, which is just wrong. And there's none of the great stuff like the cops ruining evidence with their greasy food, or eating sandwiches and smoking in the morgue.
After they capture the serial killer, there's no debate over whether to destroy the psych report that could help him cop an insanity plea — it just never comes up in the American version. (Maybe they're saving it for episode two?)
One thing that was really elegant about the British version is that most of the characters just sort of ignore Sam's ravings, and assume he's just another weirdo. Only Annie actually listens and engages with Sam's belief that he's in a coma in the future. But in the American version, everybody seems to be aware of Sam's belief that he's from the future, and they all mock him for it. Which, you would think, might make it hard for them to take him seriously as a detective. The episode ends with the other cops still making fun of Sam's delusions that he's from the future. And the relationship between Sam and Gene has none of the complex mixture of male-bonding and mutual loathing that you see from early on in the UK version.
Speaking of which, there's absolutely no chemistry between Sam and his fellow cop Annie in this version — in fact, there's reverse chemistry, the kind that makes it impossible to believe they would even belong in the same room together. In fact, Sam has no chemistry with anyone in the American Mars — and I don't think replacing the entire cast except for Sam will fix the problem.
The creeptastic scene where Neil, Annie's ex-boyfriend, pretends to be a hypnotherapist who's reaching Sam in his coma makes no sense this time around. Instead of being Annie's ex-boyfriend, he's just a random psychotherapist friend of hers (who's mentioned in passing earlier) and he decides to introduce himself to Sam by trying this random-ass "treatment" and reach Sam in his own logic. It literally makes no sense and just feels weird.