Am I time traveller? Am I in a coma? Am I a lunatic? These are the minor questions that plaque Sam Tyler (Jason O'Mara) formerly a NYC police detective in 2008 and now a NYC police detective in 1973. One day Sam is hit by a car and wakes up in Mars...I mean in the 1973. Fortunately, David Bowie is around both times to cushion the blow.
We're introduced to Sam Tyler and his girlfriend and partner Maya (Lisa Bonet). They're arguing on their way to apprehend a serial killer. Maya wants Sam to meet her family, but Sam wants to talk about it later. Since this is a TV show, he's going to regret those words.
They arrive at Colin Raimes' (Michael Bertolini) apartment—the man they suspect of kidnapping young women and then strangling them. Raimes sees them coming and a chase ensues. He jumps out a 2 storey window followed by Sam. After a fight, which Sam wins, he takes Raimes in for questioning.
During the interview, we discover that while they have fiber evidence, Raimes has something better: a video alibi of him gambling. They have to let him go, but Maya isn't convinced by the alibi, so she starts following Raimes alone. Meanwhile, Sam finds out that Raimes has a twin brother. This knowledge is too late for Maya though, she's gone missing with just her bloody blouse left in the playground, like the rest of the victims.
Sam rushes to her apartment building. David Bowie's “Life on Mars” is playing on his iPod. He gets out of the car to cross the street and is hit by an oncoming vehicle.
Life on Mars is still playing as Sam wakes up. He looks around and sees that Maya's apartment building is an empty site. Sam, who is now wearing a leather jacket and red bell bottoms. David Bowie is still playing though, but on an 8-track tape this time. Sam's a little confused. It doesn't help when a cop rolls up to tell him that he can't park there. Sam insists that the car isn't his, despite the police officer pulling out a registration in Sam's name. Sam is not convinced, until he looks up and sees the Twin Towers.
Wandering the streets of a very 1970s New York, complete with more polyester than you can shake a stick at and transistor radios, Sam finds a detective badge in his pocket and proceeds to his police station where Chris (Jonathon Murphy), one of the detectives, explains to him that they're expecting him. He's apparently a transfer from Hyde. Not that Sam knows where Hyde is.
Sam, well, Sam proceeds to completely wig out. He starts ranting about his desk and his office until he gets the attention of the head detective: Gene Hunt (Harvey Keitel). Gene, with a punch to the stomach, lets Sam know who's boss. When Sam starts hearing voices from what seems to be 2008, he starts screaming, which prompts Ray (Michael Imperioli) to send Sam to be checked out by Annie (Gretchen Mol).
Annie's a member of the Police Women's Bureau, which means that she is basically treated like crap by the chauvinistic detectives in the division despite her psychology degree. Sam confides in her that he thinks he's a time traveller. Fortunately for him, she just takes him to his apartment, provided by the department and complete with clothes from Hyde, and suggests that he stop thinking they're all figments of his imagination. It's good advice, but it's something Sam can't do, especially when his TV starts talking to him. The scientist on the TV suggests that Sam is in a vegetative state and that his occasional movements might suggest that he's in an alternate dimension. Sam yells at the screen, but all he gets is a stand by pattern.
On the crime front, the serial killer from 2008 seems to be active in 1973. Sam immediately thinks of Raimes, and then realizes that Raimes must be a child. He finds the same artificial fibers under the latest victim's fingers. He tries to get Annie to provide a psychological profile. When she's ridiculed by the team and sent packing by Gene, he leaves the station and tries to out walk his delusion. Sam figures that if he wanders long enough, his brain won't be able to sustain the intense level of detail.
Instead, he finds a record store that his mother used to take him to when he was a boy. After waxing nostalgic about vinyl for awhile, he has an idea. The artificial fibers could be soundproofing. This idea is just in time because another girl has gone missing.
He tells Gene and the rest of the detectives his theory, but they're skeptical until Colin Raimes' grandmother is brought in at Sam's request. She tells them about a neighbor, Willie (Austin Basis), who used to play his music too loud...at least until he had his apartment soundproofed.
Gene and Sam head over to Willie's apartment. Gene breaks down the door sans warrant and they find the missing girl. Willie's also there, but he gets away. Sam chases him, but Willie gets Sam's gun, and holds Sam at gunpoint. To Sam's surprise and then relief, Willie starts muttering about a bullet being the only way to get home. Sam figures that solving the crime in 1973 will save Maya and send him home, so he starts yelling at Willie to shoot him.
But, Ray arrives to apprehend Willie. Ray is amused by Sam's “crazy” behavior and thinks that he might fit in after all. Considering Sam's reaction when Ray punches out the already handcuffed suspect, I doubt it.
As they take Willie away, Sam sees him smile and wave at a little boy: Colin Raimes (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick). Sam realizes that Maya was right. Raimes was trying to impress Willie—the murders were copycats. A worried Sam goes back to the house to talk to the boy Raimes. He tells the child that it's good to be afraid—that Willie didn't have the answers. He says all this while holding his gun. Just when I think he's going to shoot the child to protect Maya in the future, his radio comes on: it's Maya. She tells Sam that she's safe; that he shouldn't worry about her. Sam tries to talk to her, but she doesn't hear him. Sam puts his gun away even as the radio comes on again. Chris tells Sam that he's needed at an armed robbery. Sam, reluctantly, puts a siren on his car and drives off—still in 1973.
My favorite part? The detailed recreation of the 1970s: music, fashion, cars, and attitudes. I am really going to need a soundtrack for this TV show.