In tonight's head-to-head battle between ABC's "Life on Mars" and CBS' "Eleventh Hour," only an eleventh-hour settlement of Western New York's TV war will make it a fair fight between the newcomers.
Thanks to its nostalgic element, its 1970s music and an exceptional cast, the charming "Mars" deserves more attention than "Eleventh Hour," the latest predictable clone of the "CSI" model from creator Jerry Bruckheimer.
ABC and CBS obviously believe in both series, since they put them on with a lead-in from their biggest hits -- "Grey's Anatomy" and "CSI," respectively. But if LIN TV and Time Warner Cable don't settle things and enable the more than half of Western New Yorkers who are Time Warner customers to see "Eleventh Hour" on Channel 4, then "Mars" on Channel 7 is the crime series that will have a clear-cut advantage here at 10 p.m.
The new series have things in common, too. They are both based on British series and both star European actors who play characters caught up in complicated situations that might confound anyone who is not a scientist.
In "Mars," Irish-born actor Jason O'Mara stars as a New York detective, Sam Tyler, who has been vaulted back 35 years while trying to uncover what happened to his missing girlfriend, Maya Daniels (played by Lisa Bonet, who has grown up since "The Cosby Show").
Like Dorothy in "The Wizard Of Oz," (which is referenced), Sam wants to get back home in 2008. (If I were Sam, I'd wait until the economic crisis is over.)
The strong supporting cast includes Harvey Keitel as his boss, Lt. Gene Hunt, who doesn't worry about police brutality charges while investigating a case with Tyler that seems to have applications to the missing Maya; Gretchen Mol, as Annie Norris, a member of the Police Women's Bureau in a sexist era when female cops were extremely rare; and Michael Imperioli as Ray Carling, a wise-cracking detective (which is never rare).
The premise allows viewers to enjoy the nostalgic music from The Doors, The Who, The Five Man Electrical Band, David Bowie and The Rolling Stones and be reminded of 1970s clothing styles and some old school police methods in an era before cell phones, DNA evidence and Diet Coke.
O'Mara is a ruggedly handsome actor who has some appealing softer edges that make the amusing trip to "Mars" even more enjoyable. And with this cast, producers Josh Appelbaum and Scott Rosenberg ("October Road") have the potential to take Tyler and "Mars" in numerous enjoyable directions.
Now on to "Eleventh Hour," in which British actor Rufus Sewell plays Jacob Hood, an unorthodox special science adviser assigned to the FBI to investigate crimes and crises of a scientific nature. Hood has all the 2008 technological advantages that Sam Tyler misses.
As in almost all Bruckheimer series, there is a beautiful, strong female character, Rachel Young (feature film actress Marley Shelton), who in this case tries to protect the scientist. She packs a gun and cops quite an attitude.
"Dr. Hood is not my partner," she explains. "He is my responsibility."
Tonight's premiere deals with the discovery of numerous fetuses, which leads to a suspicion that someone out there is practicing cloning. In another slow-moving episode, 11-year-olds in a small town are suspiciously dying of heart attacks.
In each case, the dry, quiet, thoughtful Hood -- think someone as eccentric as Monk who is sexier and has a better build -- uses his vast knowledge of the sciences, as well as history and instinct to uncover the villains.
Unfortunately, viewers without his scientific background might have difficulty playing along or caring how Hood solves the slow-moving mysteries.
Like all Bruckheimer series, the "Eleventh Hour" is well-produced. It is passable but slow-moving entertainment. It seems like the 11th edition of "CSI" on CBS, which might be one too many.
>Who shot Warrick?
Speaking of "CSI," tonight's powerful episode at 9, "For Warrick," deals with last-season's cliffhanger in which the CSI team member played by Gary Dourdan was shot in his car.
Without revealing whether Warrick lives or not, it is safe to say that the "CSI" crew is very melancholy as each member painstakingly tries to do his or her part to determine who shot their teammate and left him in a pool of blood.
Along the way, they learn one of Warwick's secrets and how deep his son-father love is for his boss, Gil Grissom (William Peterson). The understated scene in which his feelings for his boss are revealed is the episode's highlight.
The stress that Grissom is under in this episode would seem to be a big step in starting the ball rolling toward what should be just as an emotional episode in midseason that deals with Peterson's departure from the show.
"Life on Mars"
10 p.m. today
ABC Channel 7
Review: 3 1/2 stars (out of four)
10 p.m. today
CBS Channel 4
Review: 2 1/2 stars
9 p.m. today
CBS Channel 4
Review: Four stars