Fans of ABC's Life on Mars were treated to one of the most wildly original and daring series finales in TV history. In recent years we've seen Six Feet Under kill everyone off , The Sopranos cut to black and Battlestar Galactica jump 150,000 years into the future. But Life on Mars topped all of those.
Detective Sam Tyler was hit by a car in 2008 and woke up in 1973, unsure of how he came to be there. His season-long journey to go back home finally reached its end in the final scene of the series when Sam woke up and returned to his reality. It might not sound shocking, but the twist came when Sam's present was revealed to be 2035.
It turns out the entire series was just a simulation Sam was going through on the two-year journey of the first manned mission to Mars in 2035. After hugging his boss, the screen glitched and he emerged from his space pod alongside his fellow astronauts, all of whom were the characters from his simulated life.
It turned out his simulation was supposed to take place in 2008, but a computer error shifted him to 1973 with all of his 2008 memories. As far as science fiction goes, this was a truly audacious twist that catapulted a good series into either greatness or pure trash, depending on your point of view.
But how can anyone not love the cute futuristic joke about President Obama being unable to say hello because she and her sister had to visit their sick father in Chicago? That's right, in 2035, either Sasha or Malia is the president.
In hindsight, the twist beautifully fits into everything we've seen. Throughout the entire series, others have called Sam space man and his favorite childhood toy was a rocket ship. At the time, this just seemed like slang for a crazy person, but now all of those little pieces make sense.
Ironically, we owe this brilliant finale to ABC for canceling the show early. Sometimes shows are canceled after they've finished filming, meaning they're never able to adequately conclude. Pushing Daisies, for example, still has three unaired episodes that won't appear until the DVD is released in July, and even then, the episodes were all filmed before the show was canceled.
ABC's early cancellation of Life on Mars gave the show's writers a chance to end it definitively, and revealing that the entire series was a simulation did just that. The audacity of pulling the rug out from viewers' expectations and the stunningly beautiful science fiction tone of the first mission to Mars helped to make the Life on Mars series finale something fans won't soon forget.