October 3rd, 2011

Me

Terra Nova

FOX's long-delayed premiere of the new science fiction drama Terra Nova finally aired last week. I only got a chance to watch it this weekend (DVR is the TV Nerd's best friend!), and while what I saw wasn't terrible, it wasn't very original either. Think Jurassic Park meets Lost, with all the dinos, alternate time streams, and mysterious jungle secrets that entails. (Though at one point, when some characters hear a mysterious sound in the woods, I was thinking, "Please be a Sleestak, please be a Sleestak...")

By now you probably know the premise: The Shannon family, led by Jason O'Mara of the US version of Life on Mars and Shelley Conn of the UK's Dead Set miniseries, escape a polluted, totalitarian future where daring to have more than two children can get you thrown in jail for years--guess how many kids the Shannons have?--into the Cretaceous Period past, via a hole in time, as part of an experiment to start over. The show wisely explains that this is an alternate past, part of a different time stream, thereby eliminating the possible paradox that these people could change the future to the point where they never come to exist. The show also wisely gets the Shannons out of Grimy Future World before the first commercial break, because that was surely the most tedious part of the pilot. Once they reach the Terra Nova settlement in the past, things get much more interesting.

Unfortunately, it also gets pretty silly, pretty fast. Let's just say this isn't Sopranos-level writing. Here's a good example of script fail: Allison Miller's Skye, an orphaned girl at Terra Nova who happens to be in the same age group as the Shannon's son Josh (Landon Liboiron), is written as one of those confident, outgoing, effortlessly flirtatious teenage girls who only exist in fiction. While there's certainly nothing with presenting a young female character who's sure of herself as a kind of role model for viewers of the same demographic, Terra Nova gives her what we can now call the Starfire treatment--ten minutes after she's introduced, she's parading around in front of Josh in a bikini, thereby reducing her to sex-object status rather than making her a true, interesting character. It's as if the script were written by a fifteen-year-old boy.

Further proof that this might be the case comes in the form of Stephen Lang's Commander Taylor, leader of Terra Nova, whose heroic reading of the exclamatory line "Damnation!" at one point in the pilot earned him my sympathy as an actor. But he's written as a one-dimensional tough guy, the kind of steely-jawed, overly muscled team leader a fifteen-year-old boy might think up.

What Terra Nova does do, though, despite these issues, is reward your attention with action, humor, intrigue (there's another settlement! there are strange markings in the jungle!), a bit of humor, and of course the real reason we're watching, dino attacks. The pilot overstayed its welcome a bit at two hours, but I think the average hour-long episodes won't suffer that same fate. Silly as Terra Nova is on so many levels, I see a lot of potential for fun here, and I'll be tuning in again (the next episode airs tonight) to see what happens next. If I can get past the bad writing, surely there will be many cool dinosaur scenes to keep me coming back!