Dear Hollywood: despite what you may think, not every teenage boy out there is an annoying little prick suffering from uncontrollable, mysterious teen angst. And certainly not after you’ve sent him a gazillion million years into the past through a fancy schmancy time portal/gateway doohickey, and to a world surrounded by mysterious wonders, dino-friggin’-saurs, and the like.
Other than that, there’s a lot to like about FOX’s new sci-fi/dino show “Terra Nova”, but also a lot to groan about. “Terra Nova” is a show that is so expensive per episode it’s rumored that a first born is sacrificed each time a new episode is shot. That may be a tad hyperbolic. A tad…
Set a hundred or so years in the future, on a planet Earth where the shit has royally hit the fan thanks to our poor environmental management (i.e. Al Gore was right), humanity now wallows in pollution as if the entire world was Los Angeles. The Shannons, led by Narcotics cop Jim (Jason O’Mara), are a naughty family. When we first meet them, Jim and wife Elizabeth (Shelley Conn) have defied global law by having a third kid. (Apparently the future operates under very strict China-like law that a family can only have two kids each.) For the crime, Jim is locked up. Well, he also did punch a couple of cops, so there’s that, too.
Flash forward to two years later, and Elizabeth and her kids (two of them, anyway — awkward brainiac daughter Maddy (Naomi Scott) and rebel-without-a-clue son Josh (Landon Liboiron, soon to be the scourge — and dare I say, delight — of “Terra Nova” TV recappers everywhere)) have been chosen to travel back in time to Terra Nova, a camp billions of years in the past (in dinosaur land) where humanity is getting a fresh start. In order to reunite before it’s too late, Jim breaks out of prison, grabs the third kid, and makes a run for the time machine doohickey. And yes, in the future breaking out of a maximum security prison, skirting the security at the hub of all human salvation is a cinch, because ol Jim barely breaks a sweat doing both.
I guess that’s why they call it science fiction, right?
Anyhoo, now safe in the past, the Shannons come under the authority of the military badass Nathaniel Taylor (“Avatar’s” Stephen Lang, doing essentially a variation of his “Avatar” character minus the genocidal tendencies), the first man who ever went through the time machine 7 years earlier. The past is rosy and filled with natural wonders, dinosaurs that snack on the overflowing vegetation, as well as a splinter group of future refugees called the Sixers — one of the groups that came through the time machine that have broken away and have a super secret agenda that no one knows about. Or at least, until in future episodes when all is revealed. Or some such.
With two hours and change to play with (including commercials), the “Terra Nova” pilot does a fare job establishing its world, past and present. The future stuff looks great, even if the scripting is less than stellar. Again, it’s simply laughable how easily Jim busts out of prison (we don’t even see him do it) and sneaks his way into the time machine hub. There is supposed to be a super duper major surprise once the family arrives at Terra Nova, but the first 5 or so minutes pretty much gave that away. I hear a lot of the pilot has been retooled, with reshoots added for clarity. This would explain why the pilot essentially stabbed itself in the back with the third kid plot.
Once in “Terra Nova”, there is the usual assortment of characters, interpersonal conflicts, and the like. Teenager Josh goes full-blown dick and begins bucking authority at every turn. Apparently having just stepped through a time machine that took him back billions of years into the past really didn’t make much of an impression on the little tyke. Before you can shout “generic and wholly predictable Hollywood TV writing”, Josh has hooked up with a local girl (Allison Miller) and escaped from the well-guarded encampment to make merry outside with a bunch of other similarly bored teenagers. Because, you know, the fact that they are billions of years in the past and thus surrounded by dangerous, flesh-chomping dinosaurs really didn’t make much of an impression on these brats. Sigh. Stab me in the eyes now, please.
Without a doubt, if you enjoyed the “Terra Nova” pilot at all, it’s thanks to great work by Lang and O’Mara. The two manly men are surprisingly like-minded at first, though there will obviously be differences in the future. Not quite as successful is O’Mara’s (shockingly lack of) chemistry with leading lady Shelley Conn, playing a wife he loves so much he bucked global law by having a third kid with, the result of which has them hiding the kid like she’s a lost puppy when people show up at their tiny little apartment. Talk about dead on arrival. Conn could have been O’Mara’s platonic next door neighbor or big sister for all the heat the two generates. Hell, even oldest daughter Maddy’s awkward flirtations with a local hunky soldier is more believable than this married couple. What a major miscasting. More believable is Jim’s relationship with his daughters.
If you like dinosaurs, though, “Terra Nova’s” got you covered. There are friendly dinosaurs. Dangerous dinosaurs. Huge dinosaurs. Small dinosaurs. Chasing dinosaurs. Dinosaurs that are freaky scary as hell. Dinosaurs that are downright cute. You name it, they’ve spent money making it for you in “Terra Nova”. (Thus, the film’s huge per-episode budget.) The problem, of course, is how long that novelty will last. You can only be pre-occupied by the dinos for so long, after all. Right now, I can’t tell if “Terra Nova” has enough in the tank to make you care about the people, or the unfolding conspiracy angle between the folks at Terra Nova and those mysterious Sixer types led by Christine Adams.
Lang’s character certainly has plenty of arc in him, and here’s hoping Jim becomes just as complicated in future episodes. Come on, he can’t be this great, can he? Our hero is the perfect husband, father, and cop, for God’s sake. Let’s see some shades! That, and Josh and his merry band of generic teenage buddies get eaten by a dinosaur in the first few minutes of next week’s episode…