01 October 2011

Terra Nova

A few months back, I saw a promo for a new show coming out this September called "Terra Nova." If you remember the premise, a group of people travels 85 million years into the past to escape the polluted, dying Earth and start a new life. I just finished watching the pilot episode, and wanted to critique the show.

I'll try not to post anything too spoiler-ish, so this post can be read by everyone who's not seen the show yet.

First up, the plot basically starts out with Earth completely polluted to the point that people have to wear re-breathers to walk outside, families are limited to no more than two children to conserve oxygen, and simple things like the sun and the moon cannot be seen through thick smog clouds. Plant life is all but gone. A group of scientists has, however, discovered a rift in the space-time continuum which can enable people to travel back to the time of the dinosaurs - though it is a one-way trip exclusively - and slowly, small groups are making "pilgrimages" to the settlement established in this new timeframe, called "Terra Nova."

The show follows a family as they are selected to join the tenth pilgrimage: Jim Shannon, a cop and the father; Elizabeth Shannon, Jim's wife and a trauma surgeon who was selected for the pilgrimage based on her qualifications; Josh Shannon, their angsty teen son; Maddy Shannon, their brilliant-but-in-a-nerdy-way daughter; and Zoe Shannon, their third child. Third child? But they were only allowed to have two children! Yup. It's a plot twist. Get over it.

The Terra Nova compound is a giant ring surrounding a large tract of farmland. Though the show hasn't gotten into specifics much, it has a medical area, a command center, solar and wind power stations, and a while bunch of very tall gates designed to keep out the dinosaurs. But Terra Nova is not without its flaws. The kids there like to sneak outside the gates, there is a sect of people called Sixers who came through on the sixth pilgrimage who separated and created their own compound somewhere (and who act very much like raiders), and of course there are security problems.

I won't delve much more into things than I already have about the storyline itself. I think you should go watch the pilot for yourself. What I will say is that the show has its good points and its things it should improve upon. The plot itself is compelling. There are some twists and turns, and there are mysteries to be solved throughout the course of the season (mysterious rock carvings, anyone?) in much the same way that "LOST" had. So if you were a fan of that show, as I was, you should give "Terra Nova" a chance. The show also has a semi-Jurassic Park feel. Yes, I know it's horrifyingly cliche to compare every film product with dinosaurs with "Jurassic Park," but seriously, that movie set the standard for dino films. There are big gentle dinos like the Allosaurs with their long necks, dinos like velociraptors called "Slashers," and big T-rex looking things that they call "Carnosaurs."

On the weaker end of the show, for one thing, I had a hard time getting past some of the CG. A good show nowadays is one in which you don't go "oh, man, that's totally a fake whatever-it-is." That is to say that even if something is CG, the viewer doesn't notice it. In "Terra Nova," I noticed it. Another flaw has to do with the characters. Now, this is a new show, with good characters. Jason O'Mara, who plays Jim Shannon, has had appearances on "Band of Brothers," "Grey's Anatomy," "CSI:Miami," and "Life on Mars," to name a few. But Shelley Conn, Landon Liboiron, Naomi Scott, and Alana Mansour (the other four family members) haven't been in a lot of mainstream stuff before, and their acting skills were weak. Liboiron, who plays Josh Shannon, is a VERY stereotypical "you-can't-tell-me-what-to-do" angsty teenager, very cliche. The Maddy character could be interesting if they develop her right, and the characters of Elizabeth and Zoe are really tabula rasa for this show... they could end up being enjoyable or very, very flat. Among the other major characters are Allison Miller, playing Syke (an odd pun, perhaps?), and Stephen Lang (of Avatar fame, among many, many other things) playing the Terra Nova Commander Nathaniel Taylor. Both of these characters are intriguing, and I will be interested to see how they develop. Major potential.

Overall, I liked the pilot. I think the show has some good potential, though I could definitely see it turning into something a lot like "LOST." That might be good, since "LOST" was very popular, but it might turn away a lot of viewers who didn't like that shows multitude of twists and turns and non-explanations.

Do yourself a favor. Take an 90 minutes and watch the pilot, then let me know what you think in the comments box.


  1. I agree that this show has a good premise ... albeit one fatal flaw: traveling back in time 85 million, to a time where dinosaurs walked the earth, places them there 20 million years before the asteroid hits that destroys the dinosaurs and most of the rest of life (including most larger mammals who were emerging at the time) on earth.

    Why didn't they choose a time AFTER the asteroid hit? As it is, the offspring of the Terra Nova time travelers will be wiped out, right along with the dinosaurs in 20 million years. Why go back 85 million years? Wouldn't it have been a better idea to go back only 1 million years? 10 million years? Both place the settlers in a time well after the demise of the dinosaurs.

    Having Brannon Braga at the helm of this makes me nervous. Look at what he did for Enterprise and Voyager. It's almost as if the great idea of Terra Nova is doomed before it has a chance to blossom.

  2. Hey Paul, thanks for the comment!

    I suppose I should mention that I really liked "Star Trek: Voyager." I actually just finished watching all seven seasons on Netflix just recently.... So yeah....

    But to your fatal flaw, I can only surmise that the temporal rift that they used only goes to one place: the alternate timeline. It doesn't sound like it can shift around to different places in the timestream. If that is true, then the Terra Nova researchers didn't have a choice to only go back one million years versus 85 million.

    As for the show's producers, perhaps the whole asteroid-wipes-out-all-life plot device will play a part in the show in the future. That would make sense as to why they put the show pre-end of the dinosaurs. Plus dinos always make for good television!

    I'm going to give it a chance. It might be a flop, but it does have enough potential to make it worth watching a few new episodes.