2011-09-27

Terra Nova – Find The Fres Start We Need

by Yo Snyder

There are a lot of new shows debuting this Fall, which makes it hard
to pick and choose what to add to those returning favorites I want to
continue to watch. There several new comedies, none of which really
grabbed my attention (although New Girl looks entertaining), a couple of Mad Men wannabes which I’m skipping (because quite frankly, how could I ever tell my wife I’m watching a show called The Playboy Club; yeah, that’d go over well), and more police procedurals (although Person of Interest
has a different spin on that). Yet in the midst of the crowd was one
show that piqued my interest. A sci-fi show about humanity’s struggle to
survive a grim and hopeless future by going 85 millions years into the
past. It’s like Jurassic Park meets Swiss Family Robinson meets Lost meets Avatar. Cool. So, does Terra Nova live up to the hype? Does it truly stand out from the crowd? Most importantly, is it good enough to last a few seasons?

One thing is apparent from the opening shot of Terra Nova;
this is an ambitious show for. The zooming pan shot from the moon
through Earth’s atmosphere swooping through a cityscape into the hallway
of building is something you’d see in a big budget movie. Granted the
FX aren’t quite on par with a big budget film, but they’re pretty good
for TV. This is a bleak future where the world’s environment is on the
verge of collapse. The world is over-populated (Four is a Family
proclaim billboard, Over-Population Equals Extinction), it’s polluted,
and it’s just not very nice. The show does a good job of quickly
establishing this bleak future in order to help us understand why anyone
would want to travel back and live with dinosaurs. But then again,
that’s what we came to see, so they don’t take a lot of time to get
there, but spend just enough time to establish why people would want to
do so.

The brisk pace continues throughout the episode as we meet
characters, get to know this new world and some of the rules that run
it, and of course get to see dinosaurs. The influence of Jurassic Park
is apparent throughout the show, but that’s really no bad thing.
There’s plenty of dinosaur action; some of it surprisingly brutal
(making this a show not to watch with younger kids). There’s plenty of
action, several intriguing mysteries introduced, and all in all it looks
like Terra Nova is going to be a fun place to visit on a weekly basis.

Of
course none of this would work without good characters, and while it’s
only the pilot episode, I think the show has a good group to work with.
Stephen Lang plays the tough, militant and mysterious leader of this
colony in the past. Sure there are shades of his character from Avatar
here, but I think there’s plenty of room for this character to grow and
develop in order to get out of that shadow. It’s nice to see Jason
O’Mara again after Life on Mars, and he does a fine job with his
tough guy but compassionate father thing. One scene with his youngest
daughter, while a bit schmaltzy, was nonetheless very effective and
showed that this could be a sci-fi show with a great family heart.
Shelley Conn is solid as the caring wife, and the kids all do a decent
job with their roles as well. Of course, there s a splinter faction that
have formed their own colony to add a bit of intrigue, and the
rebellious teenagers to cause some mischief. (Although I have to say the
teen slang for everything on Terra Nova quickly got tiresome).
The family dynamic especially worked well. Having the Shannon’s be the
core group through with we experience this adventure is an idea that
works well. I like that they’re a caring family who truly love each
other, and hopefully the strength of that family bond will be at the
center of how they face the challenges that lie ahead. 

Along with
the family angle, there’s a lot of talk in this first episode about
starting over. The world they came from was a mess because humanity gave
in to its “baser instincts”.  Now, with Terra Nova, they have a chance
to start over with a clean slate. What I want to know is if the problem
in the future in humanity, what makes anyone think that by traveling
back to the past they can correct that problem. Sure they have a clean
slate to work with, but if it was humanity that caused the future to end
up so bleak, what good does it do for that same humanity to start over
in a pristine paradise? Obviously a change is need, but a change of
local in the space-time continuum won’t be enough; what’s need is a
change of humanity. It’s not just the world that’s polluted, we’re
polluted as well; polluted with sin. That’s what causes us to give in to
those “baser instincts” that apparently will lead to a very grim future
indeed. The problem won’t be solved 85 million years in the past, but
it was taken care of 2,000 years ago. When Jesus Christ, God’s son, died
on the cross and rose from the dead, he provided the solution for sin.
He made it possible for us to change, to be better, to overcome those
“baser instincts”, and to help us make a better future; regardless of
whether it’s now or 85 million years ago. To save the future we don’t
need to travel to the past, we just need to admit our sin and that Jesus
can solve that problem. Sure, it may not be quite as exciting as living
with dinosaurs, but it solves the one problem that is truly the cause
of humanity’s downfall.

Terra Nova established a lot of
momentum with it’s two-hour premiere, and now it needs to keep that
going. Several plotlines were introduced, and now instead of slowly
teasing them out, the show should select one and run with it this
season. Explore it, answer the mysteries connected with it, and resolve
it all this season. Tease some of the other mysteries and plotlines,
explore some of the history of the characters and develop them, but
don’t just tease things along slowly thinking that this show is going to
have a good long run. That didn’t work for The Event, and hasn’t worked for any show post-Lost (and some would say didn’t even work for that show), so they shouldn’t try it here. Terra Nova
needs a steady advancement with at least one of these storylines during
this first season to keep the momentum it’s established. 

Terra Nova
is a risky show, but I think the Jurassic Park/Swiss Family Robinson
set-up works. Granted, it has it’s problems. There are some silly
moments, some glaring plot-holes, and some questionable motivations for
some of the characters to do what they do, but that’s all stuff that can
get worked out as the show settles in and truly finds itself. Quite
frankly, it’s nice to have some good sci-fi on TV again. (And if you’re
wondering how people could live in the past without altering the future,
the requisite super-nerd kid explains how the time fracture they
traveled through actually sent them not just to the past, but to an
alternate time stream. Nice.) This is a rich world with lots of story
potential. There’s plenty to explore not just with the sci-fi elements
and all those dinos, but with the characters as well. The show seems to
have a good balance between it’s warm-hearted family center and some
intense and even bloody action. While not exactly a kids show, for
families with older kids, this could be a fun way to spend a regular
Monday night together. Is Terra Nova good enough to last? I think
so. It all depends on how they handle the mysteries and secrets they’ve
set up. If they run with a few of them and resolve them this season,
the show should do fine. If they insist on a slow tease of constantly
introducing more questions without any answers, it’s simply not going to
make it. Kudos to Fox for being willing to take a risk with such an
ambitious show (hopefully they handle it better then other shows like Firefly; yeah, I’m still bitter about that), I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.

Terra Nova airs Mondays at 8/7c on Fox.