Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Terra Nova: A Great Show No One is Watching

Terra Nova, a new show on Fox from Steven Spielberg and Brannon Braga that launched this season, starring Jason O’Mara (Jim Shannon) and Stephen Lang (Commander Nathaniel Taylor). The blurb from the Fox website dedicated to the show is as follows:

TERRA NOVA follows an ordinary family on an incredible journey back in time to prehistoric Earth as a small part of a daring experiment to save the human race. In the year 2149, the world is dying. The planet is overdeveloped and overcrowded, with the majority of plant and animal life extinct. The future of mankind is in jeopardy, and its only hope for survival is in the distant past.
When scientists unexpectedly discovered a fracture in time that made it possible to construct a portal into primeval history, the bold notion was born to resettle humanity in the past – a second chance to rebuild civilization and get it right this time.

Okay: what follows is a great adventure and suspense story, with family values. Yeah: family values and dinosaurs. This is not Land of the Lost nor Swiss Family Robinson, but a whole new creature.

When I watched the first episode I was actually turned off to the show. The set up and writing were trite and fell back on expected tropes. Examples within the pilot you have the angry eldest son who is so much like his father that he tries to go opposite of the man. The brainy and awkward middle child (daughter) and then the cute and oh so adorable youngest. Then there is the heavy handed social issues rammed down the throats of viewers on the environment and, oddly enough, population control. The hook is set immediately with a splinter group called Sixers (they came on the 6th pilgrimage) trying to usurp Terra Nova and Commander Taylor’s son is involved. Taylor himself seems to know what is going on but keeps it close to the vest.

Fortunately I kept watching. Despite Brannon Braga (The guy who I hold responsible for watering down Star Trek to a thin gruel) being involved, and the family oriented view point this show is good! (Not that there is anything wrong with a family oriented story, I just like my pulp a little harder than that.)

After the shaky start, the writing and plots have improved exponentially. The dinosaur effects and the fact there are dinos actually falls to the background, because the story and the characters do pull you in. The setting is the back drop to the larger drama. The scaly predators enhance what is all ready there.

The real star of the show to me is Stephen Lang, despite the films Avatar and Conan the Barbarian, this guy is awesome! This actor has some serious chops, and is not given enough credit for the solid, and believable performances he is capable of. Not only that, he is THE Bad Ass of Terra Nova. The man will go toe to toe with a T-Rex with a pocket knife! He will also do anything to insure the survival of Terra Nova and the people under his protection. (Totally unrelated note: This guy would have my vote to be Travis Morgan, The Warlord, in DC comics hollow world setting Skartaris.)

The interaction with the family unit at times strains the sweetness factor and too often hit’s the awwww factor. But that is my personal issue with it. The meaty exchanges are between Jim Shannon and Commander Taylor. As the only cop in Terra Nova Shannon has become Taylor’s head of security, and quasi-right hand. Their relationship is true bromance stuff. Shannon is willing to back Taylor’s plays, trusting the man to do the right thing. As an example in a recent episode Taylor tells Shannon: “You are the only one I trust 100% right now.” I hope to see even stronger exchanges between them, those things that strain friendships and build the strength of their trust further.

No one in this show just phones in a performance. The interactions, motivations, and dialogue are top notch. From Dr. Elizabeth Shannon’s ( Jim’s wife) relationship with an old college boyfriend to the villains and spies that all have strong personal motivations.

The show is not doing as well as it should in the ratings and I fear it will not see a second season. The budget was astronomical in the production and that is seen in the thirty-five minutes of run time vs. twenty-five in advertising. The value is apparent on the screen: the sets, the creatures, the tech, all are top notch. I think it is the lack of dinos in ever episode that seems to be a detractor for folks, but it falls to the background for me, because the story has evolved to something that good!

So check it out on Hulu, or other media, give it three episodes or even less. If you like Jurassic tension with a side of home town goodness thrown in, and a dash of pulp bad-assery this show has what you need.