After a busy week, we finally sat down to watch Monday’s premiere of Terra Nova this morning, and I am skeptical. Spoilers ahead.
The story: in the dying future of 2149, we’ve ignored all of Al Gore’s warnings and the Earth is clouded over to the point where, as the characters later mention, even the Moon is unseen. Families are limited to four people, but our main characters, the Shannons, have an illegal 3rd child. Somehow they keep that fact a secret for three years, but when they’re found out, dad Jim punches some fellow cops and gets arrested. He serves two years in prison before his wife comes to help him break out, giving him a small laser cutting tool, so he can sneak in to join the rest of the fam (and smuggle in little Zoe) to travel to the distant pass for a new start.
We never see Jim’s escape from prison, just him sneaking into the line of time travelers, and though nearly arrested again he makes a run for it through the one-way portal. Apparently none of the security guards had guns in the future, but they do in the past. How convenient!
Well, no one really cares about how many kids they have here, and the gruff Colonel who’s in charge ends up putting Jim on agriculture duty while his doctor wife does her doctor thing.
On their first day, Jim hacks some weeds then captures a guy who was trying to kill the Colonel, so he gets to be a cop again after all. His Hermione Granger-knockoff daughter, Maddy (but I’m never going to call her that), fills us in on how this is an alternate timeline in addition to being 85 million years in the past. So no worries about stepping on butterflies, Maddy says, because it won’t mean they were never born.
Turns out the Sixth group to have come through all broke off into their own settlement and took over some iron quarry–they call them the Sixers. They don’t like Terra Nov for reasons we aren’t told, and there’s a brief standoff with them at one point where some iron gets traded for a captive and medical supplies.
Meanwhile, Rebellious Angry Teen son Josh makes friends with the Every Girl Skye, and goes “OTG”–Outisde The Gates–with her and her friends to cliff dive, look at some geometry scratchings left by persons unknown in the rocks, and check on their moonshine supply. All of these things do in fact happen. Sixers find their car and steal their power supplies, then get attacked by “Slashers”, this show’s answer to velociraptors, who have slashing barbs in their tails and love to hurt humans. Emphasis on hurt, apparently, as no one ends up dying from the Slasher-attack that fills up the last half hour of the premiere.
So the Colonel and the cops go find the kids who are holed with a wounded Sixer, shoot at some Slashers, and then stare goggle-eyed at the moon they’ve never seen before while Hermione tells us about how the moon moves a half centimeter away from the Earth every year (turns out, it’s 3.8 centimeters a year), and that the stars are in a different pattern now than in their original time because the universe hasn’t expanded as much, whatwith it being 85 million years earlier.
We end with the Sixer’s leader, Mila, and her wounded soldier (oh yeah, at some point during the Slasher attack, she showed up unnoticed, got him back, and left, without us ever seeing any of it or anyone noticing until afterwards), talking about how the scratchings are really from the Colonel’s runaway son, reminding his dad that he knows the secret of Terra Nova, and it has something with controlling the past to control the future.
I’ve got some beef with this show’s writing and acting. The writing is exactly what you expect to hear. Is Jim heading off into danger, and his wife Elizabeth is staying behind to help an injured girl? Well, they should have a moment before he leaves then! Nevermind the dying injured girl, it’s time right now to tell my husband in halting speech how I don’t blame him for our son running off! Yeah, best doctor ever here. All the word choices, the pauses, the god awful one-liners, they are completely expected. Then there are the things that just don’t make sense, like how Hermione talks about the stars not looking the same. This comes immediately after they talk about how the Moon became unviewable when her father was still young, so…how the hell would she know? I get it, she’s the smart chick, but there’s no reason for her to know what the stars look like if she can’t even see the moon! There’s also a conversation Skye and Josh have that doesn’t even make any sense at all, and it’s not due to overuse of future slang. It’s an overabundance of tired dialogue and too much telling, not showing.
The psuedo-science is half-assed, as well. They talk about how the newcomers often suffer from ‘hyperoxi-something’, basically their bodies aren’t used to having so much oxygen. But this gets some passing mentions, along with how the newbies (oh, they call them “fresh”) need to drink some kind of green protein shake only for the first few days to get their bodies adapted to the extra nutrients, etc. Okay, I’ve got some other questions: what about adjusting to the brightness factor? What about getting sunburned because they’ve never had to protect themselves against such direct exposure? What about getting a metric ton of vaccinations against diseases and sicknesses they have never had a chance to be exposed to? The family might’ve gotten these before coming, but Jail Cell Jim sure didn’t, or their illegal daughter. The offhanded butterfly reference to the chaos theory is pretty lame, too. I know it’s a popular saying and all, but can someone please come up with a new way to talk about that doesn’t involve butterflies already?
And then there’s half-assed mysterious threats. Slashers dinosaurs have sharp tails! They hunt in large packs! They are beating the shit out of this car! We’re so dead! Except NONE of the kids die. Seriously. One of them panics and runs off into the jungle, into the herd of dangerous pack hunters, and then stumbles out in front of the Colonel, Jim and Elizabeth’s car (oh, and the girl’s dad is there too, another soldier), injured but not dead. Not even missing a limb! Later one of their friends gets hi leg chomped on and is dragged out of the car, and they jump out with guns blazing to help him–he’s still being chomped on, but the slasher is scared off. He lives too! He even quips “Now we know why they call them slashers,” later, which (a) you already knew, (b) you were bitten, not slashed, and (c) your leg should probably be getting amputated right now, why are you vertical and making jokes at all? Then a third friend gets a proper slashing up his torso and should be losing his sweet meats, but he lives with a quick slapped on bandage, too! Not one of these idiot teenagers dies! We hear about how other people have died, and how it’s so dangerous, but no one here actually died despite given plenty of opportunity to do so! Look, if one velociraptor can kill Samuel L. Jackson, a pack of slashers should’ve eaten the hell out of Tasha.
Then there’s their ring leader, Skye. As mentioned, she’s the Every Girl. She seems to sometimes be a troublemaker, or a flirt, or a thrill seeker, or a smartass, or a badass with a gun shouting orders, or a conspiracy theorist, or, as we later learn, a girl who’s parents are not around for some reason and the Colonel was their friend so he keeps an eye on her now. So add orphan to the list. However, as they never say her parents died, I think it’s fairly obvious they’re with the Sixers. I’m hoping Skye turns out to be a traitor, because that would be a good twist at least, and possible motivation for why she’s whatever the situation/script calls for her to be.
Overall, it’s easy to see I wasn’t impressed. The script wasn’t great, the action was weirdly broken up and didn’t have any payoff, and the characters weren’t too strong. They all felt they’d taken one or two signifying traits during character creation to get bonuses to some key roles.
Elizabeth Shannon: Strong Female Doctor
Jim Shannon: Cop Dad
Josh Shannon: Rebellious Teen
Maddy Shannon: Hermione Granger
Zoe Shannon: Adorable Moppet
Skye: Troublemaker Orphan
Colonel: Badass Colonel
And they show these choices off in ways that are just too obvious and feel too set-up. The Colonel tells us how he ended up having to survive on his for the 181 days, and faces off with a dinosaur one-on-one, but you never really feel like it’ll end badly for him. Elizabeth talks about how she eschewed using her reputation and money to live comfortably in the future and chose to come here for her kids sake, but it smacks of ‘I thought you’d ask, so I prepared a speech!’ Actually, Hermione’s over-intelligence is the only thing that gets played in any natural way, so kudos to her for not overdoing or sounding too much like she was reading a script. And…yes, Zoe is an adorable moppet. It might saccharine soon, but dammit, the kid’s wicked cute!
Oh, yeah, one more thing. Why do your bullets do just about nothing against dinosaurs?!