Throughout the Fall TV season I will be giving my first impressions on many of the new pilots as they air. Keep in mind that these are not full-fledged reviews. One, writing about TV is not my full-time job (yet), so I simply do not have the time to invest in complete reviews for each and every show that airs this fall. Two, it is very difficult to completely make a ruling about a show based solely on the very first episode, especially when it comes to comedy. Showrunners will make changes, premises will be altered, and time must be allotted to find what works with the characters, flesh them out properly and match them with a proper tone. Bearing this in mind, I bring you my first impressions of Terra Nova.
Terra Nova - FOX (Mondays, 8:00pm EST)
SPOILER ALERT - I will be giving away some plot points from the premiere. Read at your own risk.
This one has a LOT to live up to coming into the fall TV season this year. The pilot for Terra Nova has been shot, scheduled, delayed, re-shot and rescheduled several times over the past year and a half, leading to some of the most intense speculation that any series has seen in recent history. Initially slated to premiere in the midseason lineup last year, the pilot was then pushed back to a planned premiere last May, a la Glee from two years ago, but was then delayed once again before landing on the schedule last night. The very big names behind the scenes including a couple 24 vets and most notably Steven Spielberg also add to the allure. So, how was the actual show now that we all finally got to see the finished product? Well, the fine-toothed comb that went through every frame is definitely noticeable, but I gotta say I still enjoyed what I was given. The dinosaurs looked pretty good for a network TV show - and if you want to bitch and moan that they don’t look as good as their movie counterparts, I will ask you to stop it. We all know TV doesn’t get the kind of budget that film does.
The premise is simple, yet effective - Earth in the year 2149 is too polluted and overpopulated for long-term survival, so groups of people are sent back in time 85 million years to attempt a fresh start. We learn that there won’t be any butterfly effect sort of shenanigans as this version of the past is not connected to the future from where these settlers came. How this works exactly, we are not told, but are asked to trust the exposition for now. There is an extended amount of time at the top of the first hour spent in future Earth as we get to know the Shannons (scenes that were not in the original pilot), however it is mostly ham-handed and clunky time I could’ve done without. But once we get to Terra Nova, things smooth out a bit. All in all, there is a little something for everyone in this pilot - a family drama complete with a newly reunited family and daddy issues, some fairly intense dinosaur-driven action-adventure, and even a bit of LOST-ian mythology thrown in for good measure. Some of these elements are played better than others, sure, and striking the right balance will be key to the success of the series. First and foremost, the Shannon family needs to be more interesting. I care more for the HCIC (Head Colonist in Charge), Taylor, but mostly because he’s a badass. The coolest takeaway of the episode was a throwaway line that told us Taylor was the first to cross through the portal and was alone for 133 days before the next people showed up - apparently a mere moment in the year 2149 is half a year 85 million years in the past. As far as the Lost comparisons go - yes, there is a version of the Others known as “Sixers” - people who came on the sixth pilgrimmage and formed a splinter colony - but those developments are handled pretty well and should lead to some great conflict down the road. Not so well-handled are the strange markings left at the waterfalls by Taylor’s son, who disappeared from the Terra Nova colony years earlier. It would’ve been nice to get some slow-burn action with this, but the leader of the Sixers outright tells us at the end that these are the most important thing that explain the whole existence of Terra Nova - so there’s that. The verdict: It’s unlike anything else on TV right now - exotic setting with lots of action, sci-fi, and hopefully a more increased focus on character down the road. The pilot gets a B/B+