TV Review: Terra Nova

It’s hard to be in the sci-if genre these days and poor Terra Nova is paying the price.  Now don’t get me wrong, this show has its fair share of strengths but it also has its weaknesses.  I should start from the beginning. Fox and Steven Spielberg wanted to make a show with Dinosaurs in it and they succeeded in that respect.  Hell, even when I first heard the premise of the show (people travel back in time to re-populate earth in the dinosaur era and Spielberg is involved) I was on deck to watch the whole season bar hell or high water.  But it’s hard to say if the show will get picked up, for the few reasons I state below.

The first strike against it has to be that it’s a Fox show and we all know how that is going to end.  Be it Firefly, Terminator: TSCC or Dollhouse, history has a way of repeating itself and it may just happen once again.  The second strike is the CGI work is ‘B’ movie of the week quality at best.  The third strike has to be a mix of bad pacing and regurgitation of old Sci-fi (Not SyFy) storyline cliches.

The biggest draw to the show, short of Spielberg, is the main military leader, Nathaniel Taylor. He is portrayed by Stephen Lang. Most of us will know him as the badass from James Cameron’s Avatar movie.  He plays a more down to earth badass in Terra Nova.  Never afraid to go on a mission, or deal with a problem himself, and always thinking about the safety and preservation of Terra Nova.  His acting is top notch and he is fitted with a good back story involving his son.  A relationship that comes to a partial head in the first season finale.

Of course, no show would be complete without its bad guy, or in this case, bad girl, Mira, played by Christine Adams.  She is the leader of the Sixers.  This was the sixth pilgrimage to come to Terra Nova and it is trying to take over gorilla style from Taylor.  They are sided with Taylor’s son, Dr. Lucas Taylor.  They are a rag tag group of torn clothed roughens that cause Terra Nova nothing but trouble.  There is no growth in any other member of the Sixers other than their leader, Mira.  They just show up when trouble is needed.

Then there is the main focus of the show, a family of five who flee earth under some law breaking circumstances.  The mother, Dr. Elisabeth Shannon, played by Shelley Conn, and the father, Jim Shannon, played by Jason O’Mara are the main focus.  They have teenage children, one of each, which will appeal to the Fox audience.  In the first season they even put the teenage girl in a ‘bikini scene’.  The Shannon family structure of the doctor mom and police detective dad is OK.  The angsty son and brainy daughter, who has to babysit her younger sister, is played a little too often for my liking and it makes some of the interactions between characters seem forced, or overacted, at times.  I really like the mother’s character and the way she interacts, calm and fluent, with the other characters.  The dad can be a bit much sometimes, playing second fiddle badass to Taylor.  He is passable though.  I think my view of him is tainted because I liked the actor in other TV shows.  Overall, the family dynamics is in one of two points during the show, they are all together or they are all apart. 

There are other characters thrown in to fill the missing archetypes needed to make a good Sci-fi drama.  Like the shady bar owner with a secret past.  The perky female love interest for Josh Shannon who has a secret she is hiding.  A friendly trader in a wheelchair, (Why not?  It worked for Ghostbusters: Extreme).  The mother’s old college flame working with her in the med/science lab.  And of course, the badass second in command, female, military leader who looks like she could kick Michelle Rodriguez’s ass.  This show is set up to tell any type of story.

 Most of their storylines fail.  They cannot make up their mind on whether to tell a ‘to be continued’ story at the end of each episode, or rehash the same old storylines, like I’m watching a Star Trek rerun.  They bring in some comedy in the storylines here and there, but they need to focus more on the main plot, if the show has any chance of continuing.  Season two of Terminator: TSCC suffered from a lack of focus in the middle and paid dearly for it.  Here’s hoping they get the story straight sooner than later.

The sets used are beautiful.  Filmed in Australia, it looks like a mix of Jurassic Park and Avatar with a little bit of Stargate here and there.  The vehicles are, in my opinion, dumb looking and the Sci-fi tech is OK.  I find there is a lot of logic missing in this show.  They use energy pulse rifles, basically like getting hit by a Force Push in Star Wars, and there are no practical ammo guns on base.  That just seems dumb.  The vehicles are battery run yet keep breaking down every few episodes.  The saving grace is the med lab.  The CGI work is amazing and I find their approach to a med bed to be very believable, although, for living out in the bush they rely on technology a hell of a lot.  The layout of Terra Nova is very practical to say the least.  It’s a giant circle, with self-contained farms etc., taking up the vast majority of land.  For the entire rough wilderness outside the gates, or OTG (it’s said way too much), they live in spa like houses with PADD like personal tablets.  I wish my house was a relaxing as these.

Over the course of watching all of this season’s episodes, I have to say that they did do a great job with the show, especially, in the growing hostel world of Sci-fi TV.  The characters are strong, the main plot premise is solid, and they tend to give you what you want without being overly too predictable.  The sets are some of the best I’ve seen, even if the CGI work is lower grade.  I give it a pass.  We aren’t getting Avatar the TV show anytime soon.  Watch it when it replays on TV and enjoy the ride because there is not much Sci-fi left to watch on TV.

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One Response to TV Review: Terra Nova

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