In a season filled with largely disappointing premieres, one of the most highly-anticipated new shows is the Steven Spielberg produced Terra Nova, a sci-fi action-adventure series, in which humans travel back in time to restart civilization in the time of the dinosaurs.
In the year 2149, Earth has become a barely inhabitable wasteland where overpopulation and industrialization has forced mankind to wear masks that help them breathe, and governments to regulate the number of children one can have. Jim (Jason O’Mara) and Elisabeth Shannon (Shelley Conn) are attempting to raise their three children (one more then the legal limit), when the authorities raid their home looking for their youngest daughter Zoe. Jim, a cop, fights back and finds himself in prison for resisting arrest. Two years later, his wife comes to visit him and tells him that as a trauma surgeon she has been selected for the Terra Nova program. As a result, she and her two oldest children will be traveling back in time to a colony of humans that has set up in the Jurassic period. As a result of population laws, she will not be allowed to take their youngest with her, and the two concoct an elaborate plan for him to escape prison and smuggle Zoe through the portal and rejoin his family.
Once on the other side, the family, including their teen son Josh (Landon Liboiron) and daughter Maddy (Naomi Scott) must adapt to life in the new communal society and find a way to put the past two years of separation behind them. Josh is instantly rebellious, making friends with some of the other teens on the compound. Together they escape into the jungle, ending up being chased by dinosaurs, and have to be rescued by Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang), the leader of the colony, who gives Jim a job on the security force. In addition to the dinosaurs and other dangerous wildlife, colonists face the additional threat of “Sixers” led by Mira (Christine Adams)- a group that separated from Terra Nova to build a rival and seemingly anarchical group.
As a sci-fi action series Terra Nova delivers big time, giving you an imaginative and beautifully shot “2149” in which the Earth is surrounded by a cloud of pollution and people live in overcrowded cities reminiscent of classic distopian films like Soylent Green and Blade Runner. The attention to detail on the future is especially impressive considering that once the characters walk through the portal, they won’t be going back. In the past, the community is set in a valley of lush greenery and beautiful scenery, with impressive CGI bringing dinosaurs and insects to a life-like realism. The premise is topical and believable and even attempts to address the paradoxical nature of time travel by stating that they believe it to be in an alternate time line that can’t disrupt the future. Simultaneously, the pilot hints repeatedly at Terra Nova being a conspiracy and ruse to control the future, and there is no doubt we will learn more about the true intentions as the series progresses. Jason O’Mara (Life On Mars) comes off as a likable “everyman”, who will do anything to protect his family in any time period, and Stephen Lang brings an aura of secrecy and strong-willed leadership to the role of the community’s patriarch.
If there is one trap the show needs to avoid, it is focusing too much on the teenage characters, who one episode in have already fallen into the Kim Bauer 24 Trap of forcing the plot to revolve around rescuing irritating minor characters. Also, establishing the oldest daughter as the science geek, who provides textbook information to viewers was mildy annoying, but doesn’t make or break anything. Shows of this genre are notorious for cheesy dialogue but equally infamous for not letting that ruin good storytelling. For this reason the show benefits from having veteran sci-fi writer/producer Brannon Braga (Star Trek: TNG, Enterprise & Voyager, 24, Flash Forward) and his record of both successes and failures. I’m interested to see where the feud with the “Sixers” goes and whether or not the series will be filled with the kind of mythology that made Lost so popular. This has already briefly been eluded to with rock drawings outside the compound and a mystery side-plot involving Taylor’s missing son. If the story can stay captivating, Terra Nova has the potential to be a breakout success in an otherwise bleak new TV season. The pilot sets everything in motion nicely, and I look forward to seeing how it all unfolds.
Terra Nova airs Mondays on FOX.
Follow me on Twitter @TommyRough