Back when I was a kid, I was the nerd who loved dinosaurs. I would spend hours in our local library with my nose buried deep in The Dinosaur Dictionary just looking up creatures like diplodocus and styracosaurus. Though I could never find the toys at my local toy store, I loved the cartoons Dinoriders, Dinosaucers, and Denver the Last Dinosaur (the Denver theme song is going to be playing in my head for the next few hours now that I’ve mentioned it). I can’t express how much I loved The Land before Time and later, Jurassic Park when they came out.
Today’s generation doesn’t seem so interested in the past as much as it is in the present, and I don’t really see dinosaurs in popular media much anymore. You see the occasional documentary on the Discovery or History channel, or get the odd show like Jurassic Fight Club, but on the whole, interest of these prehistoric beasts is down.
This is why I’m so glad we now get to watch TV series like Terra Nova.
Terra Nova is an hour-long television drama show that aired on Fox until December of last year. It’s set in the world of the future (the year 2149) when the resources of the Earth have been used up by the exploding population, and pollution has become so bad that people must wear “re-breathers” when they are outside of their air-conditioned apartments.
The Shannon family (Jim and Elisabeth and their children) is our window into this world. In the pilot, Jim and Elisabeth are found to have been keeping a third child hidden from the authorities. Due to the strict population control laws, Jim is forced to serve out a prison sentence as punishment. While he is incarcerated, his wife Elisabeth, who is a renowned doctor, is recruited to join the “Tenth Pilgrimage” to Terra Nova. She helps her husband escape from prison and together they bring their family over to a new home.
Terra Nova is colony on a parallel Earth that is in the period analogous to our own Cretaceous, 85 million years in our past. The pilot drums out a lot of the necessary exposition, such as the fact that as this is an alternate universe, problems like causality paradoxes are nothing to worry about and the fact that the time rip is a one way trip. You can pass from 2149, but you can’t ever go back.
We also learn that the opposing force to the good people Terra Nova is going to be the “Sixers”, or those colonists who came over on the Sixth Pilgrimage. The League of Big Bad Corporate Baddies in 2149 rigged the lottery for the Sixth and was able to plant its own ringers. These people broke off from the colony and are now trying to destroy it to pave the way for their industrialist bosses to strip mine the virgin lands of the past (They’ve got someone working on the “can’t ever go back” bit).
While the action is good and action-y, this is, before anything else, a family show. A big part of the audience that made the show a success was the families that tuned in because this was something they could all watch together. Let’s face it, shows like Fringe or The Vampire Diaries have their own audiences that don’t necessarily agree about what’s worth watching. My dad loved 24 and Lost, but I couldn't stand them. My sister can’t miss an episode of America’s Next Top Model. But we can all agree that this is a damned good show.
I watched all 13 episodes of the first season in one night. While the dinosaur stuff is used sparingly (with a six week post-production period, you can guess why), the production value on set is unmistakable. This isn't your run of the mill television series where grips shake the camera to simulate an attack on the ship. This is $4,000,000.00 per episode. That means a lot of detailed sets and elaborate props with dozens of extras all of which make things feel that much more real.
The show is filmed in Australia, so you don’t often get that studio-locked feel that most genre shows suffer from. The lush locations seem to help the cast as well, which is great. This material could so easily have become the silliest stuff on screen since A Sound of Thunder if the actors didn't believe that they were somewhere else. On some back lot in Hollywood, it most likely would have come off as yet another Star Trek rehash.
Admittedly, some of the dialogue does get bogged down, especially in the middle episodes, but the beginning and end were both highly entertaining. The sixers provide a good antagonist for the good guys, but there are episodes where they need to deal with the local wildlife and the fact that this is, in actual fact, an alien planet. I especially like their bad-ass bossman, Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang).
The season finale really upped the ante, giving us a two-hour special that had me wonder how this little band of colonists were going to beat back the corporations and their monkey-men. The episode didn't disappoint, and left us with closure for the first story arc, a few loose ends to pick at in the future, and a great little cliffhanger for the second season.
However, as of his writing, the bigwigs at Fox have not said if Terra Nova is coming back for that second season. I imagine that per episode price tag isn't winning any of the executives over. Though the show did perform relatively well, and that important family market is something that will be a huge boon to Fox, and the advertisers if it continues.
At least, that’s how I’m hoping it’ll play out. This show’s got so much going against it, too. The aforementioned costs, the fact that it’s a genre show (science fiction doesn’t do well on network television), it’s not “edgy” or overly “dark”, and there’s no nudity and/or graphic violence. Anyone of those is enough for one of those black hats at the studio to veto the renewal.
From the looks of it, it could be that this will be the next in a long line of cancelled science fiction shows. I really don’t want another Firefly on my DVD shelf.