OK, let’s get the disclaimers out of the way right up front. Klout.com tossed me a free Fox VIP hoodie to take a sneak peek at the pilot for Fox’s new series Terra Nova. Like I needed to be paid to peek at a new science fiction TV show. And they encouraged (but did not demand) that I write about it. Again, as if I needed incentive to write something. They did not try and tell me what to write (and those who know me are now laughing hysterically at the prospect of that ever happening).
As with most TV shows, they drive through the setup so hard and fast you don’t have time to care much about anything. The 22nd century is Blade Runner Time, loving cop fathers one too many kids, gets tossed in the slammer. Loving wife is doctor, skill wanted desperately at Terra Nova (more later) so is recruited, but can only take two kids, and must leave husband in jail. Do I really need to explain what happens next?
Let’s jump past the completely unbelievable escape sequence and get to Terra Nova, shall we? Someone discovered a fracture in time and space. They didn’t know where and when it led to so they sent a probe through, and then looked for its signal. With an arrogance only a TV “scientist” could muster, they concluded that since the probe signal didn’t turn up anywhere it must represent an alternate time stream (the alternate time stream thingummy is required to get around the Butterfly Effect, and if you don’t know what that is, you need to find a copy of Ray Bradbury’s The Sound Of Thunder and read it, like now).
So the where of Terra Nova is an alternate timeline of Earth, roughly 85 million years ago (no explanation of how they determined that, as well; after all, an alternate timeline means there may be no end to divergences from anything we know about our past). The who is the standard family set of loving parents, rebellious but sensitive teenage boy, awkward nerdy teenage girl, fearless five year old innocent girl. Boy leaves love of his life behind (of course) and finds a new love interest (of course). Encouraged by New Crowd, boy breaks rules.
Which sets up the family tension, because, you see, father, being an ex-cop does what every ex-cop would do, leaves his agricultural duties behind to follow Man With A Gun, and long story short (too late) gets hired on as Security.
What we’re looking at here is Jurassic Park (hi there, Mr. Spielberg, executive producer) meets Lost. Oh, and we can’t go away without a mention of the Bad Guys. They’re called “sixers,” not because they played basketball in Philadelphia, but because they came in as part of the Sixth Migration, and seem intent on taking over Terra Nova.
If I’ve seemed snarky it’s because this is so standard, so trite, that it begs for it. But then, that’s so for a lot of television shows at the beginning; television, it seems, always selects its starting characters “off the rack.” What counts is where they go from here.
The object of a pilot is to set up the board for the rest of the season; to show the players and get them in place, and provide enough to hook you into coming back next week so we can see what they will do, now they are in position.
What will keep me coming back is how unpredictable they are, or (failing that) how much they make me enjoy a ride in familiar territory. Spielberg, at least, is a master of that. The credits for the rest of the executive producer lot (Castle, The 4400, 24) is spotty. Castle is saved by Nathan Fillion’s grown-up little boy (I’d call it an act, but I know better), the 4400 had a good season or two, then ran out of steam, and 24 wasn’t tolerable after the middle of the second season.
My expectations (after seeing the first hour of the two-hour pilot) are that the Commander has a spy among the sixers, the sixers are attempting to get rid of the dictatorial, even tyrannical, government of Terra Nova and set up something blissfully democratic. Good Cop Dad will find some disturbing things, probably someone playing games with the food supply, that will make him start to question. The boy will hate his father until near the middle of the season (for daring to let himself be put in prison for trying to protect his illegally large family) but honestly, the longer they let that go on, the less likely I’m going to stay around. Maybe it’s my age, but overblown teenage angst makes me more and more twitchy.
So yes, I mean to imply I’ll be watching, at least the early part of the season. I want to see real people grow out of these cardboard cutouts they’ve been parading around in front of me. I want to see the older girl’s knowledge get used for something besides making herself blush. (Honestly, I’m sooo tired of the sexist tripe that makes her embarrassed by how smart she is, I almost hit the back button on the browser. Cut it out, you cretinous writers!) But I’d better see signs of life soon.
It’s fashionable to rate things like this with numbers, so I’m not going to. Instead I’m simply going to say that Terra Nova is starting out in a hole, burdened with ideas and characters that haven’t been new for a half-century or more, but it has enough potential that I’m willing to invest a few more hours in it waiting to see something of that potential realized. I’ll give it chance to either surprise me or make me care (I almost care about dad and older girl right now; doctor mom lost me when she just pulled a leech-like thing another doctor had placed on a man off his back without knowing anything about it, including what it was, let alone the proper way of removing it).
But seriously, television, science fiction is the literature of ideas. It’d help to have a few before you try this again, OK?