Broadcast Date: 26 September 2011
Director: Alex Graves
Writer: Allan Loeb
Cast: Christine Adams, Shelley Conn, Rod Hallett, Mido Hamada, Stephen Lang, Landon Liboiron, Alana Mansour, Allison Miller, Jason O’Mara, and Naomi Scott
I don’t get people’s fascination with dinosaurs. I’ve slept through Jurassic Park (1993) three times in my life and have yet to see how the movie ends or, for that matter, what transpires past the first twenty minutes. As you can imagine, that makes me ill equipped to review Terra Nova, which tells of a time-traveling colony forging a new way of life among the giant lizards. Think of it as The Lost World meets Lost in Space with producers who have an irrational fondness for SeaQuest DSV.
“Genesis” begins with expository captions (never a good sign) stating what the episode spends its two-hour runtime explaining in a marginally more dynamic manner: humans have sucked the Earth dry, and their only hope lies eighty-five million years in the past. We’re then introduced to the Shannon family: Jim (Jason O’Mara), the heroic cop; Elisabeth (Shelley Conn), the strong-willed wife and doctor; Josh (Landon Liboiron), the Tyler from V; Maddy (Naomi Scott), the teen genius who recites fun facts the writers found while looking up “prehistoric” on Google; and Zoe (Alana Mansour), the cute little girl who’s always got everyone worried.
Terra Nova doesn’t waste time with that last cliché. In a subplot echoing current Chinese policies, the Shannons must hide Zoe because only two kids are allowed per family. The writers view the government as bullies, the kind to look for a child by smashing stuff on the ground, but those of us who didn’t grow up in Entitled, USA, understand that having two offspring instead of three is a small sacrifice to ensure resources for everyone. It doesn’t help that, once busted, Jim attacks the authorities instead of paying the fine, forcing Elisabeth to raise the money and three children on her own while he rots in jail.
The real kicker, though, is none of it matters because all sins are forgiven when our heroes reach Terra Nova two years later (or 84,999,998 years earlier, depending on how you look at it). Maybe the episode needed some padding. Maybe the show runners thought they’d found an exciting way to present their dystopian society, but did we need to see it at all? It seems to me things might have been more exciting, not to mention less expensive, if they’d let our imaginations run wild.
Then again, we might have assumed the future looks something akin to the series’ main location, the prehistoric campsite, which is to say like a nine-year-old giant’s deluxe play set complete with plastic monsters and a rugged action figure. Stephen Lang portrays Commander Nathaniel Taylor, the colony’s leader, with the subtlety of a Saturday morning cartoon character, and his perfectly chiselled beard proves so distracting I more or less forgot what else happens in the episode.
Let’s see. Taylor asks Jim to join his security team; Zoe feeds an omnivorous dinosaur; Maddy behaves like a dork in front of the boy she likes (Damian Walshe-Howling); and Dimitri contemplates the length of his toenails. Also, hotheaded Josh makes a new friend, Skye (Allison Miller), who pressures him into leaving the camp and gets a bunch of people killed when a pack of who-the-hell-cares catches their scent. Then Jim and Elisabeth both risk their lives to find the boy, leaving their two youngest to fend for themselves, should something go wrong. I hate them all.
In fairness, the second hour throws larger ideas into the mix, including a rebel settlement called the Sixters and a conspiracy regarding the true purpose of prehistoric colonisation. The writers also hint that they plan on delving deeper into the implications of time travel rather than treat it as a means to a Cretaceous end. However, if I have to wade through as much cornball behaviour and teenage brattiness every week to get to these bits of substance, I think I’ll pass on Terra Nova or maybe catch up on some sleep.