What Lisa Watched Last Night: Terra Nova Episode 1.1 — “Genesis”


Last night, I actually put off watching Dancing With The Kinda Stars so that I could catch the first episode of Fox’s much-hyped sci-fi series, Terra Nova.  This show was produced by Mr. Mainstream himself, Steven Spielberg.

Why Was I Watching It?

I was beaten into submission by the nonstop commercials.  Now, I have to admit that the commercials seemed to represent everything that I traditionally dislike in my entertainment: political subtext, “inspiring” speeches, and Stephen Lang.  However, it also had dinosaurs and seriously, who doesn’t love dinosaurs?

What’s It About?

Okay, we’re several years into the future and the Earth looks a lot like Blade Runner.  Why?  It turns out that Al Gore was right and ManBearPig has basically messed up the entire planet.  However, there is hope!  There’s some sort of tear in the whole space-time continuum and stepping through it allows a few lucky citizens to go back to the Island from Lost.  However, since this is the FAR future, nobody remembers Lost so they think they’ve actually gone back to the prehistoric past.  In the prehistoric past, time travellers are living in a small community that is overseen by a vaguely menacing guy who we suspect might secretly be evil because he’s named Nathaniel and he’s played by Stephen Lang.

Anyway, there’s this family that has issues in the future and since Jeremy Kyle is long dead (we can only hope), they can’t go on TV to work it out.  So, they go through the time portal.  The father — who is a fugitive from future law — quickly becomes a part of Nathaniel’s security force.  Meanwhile, the teenage children get all rebellious and there’s these guerillas who live outside the compound and they’re led by a woman who might as well have been played by Michelle Rodriguez but wasn’t.

Oh!  And there are dinosaurs!  Yay!

What Worked?

The show is filmed in Australia and, as a result, it’s really pretty to look at. 

I make fun of Stephen Lang a lot because I honestly believe that he gave one of the worst performances in cinematic history in Avatar.  (Fortunately, he was acting opposite Sam Worthington, who can make anyone look like an Olivier by comparison.)  But, I have to admit, Lang is well-cast here and comes the closest to anyone in this episode to actually being memorable.

The dinosaurs are impressive and fun to watch.  Unfortunately, the fake dinosaurs often displayed more personality than the living actors but still, who doesn’t love dinosaurs?  Hopefully, in a future episode, the annoying and way too English talk show host Jeremy Kyle will come through the portal and get devoured (in slow-motion) by one of the dinosaurs.  I may start a letter-writing campaign.

What Doesn’t Work?

A lot.

My biggest complaint with the show was that this episode really put the sloth into the giant sloth.  Seriously.  Lost took its time as well but the show itself was never boring.  Terra Nova, at least in this episode, seems to feel that elaborate special effects are a proper substitute for interesting characters, witty dialogue, and anything else that might organically create narrative momentum.  I actually ended up falling asleep during the final 30 minutes of the show and had to watch the finale off of the DVR.

The dinosaurs were impressive but the rest of the show’s special effects were rather predictable and a little on the bleh side.  The time portal looked like every other time portal in the history of science fiction and the dystopian future looked a lot like Blade Runner but without any of the small details to make it feel like anything other than CGI. 

I am officially bored with shows that use global warming as a plot point.  Seriously, they’re always so smug about it. 

This show is being compared, by many people, to Lost.  Like Lost, the scenery is beautiful and the plot has the potential for a lot of secrets and mysteries to be uncovered.  However, Lost also had a lot of quirky, interesting characters and that’s something that Terra Nova, on the basis of this episode, is lacking.  The first episode of Terra Nova felt a lot like Lost if Lost had only focused on Jack Shepherd and Michael Dawson.  Terra Nova needs its own Sawyers, Hurleys, and John Lockes. 

Now, I want to make clear — my comments here are strictly based on seeing Genesis and a lot of my criticisms could be due to the fact that it’s just the first episode.  Hopefully, as a series, Terra Nova will — much like Lost and Fringe and other comparable shows — evolve beyond the strengths and flaws of the first episode.

“OMG!  Just like me!” Moments

Much like Nathaniel’s rebellious daughter, I would also go a little stir crazy if I was stuck in that highly regimented, socialistic commune.  Seriously, the commune looked like a really bleh place to live.

Lessons Learned

Dinosaurs are neat and global warming is tedious.

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