The New TV Season: Fox’s Utopian Society Fights With Dinosaurs

I really want to like Fox’s Terra Nova, but I worry that the show has mistaken a story about how to engineer a utopian society for a story about how to walk with dinosaurs:

I think it’s really important to have fiction that helps us work through the implications of our worst-case scenarios. I don’t really think we’re going to hit 2027 and have everyone be infertile, but having had the marvelous experience of feeling what it likes to have my asthma exacerbated by air pollution in China, I think it’s a more reasonable to think about how bad air quality might be by 2149, the date when Terra Nova starts. And in either case, the likelihood of any sci-fi scenario coming to pass isn’t really the point: how we imagine we’d play out the scenarios is the important thing.

And that’s what makes me worry that Terra Nova will be a missed opportunity. First, if you establish your new society in a world where dinosaurs exist and assume that your defenses against them and tools for hunting them (if they’re going to be your primary meat supply) are going to be dependent on technology and resources developed on your homeworld, you’re kind of in trouble. Either your supplies will run out, and you’re not going to be able to drive away from T. Rexes or shoot them; or you’re going to be so inextricably tied to your old world to keep the supply chain up that it’s going to be impossible for you to really start over. Second, if you’re actually starting a new human society, one that’s sustainable but produces radically different development outcomes, it’s probably worth considering whether you want it to include things like nuclear families, property ownership, electricity, and badly-acted teen romantic angst, and if you don’t, how you enforce the new rules and get immigrants to adhere to new patterns with a minimum of backlash-inspiring coercion. Without actual thinking about those things, this is just Jurassic Park with the dude from Avatar, which may be a formula for high ad rates, but isn’t nearly as interesting a television show as one about really having a do-over on human civilization.