Twenty-eight minutes into Terra Nova‘s two-hour premiere, what had been advertised as an ambitious science fiction epic had neatly reduced itself so the only really epic thing about it was that it manages to be both a cop show and a medical drama at the same time. And that’s before we get to Terra Nova and limitations on how much hot water solar cells can heat reignite Classic Family Drama about who stole all the shower water. This is a show that appears to have spent its budget for actors on Stephen Lang, and its budget for ideas on a dinosaur fight choreographer.
I really wanted to like Terra Nova, but I can’t shake the feeling that the much more interesting parts of this setup are back in the polluted, rotting world that our characters are leaving along. There’s a bit of Ender’s Game-like family planning, a clearly punitive legal system, chokingly unbreathable air that a few elite families escape by living in domed cities, and odd implications for what the plan is for Terra Nova. But it’s pretty hard to have a sinister conspiracy when information only travels in one direction, unless everyone planned it beforehand and people involved in it are coming through in waves. Which given the different rates of travel through the rift and the rates of mortality by dinosaur and random disease seems like a dicey proposition.
From what we’ve seen of Terra Nova, the camp’s leaders aren’t really doing that much to try to change the course of human history by organizing human society differently, unless letting teenagers live in a group house and drink in the woods counts as social engineering. It’s sort of annoying to hear Lang’s character, a military man named Taylor, intone, “The world you left behind fell victim to some of the baser instincts of our species…we blew it. We destroyed our home. But we have been entrusted with a second chance. A chance to start over. A chance to get it right,” when Terra Nova looks almost entirely like the universe of characters we see on your average American drama.
Mira, the doctor, says things like, “I didn’t want that for my children…I think they deserve a chance to be part of something real. Something new. Something that has a future.” But what she really seems to want is a chance to hit the reset button personally so her children will grow up in an unspoiled world where they can grow up in clean air. That’s a nice idea, but not a revolutionary one. Similarly, it would be interesting if, like Ender’s parents, Jim and Mira had decided to have a third child out of some sort of conviction, but Jim just says, “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” which is both a weak line of dialogue and a totally vacant justification for an enormously risky act.
The only interesting people here are the Sixers, who are initially described as sinister because “They had an agenda.” But an agenda seems like a pretty reasonable thing to have if you’re going to travel back 85 MILLION YEARS IN THE PAST TO DINOTOPIA. It’s totally bizarre that the show treats the Sixer leader’s declaration that “Control the past. Control the future. These are the key. To everything,” as if it’s some sort of sinister statement. It makes no sense to go back in time without a plan. I don’t doubt that there are sinister conspiracies afoot, maybe even Taylor’s son off leading a gang of Others in the woods or something. But it would be such a boring dodge to have the portal be magic. We need fiction that will help us figure out a whole new world, but not the Aladdin variety.