Terra Nova just recently concluded this past Monday, and despite being only thirteen episodes long, it is possibly one of the most expensive shows around. Each episode took an average of four million dollars to make and used twice the amount of time in post-production than other shows normally do because of the visuals. And this thing had a lot of big people working on, including Steven Spielberg. Thankfully for the producers’ wallets, the show seems to have been pretty well accepted by the viewers, and though plans for a second season have yet to be announced, I have no doubt that we’ll be hearing about it sometime soon.
Unfortunately, though the initial responses to Terra Nova started off fantastic and full of praise, latter responses as the show progressed were nowhere near as accepting.
For those of you who don’t know, Terra Nova follows a family called the Shannons, consisting of Jim, his wife Elisabeth, and their three children, Josh, Maddy, and Zoe, all of whom go back in time eighty-five million years to join a colony called Terra Nova, charged by a Commander Taylor. The show starts in the year 2149, in which we learn that the Earth is dying, but a tear in time has been found allowing people to make a one-way trip to the past. Those chosen to go, or those who win the lottery, like Elisabeth, can move there with their immediate relatives and try to make a better future for themselves. The Shannons arrive on the 10th Pilgrimage and immediately fit into their new surroundings and adapt to life in the past with much more ease than I thought possible, all things considered.
Initially, Jim and Zoe Shannon were not allowed to go, due to the family breaking a law by having more than two children and Jim assaulting a police officer for trying to take Zoe away, made all the worse by being a police officer himself. But Elisabeth breaks him out of jail, and he manages to smuggle himself and Zoe through the tear in time, after which there are little to no consequences for his actions.
Our plot then comes crashing to the scene when we’re introduced to the Sixers, a group of people who all came on the 6th Pilgrimage and who oppose Terra Nova for some reason that isn’t really explained until much later in the season, or at least not expanded upon. They’re the antagonists because every story needs them.
Terra Nova is not a bad show. It’s enjoyable, and it’s an interesting concept. What would it be like for a bunch of people from the future used to all their high-tech, fancy gadgets living in the Cretaceous period? Terra Nova is entertainment. First and foremost, it needs to entertain, which it can still do, even if it’s not the best story ever.
That said, it needs work. It needs a lot of work.
The direction of the show and the plot are mapped out easily enough, but the whole story feels rushed, as if not enough time was given to fully flesh out the world and the characters. The colony Terra Nova has maybe around one thousand people living in it, but the story does nothing to build a sense of community. I think I was about the third or fourth episode in when I started noticing problems with the colony. And it hit me: the Shannon family doesn’t exist within Terra Nova, so much as Terra Nova exists for them.
Now I know that’s not entirely true. The Shannon family does exist and they’re in Terra Nova, so let me explain.
Think of a show like Buffy: the Vampire Slayer. We got our main characters, and we got them interacting with each other. They go to school, and the other students are there, and on occasion, they interact with them too. We have a lot of minor, almost-no-role-at-all supporting characters. Do they do much for the plot? No. Are they important? Very. And why are they important? Well, the reason is simple: because the Scooby Gang lives in a world with other people, and therefore they react with them. Characters like Anne and Clem and Larry Blaisedell all help to create the world and the town. Without all the minor cast members there would have been no sense of what or who Buffy was trying to save. The other characters had their own personalities, their own backstories. They were fellow people, and because they were fellow people, they became important.
Terra Nova, on the other hand, for a community consisting of just over a thousand people, seems to have about ten actual citizens. It’s like no one else exists. We see Zoe going to school and the backs of all the other kids’ heads entering the building, but who are her friends? Do the Shannons have neighbors they like to talk to? Does Maddy have anyone outside her boyfriend?
There’s no sense of community, so whenever Taylor gets up to give his big this-is-our-home/second-chance-let’s-cherish-it speech and all the people are cheering, I don’t care if they succeed or not. I don’t care if the Sixers take over Terra Nova, because I don’t care about them. I don’t know them. Outside Boylan, I think the only other non-main character is this one guy in a wheel chair, and he only exists so the Shannons can have someone to haggle with.
As the show progressed, this problem didn’t get fixed. Even in the season finale, there’s a part where one of Taylor’s soldiers disarms a bomb, and yeah, we see her cameo a few times with no lines outside of “yes, sir” to give her any personality. Then, in the last episode, she’s like, “Sure, I can disarm this bomb even though it’s entirely different from anything I’ve seen before. I have this deus-ex-machina skill that’s never been mentioned so I can conveniently save the day before fading into the background and being forgotten about completely.”
Throughout the thirteen episodes, the show constantly introduces new characters, then forgets about them. Like the little Sixer girl, or Curran, who gets exiled from the colony for murder. To be fair, Curran cameos in two more episodes. Taylor recruits him to be a spy on the Sixers, and then he saves Skye’s mother from them. And as for Skye’s mom, oh, where do I begin?
Yeah, so Skye’s spying on Terra Nova because her mom’s sick and the Sixers are the only ones with the medicine she needs. Her mom finds out what her daughter’s been doing, and we get a touching moment where her mom tells her to stop, because she’s resigned to death and she’d rather Skye not have to do this awful thing to save her. And Skye comes clean to Taylor about what she’s been doing. Oh, wait! We have to have a happy ending each episode. I guess it’s mandatory. Taylor gets Curran to bring Skye’s mom back to Terra Nova while also stealing the medicine—so he blows Curran’s cover for our happy ending.
And in case you’re wondering, we never see Curran or Skye’s mom again after this. The next episode the Sixers and other bad guys have taken over Terra Nova, and they don’t even care that Curran betrayed them. It’s not even addressed, and Skye’s mom might as well be dead as her being saved impacted nothing.
As for the bad guys taking over, it happens while Jim is unconscious due to an explosion, and since we’re suddenly in Jim’s perspective, we miss the entire battle and only hear about what happened. Twenty-seven people died defending Terra Nova before they surrendered. Isn’t it sad? I’m sure it would be had I cared about Terra Nova, but outside the Shannons, I don’t know anyone there, so I don’t. It felt as though an entire episode was missing.
Now, for a show that takes place in the Cretaceous period, did you notice something missing from this review? Anything? Are you thinking dinosaurs? If you are, congrats. There are very few dinosaurs in this series. Granted, the colony is surrounded by a fence that can only keep them out due to some defense mechanism that’s never explained. Compared to Jurassic Park, Terra Nova is pretty realistic in that there are not going to be dinosaurs hiding behind every tree. But at the very least, with the exception of the first couple episodes, dinosaurs don’t cause any problems. They never try to get into the colony, and there are so many times the characters leave or are just standing around outside and nothing tries to eat them. I know the CGI would make the show more expensive, and the current CGI is only just watchable at best and completely laughable at worst. But even then, one of the more exciting scenes took place in the last episode with Jim being chased by a T-Rex-like creature. Terra Nova needs more scenes like that.
Instead of that, we get filler episodes to fully show how uninteresting and dull the Shannon family is—but, oh, wait. Their eldest daughter is really smart, knows everything, and can throw out big words no one in the audience understands, and their younger daughter is quirky and fun! I think Josh and his friend Skye are two of the more relatable characters in the show, because it’s not constantly trying to tell us how special they are.
As a positive, Stephen Lang does a great job as Commander Nathaniel Taylor, but seeing as he’s featured in a show with a heavy environmentalist message after being in Avatar, which also had a heavy environmentalist message, it kinda pulled me from the show. Lang isn’t playing anyone new. His character in Avatar is the exact same character in Terra Nova, except he’s no longer evil. Hell, they even wear their holsters in the same fashion, too. I swear that they probably wanted to give Taylor the same scars as Quaritch, realized it’d be too obvious, so they opted to put them on Taylor’s son and hoped no one noticed.
Taylor is one of the more interesting characters, probably due to his relationship with his son Lucas, a brilliant genius who was hired by our bad guys to make the portal go both ways so they could come back and harvest the prehistoric world of its resources. Lucas is completely insane and hell-bent on destroying his father. Unfortunately, how it plays out is completely predictable. I’ll admit, I love the confrontation between him and Taylor in the last episode, but the moment he went to hug Taylor and ask forgiveness, I knew that, despite there being no logical place to pull the knife from, he was literally going to stab Taylor in the back. And that scene just made me realize that all the characters are complete morons whenever the story demands them to be, even though otherwise they’re the most brilliant people ever. Yeah, Taylor trusts his son enough to hug him only hours after watching him shoot his best friend in the face. That makes sense.
While the show needs work and has a lot to improve upon, there are still some very good things about it. Every once in a while, characterization and dialogue can be decent, and as I said, it’s an interesting concept. I can only hope the show improves if they try for a second season. Despite its flaws, my eyes were glued to my TV screen each episode, and every week, I’d wait eagerly for the next. So if you haven’t seen it, check it out, and tell me what you think.