Thoughts on the Terra Nova Pilot

TERRA NOVA: 1.1 “Genesis Part 1”

Terra Nova, Fox’s long delayed, star-crossed series finally debuted last night with a 2-hour pilot. I watched it. It was… okay? Two hours is a lot of time to invest into a brand new scripted TV drama, especially one with a sci-fi bent. I felt my attention going in an out throughout the entire episode. The idea of starting society over in some kind of primeval wilderness is a really interesting one and it could lead to all sorts of interesting ancillary ideas and plot lines. For example, what sort of government runs the Terra Nova settlement? Is it essentially a dictatorship, run solely by the commander? What would happen if people started protesting this arrangement? It doesn’t seem like there is a lot of job mobility in this society either; people seem to be assigned to a job based on their skills. What if this process is flawed, and puts people where they don’t belong? What happens when people want to pursue a career outside of the path they’ve been assigned? How would gender relations change in a society in which population growth is suddenly a positive thing, rather than a detriment? What would motivate a group to separate from the Terra Nova colony and maintain its independence? I’m sure the show is going to try to answer these questions through the Sixers, but the entire first episode made me doubt that these answers would be at all elegant, interesting, or unique. The oh-so-tired “rebellious teenager getting lost and stirring up trouble” plot was so played out that I could barely stand to watch it; the over-expository conversation by the Sixers about the mysterious drawings on the rocks, a conversation that repeatedly reminded the viewers how important these symbols are and how they will decide who controls the past and the future, drained any fun sense of mystery out of them.

What I think bothers me the most about this show is that it seems too focused on the spectacle. There’s too much focus on the dinosaurs, and too many suggestions that the conflict between the Sixers and the Terra Novans is somehow connected to the dystopian future we saw in the first twenty minutes. I don’t care about that future. Terra Nova is latin for New World: let this be a new world! Let humanity struggle to define itself and its values against the backdrop of a savage environment. Show us people creating a new society; don’t complicate things with silly conspiracy theories about why people want to control Terra Nova and how it could impact the future. Cut us off from that smog-choked world; sure, it can live on in peoples thoughts and influence how they approach their new environment, but don’t let it directly affect the “New World.” Instead, let the colonists fight amongst themselves and the environment to define a new meaning of civilization. I fear, though, that much like the rebellious teenager plot, the series will tackle these ideas only in the most superficial and tired manner. I will watch again, if only to see what might change, but I don’t feel too confident about it.

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7 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Terra Nova Pilot

  1. “Two hours is a lot of time to invest into a brand new scripted TV drama, especially one with a sci-fi bent.”

    I find that an interesting comment as almost every sci-fi series I recall watching in the early/mid 90’s involved a two hour premiere. It was almost expected. But at some point, that process was thrown to the side. For instance, with Firefly, FOX declined to air the initial two-parter until the show was on its way out.

  2. Great post. I completely agree. If it had been me, I would have positioned this first two-hour premiere in one of two ways:

    1. Spend the first hour in the horrendous future, so you really realized the horror of it. Expand the entire storyline of a two-children family, so you understood the impact of having a third child (and for that matter, explain how she, a doctor, got away with hiding a pregnancy). Then, have the whole escape and everything and have the final scene of the first hour his running through the gate and landing in the new world. Then, spend the next hour in said new world.

    or…

    2. Forget the teen storyline all together. At least for right now. Shoot the episode and only focus on the Sixers. The audience would get used to the intraspecies threat before we get all the dinosaurs involved.

    Unfortunately, I think FOX figured people only want to see the dinosaurs, and if you’re not going to have dinosaurs eating people in the first episode, who would watch? Strangely enough, I thought those parts were the most cliche and boring.

    In other news, some bloggers have already put Josh on the most-annoying-teenager list, right up there with Tyler from ‘V.’ I do worry that ‘Terra Nova’ could be the next ‘V,’ and that would disappoint me. Both have great casts and big plans, but if it’s not done right, it’s headed straight to the chopping block.

  3. Well said. Your mention of the whole “two child family” thing reminded me of something else that bothered me. Obviously, violating this rule and having a third kid is a pretty big deal, but when asked why Jim and his wife had a third child, Jim simply says: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” I sure hope he’s being flippant here because that is a terrible excuse. Am I suppose to believe that two intelligent adults, with what looks look good jobs (cop and doctor) for their society, are going to risk their careers and their existing family (remember, they already have 2) to have another child because it “seems like a good idea?” Come on!

  4. I have another question about that, JC. Once they discovered the third child and Jim was arrested (for punching the guy), what happened to the little girl? Suddenly she was in this backpack. And the mother did say that they couldn’t take her with them because they shouldn’t be rewarded for breaking the law. But she seemed quite used to her family, so did they not take the little girl away once Jim was arrested? Wouldn’t that make the most sense?

    It sure seemed like they were allowed to keep her once Jim was gone, but when they got the word to go to Terra Nova, she was supposed to be left behind….but somehow Jim found her. That all made very little sense logically.

  5. Yeah, it would have made sense if they took the kid away. I don’t think the show told us what happened to her, though. At one point, I think Jim calls someone and asks where the “package” is, and then he goes and picks up the backpack from some guy. She was obviously the package, but I don’t know how she got there. She must have stayed with the rest of the family until then because, as you said, she was quite used to the family.

  6. Pingback: Terra Nova: Cockblock Pterodactyl « Raked

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