I have been house-sitting for my friend Emily this week, and taking full advantage of her Hulu Plus account. Among the many-splendored things I have seen have been the third season of Sliders (how could I ever have overlooked how terrible Kari Wuhrer’s implants look?), Seven Samurai (comments withheld to avoid ridicule) and Terra Nova. It’s safe to say that I’m not much for television programming; and I’m even far less for attempts at science fiction by broadcast television. And so, I had little hope for Terra Nova. Curiosity, boredom and opportunity are often a strange brew of impetus, however, so I found myself settling down on the couch with a healthy snifter of bourbon, a cozy blanket and yen to give the pilot a shot.
A shot is what it needed. Right to the brain pan.
Seriously, this show should have been put down before it was executed*. Upfront, I will say that I only got 35 minutes into the 30-hour pilot, and most of that was out of deference to Stephen Lang (still riding high from his performance in Tombstone). And, just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, this diatribe will contain spoilers.
Now. Being a science fiction fan for as long as I can remember, I am quite familiar with suspension of disbelief being essential to appreciating a good science fiction story. However, a science fiction writer worth his salt will know that this can be stretched only so far before your audience loses the ability to identify with the characters or the situation in which they are embroiled. This was the first mistake of the premise of Terra Nova. Opening shot of that quintessential Yankee flag planted on the lunar surface, then the Moon rolls away to reveal a brown planet. The voiceover starts prattling away about ecological disaster, as the camera continues to zoom down to the CGI ruins of some major metropolitan area. As we’re treated to a heavy-handed guilt session about abusing the planet to the point of collapse, you can see in the sky line of this city at least four giant construction cranes, presumably for new construction, next to existing buildings with shattered glass windows.
At this point I already have serious points of contention with the show. It’s 200 years in the future, and we still haven’t figured out how to be better stewards of natural resources? We have buildings going to rot in this wasteland, yet new construction is still taking place? Am I really to believe that 200 years of guilt-ridden nature documentaries have failed to influence enough of us to stave off ecological collapse for the foreseeable future? Was this pilot written in 1983?
Next we meet our protagonists. The patriarch of Swiss Family Dissidence comes trekking in through a high rise apartment building that looks like the aftermath of a heroin-zombie cataclysm, wearing hipster apocalypse gear (a hoodie and a gas mask), carrying a paper bag – wait, what? Alright. Glossing over that, let’s move along. He gets into the apartment, has a few textbook moments of greeting his family with cardboard dialog and acting; then some girl runs in and OMG the Feds! In a well-timed-for-suspense flurry of activity, the family takes the youngest daughter and stuff her in a ventilation shaft, before opening the door to let in the cops. As it turns out, the family is under investigation for violating population control laws.
That’s right. Our primary characters, the ones with whom you are supposed to identify, are in gross violation of laws established to help keep humanity scraping by for as long as possible. Why? Well, they didn’t really say, so we can only assume that it’s because the mom and dad just don’t give a fuck about the law. They wanted three kids, and up yours rest of humanity, they were going to have three kids.
To make a long story short, the cops find the girl, arrest the dad and throw him in prison. Two years into his six year sentence, he gets a visit from his wife to tell him that she’s been selected for the Terra Nova project. This will allow her to go through a conveniently located time rift into the distant past, where humanity is establishing an outpost in an attempt to assrape the planet all over again (I’m not falling for this notion that they learned their lesson, since the previous 200 years of knowledge about ecological damage did naught to dissuade human behavior). The problem? She can only take the legal kids. Oh noes! You mean there are repercussions to breaking the law? Well, I never!
So, her solution? Simple. Have dad break out of prison, bribe some guards to smuggle the illegal daughter into the secure area of the time rift, impersonate someone else and then gate-crash the time rift with his illegal daughter. Which all goes according to plan, but for the dad having to punch out a few guards and make a painfully not-really suspenseful dash for the event horizon. Which, before I forget, was a gigantic, huge complex with thousands of lights and huge cables of electricity and all sorts of things that looked totally eco-friendly and not at all as if they were sucking up enormous amounts of energy in this dying, wasteland of a planet.
Again, these are supposed to be the characters for whom we root. Egregious, pompous, self-serving pricks who think themselves above the law, and have violent anger issues (dad throws more than one punch during the first ten minutes of the show).
Then we get to CGI Land, aka Terra Nova: Earth of the past, yet in a timeline that has splintered from the reality from which the characters originate (explained by a probe that was sent back but never discovered in the “present” – which just goes on to raise the question of how they knew they were dealing with a time rift to the past and not just a hole into which shit fell and never returned). What happens when they first arrive? People start to go into convulsions and apoplexy because (get this) *the air has TOO much oxygen*. The characters are supposed to be so used to breathing bad air that the good air HURTS them. Because it has too much oxygen. Fun Fact: Before the Apollo 1 tragedy, space shuttles were pressurized with a pure oxygen atmosphere. You can never have too much oxygen. Seriously. It’s better than vegetables.
From there the plot devolves into dad having a chip on his shoulder and being a smug prick. Teenage son being rebellious because he left the love of his life back in the shitty future. Mom being distant from dad for reasons unknown. And stupid teenagers.
Oh yeah. And dinosaurs. I’ve heard it lauded that the dinosaur effects were “just as good as Jurassic Park”. Well, color me disappointed that 20 years later, all we get is “just as good”. Pixar could have done better.
That’s about when I gave up on this show. I know I left out some things that rubbed me the wrong way, but I think I have ranted enough.
* see what I did there?