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Terra Nova Recap: Genesis (Season 1, Episodes 1 + 2)

Movies & TV

Terra Nova Recap: Genesis (Season 1, Episodes 1 + 2)

A power outage prevented me from seeing this episode until this afternoon.

What can $20 million buy you? Apparently not much.

Allegedly the most anticipated television event of fall, Terra Nova premiered yesterday, and it’s hard to say that it was disappointing. Despite all the studio publicity and the money, there never seemed to be much buzz from the general public or the Internet community surrounding the show. Additionally, behind-the-scenes turmoil and a twice pushed-back airdate led to quality questions from those who care about those sorts of things.

Overall, the two-hour pilot, Genesis, was neither a monumental bomb nor something I can imagine people dying to tune into next week, or even recommending to their companions. It’s a resounding meh. People will return, but only for nothing else being on TV at that time.

Jason O'Mara as Jim Shannon in Terra Nova

I could make a stinker joke, but I won’t.

We start in the 22nd Century where Earth “is on the verge of environmental collapse.” The dystopian future looks bad, but not bad enough. People wear oxygen masks (and I presume the rich have salt free, naturally sparkling Perri-air) and “oooooh” at the site of an orange (people astonished by fruit is standard in dystopia sci-fi, it even happened Soylent Green; yes, there was more to that movie than the ending), but things still appear too clean. This is part of the problem with a lot of CGI, where, either due to limitation of time or software, the grime is absent and the world never seems dark enough.

Nevertheless, we’re introduced to our main characters: The Shannons. This family consists of police officer father Jim (Jason O’Mara, best known as fake Sam Tyler from the American remake of Life on Mars), doctor mother Elisabeth (Shelly Conn), teenage son Josh (Landon Liboiron), older daughter Maddy (Naomi Scott), and younger daughter Zoe (Alana Mansour). Unfortunately, families are only allowed to have two children so the cops stage a rage on the Shannons home. Jim punches a cop and is sent to prison, but they get to keep their third kid.

Two years later, Elisabeth and her family (sans Jim) are chosen to serve humanity at Terra Nova as part of the tenth series of colonists. She gives a still-imprisoned Jim something that allows him to escape a maximum-security prison. How he does it, we don’t know because in the next scene he’s on a train. During this ride, we see the showrunners’ attempts to give life to this future world as signs flash “A Family is Four” and “Overpopulation Means Extinction,” which I guess means that all the truly clever propaganda people died.

Propaganda Poster from Brazil

From Terry Gilliam’s brilliant Brazil

Upon making it to the should-be-better-protected time portal, a security officer asks for Jim’s credentials. Jim tells his family to go into the wormhole without him, punches the security guard, and runs through the portal and into Terra Nova. As I mentioned above, the future world seemed too clean and, despite its darkness, too bright, so when Jim finally emerges on the other side, we don’t really have that The Wizard of Oz (or Avatar) moment where we’re shocked by how different everything looks.

On Terra Nova, Captain Nathaniel Taylor (Steven Lang) gives a speech to the new settlers about how they’re the last and first hope for humanity, they get a chance to start over, dawn of a new civilization, etc., etc., etc.

Like with most television pilots, the episode is pretty heavy on exposition. For example, we learn that once scientists found the “time stream” they sent a probe through it. When it didn’t return any information, they figured it went not just back in time but to an alternate timeline thus preventing the colonists from initiating any sort of A Sound of Thunder paradox. That’s the type of logical inferences that the show really needs to think about before committing to screen.

Homer Simpson in Time and Punishment from The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror V

I wish, I wish, I hadn’t crushed that fish.

Also by virtue of its first episode nature, Terra Nova must introduce us to the people we’ll be following without really delving into any of them. Unfortunately, none of the characters makes much of an impression, not even Nathaniel or Jim.

There’s a gang of kids that Josh (who now rebels against his father because his PARENTS JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND HIM!!!) hangs out with, including possible new girlfriend Skye (Allison Miller), who looks likes a college graduate who happens to prefer the company of teenage boys. The second hour focuses a lot on this group because they left the compound against orders to drink moonshine and swim. See! It’s the future and past and they’re just like real kids from today!

Anyway, they end up stuck in a vehicle and, as expected, trapped by a dinosaur, which forces the Terra Novans to organize a search party. If this is the big idea for the second “episode,” it probably doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season.

Living in a post-Lost world, the show also must throw mysteries out there. We learn that there was a gang of Others, I mean Sixth Colonists, who turned against the group and went out on their own with a lot of equipment and weaponry. There are mysterious markings on rocks outside of the compound that no one knows about. And one of the Sixers says to another Sixer at the end how the person who controls the past, controls the future.

The T-Rex from Jurassic Park

Almost two decades later, that still trumps everything in this show.

For a two hour premiere, Terra Nova didn’t really offer much. It’s not as suspenseful or exciting as they wanted it to be, and none of the characters held any interest. The CGI and production values are okay, but unimpressive. If the producers were trying to frame Terra Nova as a weekly blockbuster, they need to realize that very few big-budget adventures ever really reach “blockbuster” status these days. Simply having massive creatures or advanced effects are not enough to hold an audience’s attention anymore. Terra Nova needs to understand that dinosaurs will never work as the hook, and that there is far more potential in the mysteries, the danger within, the issues with starting a new society, or even the characters than with T-Rexes.

Additional Thoughts:
• If the time travel only works one way, how do the future people know what to send to Terra Nova for them to create a perfect compound? If Earth is so scrapped for resources, why send the little they do have into a wormhole towards possible nothingness? Sheer desperation?
• I know the medical center with all the futuristic toys looks cool, but shouldn’t these people learn to survive on herbs and plants and such?
• Of all the elements the show can concentrate on, the Shannon family really should not be the centerpiece, unless one of them turns out to have a personality.
• It’s a good thing Terra Nova executive producer Steven Spielberg has The Adventures of TinTin and The War Horse coming out this December to assist him in regaining his legacy after this show and Real Steel, which he also executive produced.
• The compound does not look large enough to accommodate ten groups of settlers.
• Future world seemed more interesting than Terra Nova, but I hope we don’t return there. It would play better into the sense of isolation.
• When Jim is cleaning the fence, he falls from a high place right onto his back after a giant bug crawls across his hand. I know it was a joke, but shouldn’t they use a harness or something? Not many people make it across the barrier and there are presumably limited supplies, so maybe safety first instead of having to care for someone with a crushed spine.

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