If nothing else, the new Fox TV series Terra Nova from Brannon Braga and Steven Spielberg is a stark reminder that there are really two tiers of television entertainment or programming available these days.
This new sci-fi series, a superficial, rah-rah paean to the glories of the American nuclear family — even in the Cretaceous Period — is generic, as bland as they come, and slathered with relatively weak CGI special effects. As many critics have observed, the dinosaurs look pretty terrible. But then so do the CGI landscapes and cities.
Still, the effects aren’t the biggest problem. The crisis for Terra Nova is that it is pitched so damn low in terms of intelligence, and even internal consistency.
The premise of Terra Nova, as you likely know by now, is that by 2149 AD, man has all but destroyed Mother Earth. The atmosphere is polluted and virtually unbreathable. American citizens must wear “re-breathers” on a daily basis just to survive.
However, mankind of the 22nd century discovers he may get a second chance. A fracture in time-space has been detected, and so man of the future has begun to send “pilgrimages” back in time some 85 million years…to start over.
The discovery of this time fracture has also revealed that this gateway leads not to our own past; but to the past of an alternate reality. Therefore, the people who go back in time are free to interfere in the affairs of the world without worrying about deleting their own histories from existence.
Of course, they may be interfering with alternate selves or other, innocent human beings, but no one bothers to bring up that point. If evolution unfolds as it does in our reality, the pilgrimages to Terra Nova are certainly usurping it.
And the second fact is that the Shannons, our protagonists and role models, have broken this law intentionally, and had a third child. Why, we are not informed.
And we’re supposed to like and respect them.
At this point, I’m not sure why they, in particular, deserve a second chance. This show is so dumb that it doesn’t even make the connection between the necessity of the population control law to PRESERVE LIFE ON EARTH and the fact that the Shannons wantonly broke it…but now get a second chance in the Garden of Eden anyway.
But then I realized instead that the show is simply pandering to the selfish, myopic Tea Party mentality dominating our national discourse right now. In other words, government is made to look evil (and anti-family, and anti-life) for interfering with the affairs of private citizens.
And again, this idea even seems embedded in the series premise. Terra Nova is a community not just in an alternate world, but an alternate past. By going there and interfering with history, the colonists are, essentially, dooming another human race (assuming similar evolution). How would we feel if aliens from a world that they ruined traveled to our past and colonized it, taking away not just our liberty, but our very existence? The more you think about it, Terra Nova is a program about very selfish people. And again, we have to ask, do they really deserve the second chance, a second world to ruin?
For instance, there have been ten pilgrimages back to the community of Terra Nova, and yet there is no sign or indication of a civilian government there. Instead, a military man, Commander Taylor, runs the entire show, without oversight. Now, with dinosaurs hopping around, I absolutely understand the need for a strong security force and a well-armed militia, but why doesn’t one exist side-by-side with a citizen council? Do the people of Terra Nova realize they have traveled back in time to participate in…a military dictatorship?
That’s their answer for escaping the restrictions of an overreaching government in 2149 AD…authoritarian military rule? There’s your freedom for you.
With all the happy talk of a new beginning and a new dawn for humanity, you’d expect that democracy might be one quality of America that would be exported to the Cretaceous Period, but apparently this is not the case.
In the span of a two-hour season premiere, the writers set up hunky/sexy prospective romantic partners for both the Shannon teenagers, for instance, thus assuring that teenagers will tune in. So in the first show, you get teens in love, bromides about families sticking together in tough times, a vicious dinosaur attack, and enough bad green-screening to last you a lifetime.
In terms of genre history, Terra Nova owes a big debt to Lost in Space, which concerned an American family contending with another dangerous frontier, outer space. Also, Lang’s character and character history seems somewhat reminiscent of the actor’s role in Avatar (2009). In terms of visuals, the series references both Stargate and The Time Tunnel with its temporal hardware.
Terra Nova may yet improve, and I hope it does. I’d like nothing more than to have a weekly engagement with intelligent science fiction television. The two-hour premiere sets up some interesting mysteries regarding the motivations of the Sixers, and Taylor’s long-missing son, so I hope I have some cause for optimism.
I’m pretty disappointed with the opening chapter of this new drama, but I will keep watching, and keep hoping that Terra Nova transcends its TV tier…and begins to be a science fiction series worthy of the genre.