September 27, 2011

TV: Terra Nova (Fox, Mon 8)

It's the early 22nd century, and the Earth is on the verge of total environmental collapse. You can't venture outside without wearing an oxygen mask, and an orange is a rare, exotic treat.

In that world live the Shannons, parents Jim and Elizabeth (Jason O'Mara and Shelley Conn), sullen teenage son Josh (Landon Liboiron), nerdy science whiz Maddy (Naomi Scott), and adorable moppet Zoe (Alana Mansour). Zoe is a problem for the Shannons, because she's an illegal third child, and when she's discovered, it's off to prison for Jim.

Two years later, Elizabeth has been recruited to join the Terra Nova project, an attempt to give humanity a fresh start by traveling back in time 85 million years; she's a doctor, so her skills will certainly be useful. She can't bear to leave Jim, though, so she helps him bust out of prison and crash through the time portal with the rest of the family.

(If the show's trying to create sympathetic protagonists, it's going about it very strangely at this point. Jim and Elizabeth's selfishness in having an illegal third child makes them a perfect symbol of the selfishness that has nearly destroyed their planet, and one has to wonder whether any struggling colony would really welcome a family willing to break that many rules, regulations, and laws to get there.)

The rest of the 2-hour pilot is spent getting to know the Terra Nova colony. It's run by Commander Taylor (Stephen Lang, reprising his Avatar shtick), who has to deal with a group of breakaway colonists called the Sixers; it's got lots of CW-reject teens for Josh and Maddy to crush on; and it's got dinosaurs. Lots and lots of dinosaurs.

The show has a huge special effects budget, and you can see every penny on the screen; Terra Nova looks spectacular. But once you get past the gorgeous landscapes and frightening dinos, there's not much drama to speak of. Jim, a cop in the 22nd century, winds up on Taylor's security team (again, I can't help but wonder if a convicted felon who busted out of jail to get here would land such a job) and stomps about as if he's on CSI: Cretaceous; Josh is a pouty little brat who deserves to be eaten by the slashers; and Zoe is so pwecious it'll make your teeth itch.

As hard as the show works to establish a variety of season-long mysteries -- Who sent the Sixers? Why is someone drawing weird hieroglyphics on the nearby rocks? What is the Terra Nova project really all about? -- it doesn't establish any reason for the audience to care about any of them. A verypretty, veryexpensive bore.

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