by Carrie Lowe
Fox’s most expensive pilot this year involves time travel, dinosaurs and that scary guy from “Avatar” who never died. “Terra Nova” premiered last Monday in a two-hour-long pilot that introduced America to (what Fox hopes is) the newest epic science fiction show on television since “Lost” left the air. But just how interested is America in a family adventure that takes place 86 billion years in the past?
Meet the Shannons, a family of five from the year 2149, when Earth is so polluted residents need “re-breathers” just to live. Because of a population problem, families are restricted to four members, but Jim (Jason O’Mara) and Elisabeth (Shelley Conn) decided to have a third child. When the police come to take little Zoe (Alana Mansour) away, Jim goes crazy, punching an officer and landing him in jail.
Two years later, Elisabeth, a doctor, is recruited to join the Tenth Pilgrimage through a “time crack” that leads to prehistoric Earth, a last attempt to rebuild civilization and create a better future. Unwilling to leave their patriarch behind, the Shannons break Jim out of jail and venture back in time, where they hope life will be better than the dystopia of the 22nd century.
The background story might seem ridiculous, but when the family lands in Terra Nova, there is not much improvement. In a role that is practically a carbon copy of his character in “Avatar,” Stephen Lang is Commander Nathaniel Taylor, the man who runs Terra Nova. The show falls into cliché after cliché. Jim, an ex-cop, attempts to get a job on the security team of the settlement but has to prove himself before the Commander can trust him. The oldest Shannon child, Josh (Landon Liboiron), becomes a rebellious teenager when he meets mysterious orphan Skye (Allison Miller) while the middle girl, Maddy (Naomi Scott), flirts with a young military boy. Zoe is kept around merely as someone for the other Shannons to protect, and to offer a cute first encounter with a harmless dinosaur.
Of course, there are harmful dinosaurs out there as well. This leads to badly produced CGI attacks on the settlement and a few moments of peril. In addition to the wild reptiles, Terra Nova also has to worry about a group of rogue settlers from the Sixth Pilgimage, or the Sixers, who are bent on stealing supplies to sustain their own, rival colony. Jim Shannon thwarts an attempted assassination of Commander Taylor by a captured Sixer, leading him to be enlisted as a part of the security team.
There are clear flaws in the pilot, but “Terra Nova” shows some potential. If the writers can stop attempting to create “family moments” between the Shannons and abandon the idea of creating weekly threats to the compound, the show could move on to greater narrative success. But, until then, watch with caution because sometimes, dinosaurs just do not work.
Carrie Lowe is a contributing writer. Email her at email@example.com