Terra Nova
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Terra Nova

For my tastes I usually find it a reassuring sign when the title of a film our television is in Latin. While it may just be a stab at pretention it frequently indicates the writer is at least trying to offer something intelligent created to the public. Then again it might herald an entertaining show that might be enjoyable. This was the case with the Fox network’s recent excursion into science fiction; ‘Terra Nova’, Literally ‘New Earth’. The concept has been tried numerous times before all set around a rather standard premise. The people of the earth in their blatant disregard of the ecosystem have ruined the planet making it unfit for habitation. The way the story usually proceeds in one of a few ways. Most frequently the doomed planet dispatches an expedition to a recently discovered distant plant. This relies up the convergence of several crucial factors; the planet has to be nearly identical to ours in gravity, composition of its atmosphere and bio-compatibility. As anyone familiar with the Science Channel knows it is possible but exceptionally improbable. This statistical implausibility often manifest in the audience with a failure to suspend belief, at least among the target audience; seasoned Sci-Fi aficionados. The show runners for ‘Terra Nova, Kelly Marcel and Craig Silverstein in conjunction with the development expertise of Mitch Kramer decided to take an alternate approach, set in the not that distant year of 2149, the earth is a poisonous rock in space. Fortunately for the desperate mankind a means to travel back in time 85 million years has been found. An exploratory force was dispatched and by placing an object that would survive the immense passage of time was hidden. In the future it was not found demonstrating the portal opened a passage to an alternate time line. The perennial problems of temporal paradox are neatly tied up and dismissed. This clears the way for a series of journeys back to the ‘New Earth’ to establish a new beginning. Each group were referred to as ‘pilgrimages’ by the opening of the series the ‘Tenth Pilgrimage’ was being prepared for the trip back in time to build a new life for mankind.

The earth of 2149 is a miserable place. Food is scarce, the air polluted and the population out of control. Laws have been enacted limited the number of children a couple may have. Police detective Jim Shannon (Jason O'Mara) and his wife Dr. Elisabeth Shannon (Shelley Conn) had already reached the limit with their pair of teenage children, Josh (Landon Liboiron) and Maddy (Naomi Scott) when the third and highly illegal child, Zoe (Alana Mansour). It wasn’t much of a life for the youngest Shannon. She couldn’t have friends, play or go to school in fear of the authorities. In the pilot episode their worst fears were realized, Zoe was discovered and Jim sent to prison. A few years later Elizabeth was selected by specific request to join the upcoming tenth pilgrimage. In a fairly elaborate plot Jim manages to escape, get Zoe and pass through the portal at the last second. Back in the past Jim is taken into custody by the local military force led by Commander Nathaniel Taylor. The part is played by Stephen Lang, the ecology killing villain in the blockbuster film, ‘Avatar’. Taylor quickly realizes the potential for having a cilvians police presence and taps Jim to fill that role. The two rapidly come to trust and respect each other despite the rocky start. At first the appointment does not go over well with Taylor’s second in command, Lt. Alicia Washington (Simone Kessell). The double length first episode does a very efficient job of exposition and preparing the foundation for the story to follow. Terra Nova is the last best hope for our survival as always every Garden of Eden has to have a serpent. Here the amorphous boogey man is a dissident group known as the sixers, as most of the membership arrived on the Sixth Pilgrimage. The story admittedly begins to bog down in as tangle of themes and subplots so that by the end of the thirtieth episode, the series finale, the writers were juggling too many story lines at once. There is nothing inherently wrong with a complicated premise as long as the hosting network is prepared to make the proper commitment. This series broke several records for production cost. Creating the elaborate sets and numerous prehistoric creatures pushed the budget into the multimillion dollar stratosphere.

Among the complications woven into the crowded fabric of the series are several romances. Elizabeth was requested for her slot by a former colleague and boyfriend, Dr. Malcolm Wallace (Rod Hallett), currently the Chief Science Officer for the colony. This created understandable tension with Jim. Josh has a pretty best friend, Skye Alexandria Tate (Allison Miller) but rather that entering into a relationship with her Josh breaks the rules and makes a deal with the Sixers to bring his girl friend, Kara (Romy Poulier) back in time, Skye is a traitor albeit one with a understandable rationale. Maddy has a boyfriend in the security force, Mark Reynold (Dean Geyer) who balances getting her attention and the favor of her father. Creating a pair of wild cards in the cast of characters is the leader of the Sixers, Mira (Christine Adams). Lastly there is the ultimate unknown quantity, Lucas Taylor (Ashley Zukerman) the brilliant but defiant son of the Commander. He has figured out a way to move back and forth in time and is responsible for elements in the future to exploit the untapped bounty of Terra Nova.

The mediocre response and overwhelming cost combined to cause Fox to pull the plug after only thirteen episodes. The thing is the series did have potential. If nurtured properly it might have worked out successfully. Perhaps a regular weekly series was too ambitious and not financially sustainable. A miniseries or feature length film may have provided a better format for the story. For one thing it would have forced the creators to exercise judicious editing. The downfall of the show is ultimately its aspirations. The story required more time and elaboration to work; elements not usually afforded a broadcast network programming division. It had potential but needed more time to establish a fan base and discover its narrative voice than was possible to provide.

Posted 09/18/12

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