Sunday, October 16, 2011

Failing Experiments: Terra Nova

It's a sad day when I find myself ready to say farewell to a high production value science fiction television show. After sticking with Heroes, Lost, Dollhouse, V, Flashforward, Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Fringe, I've shown time and time again I'm willing to stick around and run into a few brick walls for the sake of keeping studios interested in producing sci-fi shows for the TV. So, when I heard of Terra Nova coming to TV, my ears were perked and my eyes were ready to go. After all, many of those shows were born of the Fox mold and while they certainly had their problems, I'm willing to say they all delivered quality first seasons. So what would make Terra Nova any different? Apparently a whole hell of a lot.

For a channel that's never been afraid of a gamble, they certainly sprinted for the hills when they threw the dump truck of money behind Terra Nova. I honestly can't remember the last time I watched a show and thought "oh come on already." The show just has no willpower. No desire to push an envelope. No want to tackle any difficult territory. No desire to produce anything but the most cookie cutter characters in one of the least cookie cutter environments ever brought to the television format. It'd be like watching The Twilight Zone but all the characters were rather pleasant and in the end nothing really ever happened.

The show's first three episodes have tried to hide behind its general premise, a bit of generous lifting from a Hitchcock classic, and a potential 'big' mystery hiding in the wings. Unfortunately, all of these sit on the backburner as the core focal point - the family - are the medium through which we experience these and... well, they're flat-lined characters. Despite a few easy checkboxes marked on the "generic cinema family outline" they have no discernible features. The youngest daughter is ignored for pretty much the entire time except when a "where's Zoe" line can be snuck in for cheap dramatic effect. I could have sworn the middle daughter's character was copy and pasted right out of the script for Castle. The eldest son is "rebellious" and rebels by sulking, trying to hammer a point home about the girl who featured in the show for a cool minute that he left behind, and by piling on a heavy dose of ignorance.

Which leaves us with the parental figures, and the shows stars. Well, let's just say dynamic isn't in their vocabulary. The dad is the dad. An ex-cop who does some kind of cop things and then tries to rebuild his not well established disconnection with his family. The mom is smart, beautiful, and says smart things while looking beautiful. Oh, and she has an accent. So there's always that.

The only character with any fleshed out components, with a semblance of earnest complication is Commander Taylor. But he alone cannot outweigh the near 3/4ths of the runtime he's not in the picture. The Sixers -the show's only proper villains - have racked up a handful of minutes of screentime, so whether or not they'll ever rise to the occasion and become a reason to come back week after week is completely unknown. And when you factor in that they're woven wholly into the mystery of Terra Nova subplot, you find yourself questioning the move to keep them out of any episode entirely.

So the fourth episode will be a make or break for me. I've been burned enough on sci-fi shows - not to mention the countless Cable shows I want to get caught up on - so it's not in the cards for me anymore to support sci-fi for sci-fi's sake. Deep down I worry about the long term impact the failure of a show with this much money behind it will have on network produced high concept shows. For now, however, I'm thinking greener pastures lead away from this expensive, but unfortunately lifeless dud.

2 better thoughts:

Will said...

Three episodes in and this show still hasn't gotten my attention. Nowadays sci-fi post-apocalyptic series has become so common that there now exists a long list of stereotypes for the genre. The dad, the obligatory military figure, the family...

Not to mention that Terra Nova looks like a theme park.

Robert said...

Tried to watch the first episode but didn't get through it - but that was more of an issue with not having the time. Looks like I won't be revisiting now, though.

It's just as well - I've got enough new horror shows to deal with - Walking Dead and An American Horror Story to name two.

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