the past two years. First announced in May 2010, before a single frame
was shot, its pedigree (producer Steven Spielberg) and hype make for the
perfect storm of overexposure and disappointment.
But “Terra Nova” does a surprisingly good job of delivering on the promise of destination TV.
a group of time-traveling expats, the first episode takes the Shannon
family from a polluted, dystopian earth in 2149 to a colony of pilgrims
hoping to get it right in the picturesque, prehistoric past.
The trials associated with any family relocation ensue, as does a
power struggle with the possibly nefarious colony leadership, attacks
from separatists the ever present threat of dinosaurs.
Yes, “Terra Nova” makes a big deal about those computer-animated
dinosaurs. It’s the reason the first, abbreviated season took so long to make it to
air — and why it comes with such a hefty price tag. But it’s not
the biggest pull for the series.
It’s the well-cast Shannon family that makes “Terra Nova” truly worth the effort. Jason O’Mara (“Life on Mars”) provides a worthy, sympathetic lead in Jim, who has the added obstacle of being three-years estranged from his family when they make the jump back in time. British actress Shelley Conn plays wife Elisabeth, whose exceptional intelligence earns the Shannons a golden ticket their new earth in the first place.
Their children — Josh (Landon Liboiron), Maddy (Naomi Scott), Zoe (Alana Mansour) — all handle the move with their own brand of rebellion, but it’s not easy to sustain a grudge when its physically impossible to ever move back to your old house.
The real drama comes from outside the family, most notably in the form of Commander Nathaniel Taylor, which finds Stephen Lang channeling a less outwardly psychotic version of the Colonel he played in “Avatar.” Taylor isn’t a subtle villain, but “Terra Nova” isn’t a subtle show. (Dinosaurs, remember?)
“Terra Nova’s” special effects reach varying degrees of impressive, depending in large part on the size and quality of the television you happen to be watching it on. But eye candy, whether on TV or film, is easy to come by these days.
The dinosaurs don’t do “Terra Nova” a disservice, but they do make you wonder what kind of audience the series needs to pull to remain viable for FOX. Coming in at a reported $20 million price tag for the pilot alone (stat via AOL), its one of the biggest gambles in television history.
It’s also nothing we haven’t seen before. Like a big budget “Land of the Lost,” with soldiers instead of Sleestaks, “Terra Nova” is another vehicle for a familiar story. It’s one we’re happy to watch, just maybe not with the fervor FOX is hoping for.