Oh, Terra Nova, you had us at dinosaurs!
When we heard Jurassic Park helmer Steven Spielberg was executive producing a prehistoric adventure series, we couldn't be more excited. The last time we saw a T.Rex chasing a family on TV was campy cult fave Land of the Lost, whose dinosaurs were depicted via stop-motion animation and puppets. What joy, then, to see the prehistoric creatures via 2011 visual effects.
So does Terra Nova live up to its hype?
Terra Nova (Fox)
Premieres Monday, Sept. 26 at 8 p.m.
Time-Slot Competition: How I Met Your Mother/2 Broke Girls (CBS), The Sing-Off (NBC), Gossip Girl (CW), Dancing With the Stars (ABC)
Cast: Jason O'Mara, Stephen Lang, Shelley Conn, Allison Miller, Landon Liboiron, Naomi Scott, Alana Mansour, Christine Adams
Status: We've seen the two-hour pilot episode.
To truly enjoy Terra Nova, we offer these three words of advice: Lower your expectations.
Even though the screeners we've seen aren't considered the "final version," we worry that the special-effects department for Fox's new "epic family adventure" isn't operating on a Jurassic Park budget. Then again, neither is Falling Skies, and yet—again, based only on the T.N. screener—the TNT alien series' CGI is far superior. Our first glimpse at Terra Nova's year-2149 Chicago looks more like Warehouse 13's unconvincing models than an apocalyptic cityscape.
The first dinosaurs we see are some adorable brachiosauruses munching on the foliage surrounding Terra Nova, the prehistoric paradise to which jailed cop Jim Shannon (O'Mara) and his family flee via a fracture in time. The moment in which one huge herbivore unintentionally hoists Jim's youngest daughter Zoe (Mansour) skyward could be described as a wondrous…or really cheesy. Our verdict's out until we see the final cut.
Zoe's birth in the population-controlled future is technically what sent Jim to prison—that, and punching a cop. After his trauma surgeon wife, Elisabeth (Conn), receives an invite to the past, she engineers Jim's escape and sneaks him and Zoe aboard the Terra Nova transport.
If the cast—awkward elder daughter Maddy (Scott), surly son Josh (Liboiron), gruff commander Taylor (Lang striking his Avatar pose), rebellious Skye (Miller) and renegade Mira (Adams)—seem like cookie-cutter characters, it's because they are. The acting is fine, but we like everyone better when they share the screen with dinosaurs. Everything's better with dinosaurs!
Just as dangerous to our protagonists as the predatory T-Rex types are the aforementioned renegade settlers. Like human Sleestaks, the "Sixers" (for sixth pilgrimage of settlers) create human conflict—and give Jim Shannon an excuse to rejoin the ranks of law enforcement. It's his own lawbreaking—having a third child with his wife—that makes for the series' most compelling mystery, however. We're probably supposed to be intrigued by some Lost-like hieroglyphs—but unless they were made by dinosaurs, we're not that interested. Unless Cha-Ka's behind the whole thing, of course.
Verdict: DVR. You'll either love it or you won't. Let the glorious DVR machine help you make that decision so you can fast-forward past commercials and really focus on the show.