Pilot Review: Terra Nova

This is a show that I seriously questioned when it was announced. As a longtime Lost fan, I thought it looked interesting, but I wasn’t quite sure about the dinosaurs. As a longtime hater of Jurassic Park, this seemed like dangerous territory. And so I held off, thinking I would wait to hear the buzz before watching.

Curiosity won out over skepticism, though, as it often does, and I decided to sit down and watch the two-hour premier of Terra Nova. Two hours – right? For an established show, a two-hour premier seems like a gift, but for a pilot? That’s scary. Fox clearly has a lot of faith in this show.

And now, after having seen it, so do I.

I found myself glued to the screen as the story opens with the Shannon family being ripped apart by the police, presumably for having a third child in a future where a limit exists. The father goes to jail for a life sentence after he punches one of the officers, while the rest of the family is, I guess, allowed to stay together. The mother is offered a chance to take the tenth pilgrimage to Terra Nova, an alternate universe in a separate time stream that they are able to reach 85 million years in the past. In the year 2149, the air is so polluted that no one can go out in public without an oxygen mask, so they’re looking for other places to inhabit – and other times. She is then faced with a dilemma – she can only take her two older children, and not the youngest. She visits her husband in jail and gives him a means to escape, and through some fun action sequences, the whole family ends up in Terra Nova – from which there is no return.

The rest of the pilot is the Shannon family exploring Terra Nova just as we are, filled with wonder and intrigue. However, as they start to dig a little deeper, they realize that not all is safe and not all is easy in Terra Nova – living there comes with its own challenges, as rebels from the sixth pilgrimage (known as Sixers) constantly attack, and more than a few times people get sliced up by some dangerous dinosaurs called Slashers. There was even a moment when I yelled at the tv, “He’s going to get eaten by that dinosaur! It’s just going to eat him!” It didn’t, through some quick thinking on someone’s part, but it was pretty close.

All in all, I loved it. It relied heavily on the same early tactics as Lost: a strange and apparently previously uninhabited world, unimagined monsters, doubt and mistrust between inhabitants, and the knowledge that there is no going back. It asked questions and laid out mysteries to be solved, but gave enough immediate answers to ground the viewer in the inherent mythology. It hit on all the successful tropes of a dinosaur-inhabited universe while still staying relevant to today, with many of the same family problems and day-to-day struggles.

The pilot episodes comfortably bridged the gap between a multiverse sci-fi/fantasy show and a show that can appeal to a broad audience. If I had to guess, I would say they were looking to build an audience based on Lost and Jurassic Park fans. And there are a lot of people in those two camps, you have to admit.

My greatest fear for this show is that its budget is too big. This felt like a movie-scale production, full of special effects and dinosaurs and a lush, fully-imagined pre-historic world. We know Fox is willing to fund big-budget shows like 24, but not forever. And that’s scary, because I can see this show going for a long time. I can see it being a hit. I hope it is, at least.

Have you seen it? What do you think? If you haven’t, what are your reservations?

The second episode airs tonight on Fox.