The Earth is dying. Mankind is slowly being smothered in our own filth. The only hope is a new amazing discovery. A time-portal into the past. 85 million years into the past, to be more precise. Here mankind has found a new paradise and established a colony that will enable us to start over. This brand new world is not entirely without problems, though. Dinosaurs, for example. Actual giant, hungry, bad-ass dinosaurs.
Well, that's sound pretty cool, doesn't it? Unfortunately that description hardly covers the awfulness that is Terra Nova, the new TV-series from Fox, which can best be described as a Lifetime movie, meets Jurassic Park, by way of a cheap SyFy knockoff of Avatar.
The single worst aspect of this show is the writing. Almost all problems stem from the fact that the writing is beyond lazy. Let's start with our lead characters, The Shannon family.
The family (mom, dad and three kids) live in a crummy apartment, and apparently you're only supposed to have two kids, but they have three, so when the "population control" soldiers arrive, the family hides the youngest daughter behind a secret panel in the wall.
The soldiers enter the apartment and IMMEDIATELY begin to violently trash the place (no time to properly establish a conflict here, we've got places to be!) and they find the kid almost IMMEDIATELY, because she begins to cry. Why, I can't believe that plan didn't work!
Then the dad punches the soldiers, because he gets REALLY mad. Cut. Now it's two years later and the father is in prison. Cut. Then the wife gets an offer to join the next team to Terra Nova. Despite having languished for years in prison, the father and the mother immediately come up with an escape plan, without discussing anything. Cut. The father sneaks out of prison. Nobody notices this. In fact, nobody notices him at any point during his elaborate and completely implausible escape, but when he walks down a random maintenance corridor a few meters from his goal - the time portal where his family awaits - an eagle-eyed security guy spots him. "Wait, who is that "suspicious character" in random corridor? He must be stopped!"
So the "clever" plan fails and what does the dad do? He runs. That's right, he just runs past the WORST security team EVER and jumps into the time-portal, and just like that the whole family is together again in Terra Nova. Did I mention part of the "clever" plan was transporting the youngest daughter in a backpack through security?
Oh, but we're not done yet.
After a brief "gosh you shouldn't have done that"-talk with the camp leader - Stephen Lang repeating his character from Avatar - everyone seems to forget that they're dealing with an escaped convict, who cheated his way to Terra Nova. Everything seems okay and the family gets a nice, big, new house. Ah, but the family unit is not in perfect harmony yet. Of course we need that so-obvious-it-hurts conflict between father and son, who - in another case of idiotic, simplistic storytelling - blames the father for trying to save his sister, and for taking two whole years to break out of maximum security prison. And speaking of family problems, you will find it hard not to vomit as everyone gathers in silent awe and watch the father reconnect with his youngest daughter, by pretending not to know her name. Cue the music and the Hallmark card filter. By the way, if my parents had pretended not to know my name when I was a kid it would have freaked the hell out of me.
In the lead role as the dad Jason O'Mara has about the same charisma as a dead tree trunk. In fact, I often mistook him for one, and that carefully designed stubble isn't fooling anybody. The mother (Christine Adams) is beautiful, but she's cast so young she could pass for the oldest daughter as well. The kids are bland Disney Channel rejects, incapable of a single believable expression. These people aren't acting. They're pretending to act.
Half an hour into the show all we've done is establish the lackluster family and the basic premise. We don't really know what the hell is going on yet. This seems to have surprised the writers, because all of a sudden they give us a scene where one character explains how Terra Nova was established to another character, who really should have all that information already. They also quickly explain that this is an alternate timeline, so they're not destroying the future by going into the past. Say what? Don't bother, it doesn't make any sense, and the series can't be bothered to explain any further (at least not yet).
The science isn't the only thing that doesn't make any sense here. If this world is so dangerous, why are the fences crap? The colony apparently provides every new family with a shiny, brand new condo, but they can't build a decent fence? And why would these people arm themselves with guns that have NO effect on the dinosaurs, the very creatures they're trying to protect themselves from? (Well, actually that one is easy: This is once again due to lazy writing, you see, several sequences in this episode rely on a confrontation between dinos and humans, and if the humans can just kill the dinos, the scenes are over too quickly).
Terra Nova is a compendium of unrealistic behavior, overly simple solutions to hastily established problems, trivial dialogue and obnoxious, flat characters. If only the writers had a single original idea. We've seen this type of Utopia story a million times before. It never really works. Add to that some utterly unconvincing, bargain basement CGI, some laughable bad guys, and a few painfully obvious setups for upcoming mysteries. The only real mystery here is how this script avoided the trashcan. Even the costume design sucks. These characters dress like completely ordinary folks in 2011. No sign of the fact that we're 200 years into the future, or - when we reach Terra Nova - that most of these people have lived in an isolated, fairly rough place, with limited resources. They look like they've just stepped out of a catalogue.
The opening episode of Terra Nova is a charmless, soulless and utterly unimpressive piece of work. No, I tell a lie... Terra Nova actually makes me long for the banalities of Avatar. That IS kind of impressive.