“It’s like a cartoon,” one of my coworkers said of Terra Nova recently. “All these things happen, and then next week, it’s all erased and everything goes back to normal.” It’s true- in many respects, Terra Nova more closely resembles another FOX series, The Simpsons than it does the high concept dramas it tries so desperately to emulate such as LOST. Why FOX decided to make a sci-fi show centering on dinosaurs and time travel episodic is a mystery, but the network has been holding fast to that format for the past four weeks. For example, last week’s episode focused on amnesia, a bizarre choice for the third installment, and yet there was nary a mention in tonight’s episode, entitled “The Runaway.” That being said, the show did delve a bit more into its mythology, namely the mystery behind the purpose of Terra Nova, and who exactly the Sixers are. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to save “The Runaway” from the same tropes, plot holes and mishaps that have been holding this series back since its premiere.
The title refers to Leah, a cute little blonde girl running from the oppressive jungle hell of the Sixers to the dinotopia (see what I did there?) that is Terra Nova. Like everything else on the show, Leah was ripped from other, superior strata of the pop culture plateau. In this case, the character was a clear rip-off of Newt from James Cameron’s Aliens, no surprise as Terra Nova’s soldiers already resemble that film’s space marines and Stephen Lang was made famous for his role as a character nearly identical to Taylor in Avatar.
Newt- er- Leah, was a runaway from the Others- er- Sixers, who in case the show hadn’t already hammered it over our heads enough, are apparently not very nice people. They’re representation is very ham-fisted. They’re dirty, wear feathers and paint their faces with tribal markings. Not exactly sure why, as they, like everyone else traveled here from 2149, but clearly the creators wanted to make them seem feral and mean and couldn’t think of any more subtle way to do it. Besides, this is already a show where everyone dresses like it’s 2011 and all the children have monikers from the top 10 baby names. So I don’t think the audience (if there is any left) is really scrutinizing Terra Nova too much. Which is a good thing, because you need to watch this show with a mindset akin to a comatose person or it’s practically unbearable. Seriously, this makes Michael Bay’s Transformers look like art.
So, no surprise- Leah turned out to be a plant sent by Mira to steal some mysterious box. Oh yay, a McGuffin. It’s pretty amazing the supposedly genius military mastermind that is Taylor didn’t figure this ruse out, as Mira wasn’t exactly trying too hard to retrieve her runaway brethren. I mean last time the Sixers wanted to grab someone from Terra Nova they outran a hungry Carnotaurus and busted right through the front gates in a space-Humvee. But hey- who cares?
Speaking of space Humvees, I feel the need to mention Red Letter Media- a funny website that includes a hilarious, incredibly in-depth analysis of the abhorred Star Wars prequels done by an imaginary serial killer old man named Harry Plinkett. I bring it up because a) it would be amazing if Plinkett did reviews of Terra Nova and b) because he’s constantly complaining about sci-fi movies trying to manufacture the sense of futurism and advanced technology by taking normal things (i.e. the gondola from Attack of the Clones) and just making it look “space-y.” Terra Nova commits similar offenses on an episode-by-episode basis, mainly by throwing unnecessary neon lights on things. Oh this? This is a space MRI- can’t you see the glowy lights? It means it’s from the future. Even worse was Zoe’s space paper- seriously, just because it’s the future doesn’t mean a three year old is going to draw on digital, translucent plastic. People have been using paper for thousands of years. Seriously…
It all might have been more convincing if the show had spent more time, money and effort on their production design, but it seems like so much cash was put into the CGI that every other aspect of the art direction was cut and slashed (hence the completely not futuristic wardrobe). The most hilarious example of this is the scenes in 2149 from the pilot, in which to show how destitute the citizens of future Chicago are, the costumer dressed everyone up like they’re in The Grapes of Wrath. Because that makes sense- obviously over a hundred years in the future people will dress like they’re in the Depression.
Terra Nova also tries to sell its ultramodern setting by making off-hand references to events and places that sound futuristic, such as Taylor’s time as a black ops commando in Africa or this week’s reference to New Texas, whatever the hell that is. However, because the characters don’t go into depth, these references are utterly meaningless and don’t make any kind of emotional connection with the audience. They mean something to the characters, but not to us, so ultimately they’re pretty pointless.
At the end of the day, Terra Nova was dead on arrival. The show was so fundamentally flawed from the outset that even aspects of it that are somewhat engaging are no longer salvageable. It’s hard to improve on a show with a bizarre premise and terrible characters, but Terra Nova may have benefited from being more serialized and less episodic. Since it so clearly wants to be LOST it seems pretty bizarre that its mythology always takes a back seat, and the conflict with the Sixers is relegated to what is more or less a B story. FOX may not have realized this when they developed this project, but nobody wants to watch Law and Order: Dino Intent.
P.S. WHAT IS UP WITH THIS TAYLOR LAUTNER SOLDIER KID? His face infuriates me.
Plot Holes/Things That Sucked:
-Why is Josh 100% white and Maddy 100% Indian? Hypothetically such a genetic outcome is possible, but it’s incredibly rare.
-What, Taylor doesn’t have to pay for a fruit? I thought this was “a fresh start,” not a dictatorship.
-Kind of hard to infuse a Mexican standoff with any tension when no one has any bullets.
-Why exactly did the Shannons take Leah in? There was some twisted logic to it that I don’t really remember, but considering they’re already living in a house designed for four with five people, you’d think Taylor could have put the little runaway with someone else.
-Oh yeah, and why are Americans and the odd British expat the only ones who get to go back to Terra Nova? You think this would be an international effort. At the very least future-NATO would be involved.