If you don’t know, Terra Nova is the flashy new science fiction show created by none other than Steven Spielberg and produced by Brannon Braga (known mostly as the guy who ruined Star Trek). The show has major name backing, and even more major money behind it. In fact, each episode is rumoured to cost $20 million, making it the most expensive network TV show ever made. I’m not sure, but it might even be more expensive than HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Now, that’s where the comparison between these two contemporary genre offerings ends. Game of Thrones is transcendant, mature and complex entertainment derived from a beloved literary source. Terra Nova… well… isn’t.
Terra Nova begins sometime in the 22nd century, when the Earth is polluted and infected by us worthless benighted humans. Miraculously, a time tunnel is discovered into the distant past. When, exactly? Well, 85 million years ago, the peak of the time of the dinosaurs (convenient, given Spielberg’s experience in bringing dinosaurs to film). The kicker is that the tunnel is a one-way passage; once you go back in time, there’s no coming back.
So, human society decides to “start over” by sending in small waves “time colonists”, selected as the best, brightest and most useful, to create a human society in the time of the dinosaurs.
Okay, fantastic premise. I mean, really fantastic premise. There are so many elements here for deep, meaningful storytelling: the conflict between the dystopian realities of 22nd century life and expectations of Eden-like perfection in the past; the enormous challenges of navigating a new world with giant beasts and unfamiliar flora and geography; the additional challenge of building a new society from scratch: philosophically, which elements from the failed parent society to preserve and which to trash?
So much possibility! So what did we get instead? A family drama. That’s right. Episodes about whining teenagers, whining teenagers and more whining teenagers. We’re only four episodes in and I’m pulling out my hair over how badly Braga (and yes, I blame Braga for everything) has squandered such a delicious opportunity. We’ve already had the mandatory episode about the virus that causes everyone to temporarily lose their memories. We’ve already had the arrival of the wife’s college lover, just to create some convenient tension. And we’ve even had the completely unbelievable episode about the cute, scruffy child (with the Los Angeles acting school accent) who somehow survived alone in the dinosaur-infested jungle.
So let’s list the top reasons that I think Terra Nova sucks ass:
1. We’re supposed to believe that the colonists are the “best and brightest”, yet they consistently do stupid things and say even stupider things.
2. It’s explained that the time tunnel only goes in one direction: toward the past. Then how are the colonists able to send messages to the future? Stargate had the same problem, since their wormhole was also unidirectional; but they often explained that the exceptions were electromagnetic radiation and extreme gravity. That really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but at least they gave themselves a method of communicating bi-directionally through the wormhole. Nada from the Terra Nova folks.
3. This is a story about how we weak and fragile humans suddenly find ourselves fighting for our survival in the giant, alien jungles in the time of the freakin’ dinosaurs. Yet, with the exception of the pilot, the dinosaurs have yet to play much of a role at all! How about putting some freaking dinosaurs in your dinosaur show?
4. Enough with the whining teenagers! The lead family’s son is particularly annoying. He spends the first half of the pilot whining about how much he misses his father, and the second half about how much he wishes his father hadn’t come with them. Fuck off, already! I hope the writers are setting him up to be a dinosaur morsel.
5. What’s with all the white people? All right, some of you probably have no idea what I’m talking about, while others know exactly what I’m talking about. Let me break it down for you. Terra Nova is a prime example of what I like to call the subtle racism of American science fiction.
What do you imagine the 22nd century human population looking like? If it’s a bunch of white Americans with Californian accents, then you qualify to be a Hollywood scriptwriter. And if you then imagine the “best and brightest” of the human race being 90% white Americans and 10% “other”, then you qualify to be a Hollywood producer. If you then imagine the natural leader of a new human colony, along with his second in command, as well as the lead protagonist and his family, and pretty much every other background character, to also be white Americans, then you, my friend, qualify to be Steven Spielberg himself.
In fact, the only non-white character of note is the nominal villain, a black woman. Make that a black American woman. Because, in both the 22nd century and 85 million years ago, everyone is American. Well, with the exception of the protagonist’s wife, who has a British accent and something of a tan… maybe we’re supposed to think she’s Brazilian or something? Heck, even the characters who may in fact be non-white appear as if they’re just white folks with light tans. Argh.
What can I say? This show sucks. I’ll keep watching, though, because I want to see how $20 million is wasted every week.