In the opening shots of Terra Nova, we’re shown an Earth on the brink of collapse: a sky full of deadly brown smoke, people being forced to use rebreathers indoors until they get into oxygen-friendly safe zones and, y’know, dystopia. It’s like Al Gore’s greatest dream accomplished, this is what you have done to the Earth, humanity! he would say. Jim Shannon and his family are enjoying the rare treat of an orange when the five-oh stop in and find his young, third child (which is strictly verboten in the 22nd century, it turns out). Shannon goes to prison and through some trickery, ends up back with his family on their way through a time portal to Terra Nova. On the other side? A trip back 85 million years. And dinosaurs.
I forgot how low budget TV shows are. I haven’t really watched a science fiction show since Babylon 5 and all the stuff in my Hulu queue is Parenthood, really. When Commander Taylor (Stephen Lang) steps out onto balcony of his complex and greets the new migration, it feels like we’re watching him in Avatar, except minus millions of dollars of production value. Shannon isn’t greeted warmly by his bosses in this new world, the titular fenced-in colony, but Taylor finds some ‘agricultural detail’ to keep him busy. His family’s new neighborhood looks ripped straight out of a Universal Studios resort, complete with ceilings fashioned with toilet paper (srsly). Of course, Shannon isn’t content with analyzing root nitrogen content and manages to foil an assassination attempt by a Sixer – a member of a militant splinter colony – on Taylor’s life, which lands him a position on his security team. Meanwhile, Shannon’s angsty son decides to be cool and skip orientation so he can hang out with some new, obviously inappropriate friends, except these friends are into going OTG (Off The Grid, y’know?) and basking in waterfalls and drinking moonshine. Of course, like any batch of stupid kids unprotected in a violent, alien world, they end up drawing a bunch of vicious dinosaurs, so on top of the colony’s existing drama, Taylor has to fish them out, too. (Although none of this explains why the fifteen-foot tall wooden fences that serve as Terra Nova’s walls look completely inadequate against a dinosaur attack, but okay!)
The production was so massive that Fox decided to order a full season of the show instead of just a pilot, just to save money in case they went with a full order anyway. And why wouldn’t they: this thing is being EP’ed by Steven Spielberg himself. It is super easy to blow Terra Nova off as Jurassic Park meets Avatar, in which you would be completely correct, but it seems weird that despite the epic scale of the world they’ve built in these first two episodes, there’s a lot of under-cooked characters here. There’s a lot of places they can go from here, which I won’t spoil, but this seems like the beginning of a crazy adventure. I just won’t be satisfied until they have dinosaurs running around with rocket launchers, personally.