Thoughts on the Terra Nova pilot

The new Fox sci-fi series Terra Nova starts out alright, but somewhat disappointing. I guess I was hoping for a mixture of Lost and Jurassic Park, and I guess it’s kind of is, but without a bunch of the good points. As always with these analyses, stay away if you’re not interested in nitpicking and watch the episode before – spoilers aplenty coming up.

Terra Nova starts in the year 2149, as Earth is destroyed from years of pollution. Nearly all life is threatened for extinction, including humans, and clear skies, air and fruits are distant dreams the truth of which children have never experienced.

In the final years of desperation, scientists manage to create a portal back 85 million years in time (in an alternative time frame so to not disrupt the space-time-continuum), and they start sending off people to this ”new Earth” (”terra nova”) to save humanity and get a new start. The series follows a family of five that gets to Terra Nova, and their time there. It’s a fifty-minute show with basically the same action/sci-fi/semi-horror/drama concept that series like Lost, Fast Forward and The Event all have.

Overall, the series has an interesting plot and great potential, and I still believe that it could turn around to be an amazing series. But where a series like Lost manages to pull off an entire cult following, Terra Nova fails on several important points.

In this analysis I will focus on the Lost/Terra Nova comparison, not because they are extremely similar series, but because Lost in my opinion manage to succeed in almost every field (especially the first two seasons) in becoming what it seems like Terra Nova is going for.

  • Lost focused greatly not only on the current events on the Island and the character drama, but also on the past of the characters. Through multiple flash backs and recounts by tens of characters, the writers managed to create enormous feelings for the characters, which in itself made the drama, the action and the character deaths much more exciting and sad.
  • While some Lost characters came from basic stereotypical characters (Boone, Shannon, Hurley, Sawyer), the writers kept adding more to the canvas, slowly making them much more realistic. This was obvious already in the pilot, when they only hinted at the character’s pasts and personalities, and one could immediately see how it wasn’t black or white. In Terra Nova (so far), the characters are very much black or white, with distinct stereotypical characteristic. The sole exception so far is Maddy (the elder daughter), who is something as unusual as a good-looking main character teenage daughter with book smarts. Terra Nova has the great potential of including many intellectuals in the characters (most obviously so far Elisabeth, the mother of the family), which is always an interesting character trait in my opinion.
  • Something Lost focused greatly on in the casting of the actors, was to make them look both attractive and distinctly looking. Surely there are characters of Lost that are stereotypically beautiful in the exact same way, most specifically Matthew Fox (Jack) and Maggie Grace (Shannon), but most characters all looked distinct, even those who were constructed for sexual tension and sex appeal (Kate, Sawyer, Charlie, Claire). At least so far in Terra Nova, the show has the same problem as most shows out there – I can’t tell most of the actors apart. This usually changes when the character traits become more self-evident, but so far they have not.
  • This first episode of Terra Nova has had a fairly predictable plot, which Lost always was the opposite of. I sat watching the episode and constantly thought to myself what would happen next, and I was right almost every time. A show has excellent script when you think you know what will happen, and you turn out to be wrong. Excellent examples include the baby in the bag and the way I realized only half-way through that the viewer wasn’t supposed to know the baby was in the bag, while it seemed so obvious from the start. The same goes for long-time plots – it’s already obvious who will fall in love, what the chemistry between certain characters will be, et cetera. That said, I don’t mind basic TV plots appearing. If a show has the right characters, the plot can be extremely predictable and it still works – this is true for most sitcoms out there, in which the plot is less relevant as compared to the comedy and the characters. However, as this show is drama/action, and as it already has fairly weak characters, the plot becomes increasingly important.
  • Finally, the most important point, is how Terra Nova has yet to make a mystery out of anything. Lost always managed to create lots of action-packed, interesting plots, meanwhile always producing more questions that made the viewer come back for more. I could ignore the rest of Terra Nova, and I would be satisfied, seeing it as a stand-alone film. That could never have happened with the pilot of Lost.
In short summary, Terra Nova has some potential, but I’m not expecting much.

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