Future Tense – Terra Nova

We love to wax nostalgic at PoP!, but sometimes it’s what’s yet to come that most quickens our nerd pulses. For better or for worse, let’s start the speculation over what’s making us Future Tense.

As the Fall TV season approaches, viewers and TV executives alike will be wondering which new programs will resonate with audiences and which ones will be cancelled by Christmas. In this current economic climate, even the major television networks have become more budget-conscious, which explains why some shows are yanked off the air shortly after their premiere if they don’t immediately connect with viewers. One of the riskier but also more interesting new shows set to premiere this season is Fox’s Terra Nova, a weekly science-fiction drama featuring a group of people who escape their dying world by travelling back to prehistoric times in order to rebuild human civilization. This series, which is co-produced by none other than Steven Spielberg, is Fox’s latest attempt to reach out to fans of high-concept, ensemble sci-fi dramas like Lost and Battlestar Galactica, and it’s one of  their most ambitious and expensive gambles to date.

According to the ads for the show, which have played both on TV and in movie theaters for the past few months, the show begins in the year 2149, an era in which Earth is ravaged with pollution that threatens to wipe out the human race. Luckily, science has discovered the secrets of time travel, and a select few manage to go 85 million years into the past in order to escape their dystopian surroundings. The show centers on a small group of people who make the pilgrimage to the first of these human settlements, known as Terra Firma (hence the title). As this group tries to eke out a living in this prehistoric setting, they become aware that they are not alone and have to deal with frequent attacks by vicious dinosaurs and other dangerous beings who do not take too kindly to these new arrivals. The main protagonists of Terra Nova will be the Shannons, a family of five headed by stars Jason O’Meara and Shelley Conn, and a group of soldiers charged with protecting the setttlers, headed up by Commander Taylor, played by Avatar ‘s Stephen Lang. The true stars of the show, of course, will be the many CGI dinosaurs, which have only been briefly glimpsed in the ads but seem to have a unique design that sets them apart from the dinosaurs we’ve seen in earlier fare like Jurassic Park, King Kong, and Land of the Lost. These brief glimpses also make it difficult to determine whether these creatures will be convincing enough to truly be accepted as a legitimate menace, but we’ll know soon enough when the pilot premieres.

At first glance, Terra Firma does not seem that original, but the underlying themes that it has the potential to explore make it somewhat intriguing. The characters are escaping a world that they ruined through their own carelessness and have been able to cheat nature by saving themselves from extinction, and now humanity is given a second chance by trying to survive in a world in which they are no longer the top of the food chain. Whether the show will truly delve deep into this theme or just simply focus on thrills and adventure remains to be seen. If the show wants any chance at survival, however, it would do itself a favor by further exploring this thematic parallel  to keep viewers tuning in. This moral grey area would provide an edge to the series that has been all but absent from what has been shown in the ads so far.

Terra Nova premieres on Monday, September 26th with its two-hour pilot and will continue to air on Monday nights for at least twelve more episodes. Fox has been notorious for its willingness to cancel sci-fi themed shows that aren’t The X-Files, so it came as a shock to many when they granted Terra Nova a thirteen-episode season nearly sight-unseen. Having Spielberg on board as a producer may have been the kicker, but that kind of clout will only get the show so far in the ratings wars. The network is reportedly spending nearly $4 million an episode on Terra Nova, which shows that they have faith in its success, but we still have the better part of a month to speculate whether this will be one of the biggest hits of the season or one of the most colossal failures. With the money Fox is spending on the show, it can only go one of these two ways, and I for one hope the show is interesting and compelling enough to stick around, if only to give other networks more faith in shows with a science-fiction theme.

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Ben Gilbert is an avid comic and movie fan, father of two amazing kids, and husband to one awesome chick. He resides in the hills of East Tennessee and still doesn't quite know what he wants to be when he grows up.

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