View: Terra Nova – Who needs dinosaurs, time travel and rayguns when you have old I Love Lucy plots?

There are previews and reviews, but sometimes you need to look at something in progress to really appreciate it.  This is a View.

Terra Nova.  I was excited. Time travel, dinosaurs, future technology, Steven Spielberg.  It sounded like a great combination.  What went wrong?  I tried.  Two and a half episodes. I turned it off when the woman remembered her college beau and not her husband.  What does this have to do with anything?

Here’s the problem: Terra Nova has three strong science fiction premises.  1) The people are from the future. 2) They time travel to an alternate past. 3) There are dinosaurs! Meanwhile the story centers on one particular family that travels back in time.  The writers have built a family drama into the show, which is fine, except for one thing.  This family has NO problems.

Here are the problems the writers think the family suffers from:

  • They violated population laws to have a third child.
  • The oldest boy left behind his girlfriend.
  • The dad was in prision for two years before escaping to the past.
  • The middle girl is too smart and awkward with boys.
  • The man who recruited the family is/was in love with the mother.

Here’s why those aren’t problems:

  • In the first episode the leader of the colony essentially forgives the family and tells them that those laws don’t apply here.  Problem solved.
  • 1) He’s a teenager who moved. Yes it’s permanent, but we only saw two minutes of the left behind girl. A reasoned assumption (especially since the mother never mentions her) is that it was just a silly teenage romance. 2) He already has a new girlfriend, as of episode one. It’s hard to feel sorry for someone with two girlfriends.
  • There could be drama here, except they’ve already shown him rebond with all his kids and they established that he had a strong bond to begin with.  As far as we can tell, prison didn’t affect him at all.  No psych trauma. No claustrophobia or agrophobia. He’s fine.
  • Really? First of all she’s beautiful and smart in a place where they only recruit the brightest.  Secondly, she already has an admirer who goes to all lengths to be around her and is shown to be noble and attractive.  This is not a problem.
  • They have established that this marriage is strong enough to survive law violations and long prison terms. The two worked together to break into the world’s most secure project and succeeded.  This marriage is not in trouble and never could be.

There could be drama here.  The sixers are interesting (if anonymous for now, but look for the suprise traitor coming soon – I vote orphan girlfriend). Dinosaurs are awesome. One way time travel has possibilities (although how are they communicating back to the present if it’s a one way ticket?). Someone, probably an executive, thinks that a large audience can’t handle these concepts and so has grafted a mild (and I mean Donna Reed mild) sitcom on top of it.

So … instead of focusing on the conflicts that might be interesting and new, they focus on the family problems that are underdeveloped and cliche.  Even worse, in good Hollywood style, they tie their A plot into the character development and we get the scene (where I stopped watching) where the wife only remembers the college boyfriend.  There’s a chance that the wife gets stuck in that place abandons the family and starts a new life, shattering the world view of her husband and children, thus creating, you know, conflict. Somehow, though, I think it probably all worked out okay.

What Terra Nova should be

Squandered Potential

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