Last night we watched the two part pilot for Terra Nova. I’m almost always willing to give a sci-fi series or movie a shake, and my like of B-sci-fi is already documented here, so it’s not like I have high standards here. However, I at least have to like the protagonists, and it seems the writers of this pilot did everything they could to make the protagonists of this series unsympathetic.
First off, the set up. It’s 2149 and the earth is full and not doing well. However, humans have found a way to send people back to the Cretaceous era. There a few thousand people live in a walled compound called Terra Nova. Our protagonists, the Shannon family, have violated population control law. The law is quite liberal if you ask me. You can have up to two kids. Hell, most people in the West don’t want more than this anyhow. Given what’s likely at stake, it’s not asking much for couples to limit themselves to two kids. So right off the bat they look like selfish assholes. When later questioned why they did it, the answer Jim, the father, gives is that “seemed like a good idea.” Like most selfish assholes, he’s unapologetic.
Since they were on the path of assholery, I guess the writers of Terra Nova decided to roll with it.
When the family is shaken down because they are suspected of having violated the child limit, their plan – and it is a plan, it was obvious that they had rehearsed it – is to stick the third kid, who is about two, in a vent. As any asshole with half a brain can predict, with all the ruckus of the police tossing the place and being stuck alone in a dark vent, the toddler starts crying for her mom. Busted. The father, who is, by the way, a cop himself (way to uphold the law, buddy) slugs one of the population control cops. So this moron has no self-control in a situation which calls for it in spades. I think lack of self-control is a common trait of assholes. He gets a six year jail sentence. There’s a great way to help your family and in particular your spare daughter, asshole. This guy couldn’t think of the big picture if he was beaten over the head with it, even if the picture was only big enough to encompass his immediate family for the next 5 minutes. Moron and asshole.
And I haven’t even mentioned the ludicrousness of a slim woman hiding a pregnancy. On top of that, it’s a hundred and forty years in the future, probably the water and food are all laced with birth control – both male and female. I’d love to know how they got pregnant in the first place. (Or, perhaps not, since it would likely be as stupid as much of the rest of the pilot… read on.)
From this point on there’s not much more notable assholery per se. There is, however, a lot more stupidity. Let’s start with the wife getting selected to go to Terra Nova. I guess all the top notch immunologists on the planet have convicted felons for spouses? Given how hard it must have been to get pregnant and hide it, she at least must be pretty clever. And naturally, she doesn’t want to go on a one way trip to the Cretaceous without her husband and third child. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to see this is a bad idea, no?
As an example of why I’m glad that didn’t try to explain how she got pregnant and hid it, I give you this: she is able to sneak a laser that cuts solid matter like butter into the prison and give it do her husband. The laser is the size of a pen drive, so clearly there’s some serious tech at work here. This is not some semi-collapsed civilization. We have every reason, from this, the visuals, and other hints that technology is high and pervasive – unless it’s inconvenient for these unimaginative writers of course. In this high tech world, this powerful laser doesn’t set off any alarms? The known-to-be clever and smart wife of a prisoner who now has a very strong motive to break her husband out of prison isn’t thoroughly searched? Nor her husband and his cell after the visit? Security at this prison makes present day airport security look air-tight.
Mercifully, they flash-forward to Jim having already broken into the facility that zaps people back to Dino-Earth. Jim has the spare daughter, Zoe, in his backpack. This kid is going to have sever claustrophobia by the end of this. Anyhow, we not only are spared any brain-dead details of how an escaped fugitive semi-kidnapped an illegally born girl, but as well those of how he broke out of a “maximum security facility” and into another one. Thank god.
Naturally there’s a scuffle getting through the portal, but nothing too stupid happens there (aside from the complete lack of security right in front of the portal – how convenient, lazy writers). Jim manages to snag a handgun in the wrestling, and, of course, three is more than a little consternation when Jim flops onto Cretaceous dirt with a drawn gun. Cue more stupidity. The method security on Terra Nova uses to check bags for weapons? Apparently, stick a large knife in it. A bag with weapons or maybe a bomb in it? Surely nothing could go wrong by sticking a large piece of metal into it! These guys got security training from bad spy novels it seems. As it turns out, the bag is not knifed, as it contains Zoe, but the point has been made. The writers are unable to think about the way things might actually work in order to make a plot point in a way that’s not jarringly stupid.
The rest of the pilot continues more or less in this vein – people doing stupid things to create plot points. As an example, some of the teenagers sneak out of the compound to go swimming and drinking. I realize teenagers sneak out to party, but they are normally bright enough to avoid areas with large predators, right? I mean, if you knew a bunch of tigers and bears – with no reason whatsoever to fear humans – lived in the woods, you’d either sneak somewhere safer or just decide booze and swimming aren’t worth being eaten. But, hey, writing dumb-as-rocks and/or annoying-as-hell kids to create plot points is the bread and butter of crappy writers.
It’s not uncommon for a good show to get canned early in its life, but in the case of Terra Nova it should come as a surprise to exactly no one that its 13th episode was its last.