Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Another One Bites The Dust: Terra Nova Axed

Stephen Lang (Avatar) and Jason O'Mara (right) starred in the
ill-fated Fox television science-fiction series

The Fox high-concept, big-budget, science-fiction family drama show, Terra Nova, has been cancelled. Many bloggers, yours included, are sad to see the show go, not because we don't think it should have been cancelled due to its numerous flaws and foibles, but because of the implications of the cancellation of a Steven Spielberg-executive produced science fiction drama will have for the viability of the genre in the medium.

The Other Half is a much more reluctant (and possibly discriminating) television watcher than I am. He watched the pilot, on my suggestion, but although that (allegedly $20 million budgeted) 2-hour extravaganza generally received strong reviews the problems became clear very quickly. Ostensibly, Terra Nova was a story about people from the future (25th century) on an environmentally ruined Earth being given an amazing opportunity to go back millions of years into the past to colonize a pristine paradise when dinosaurs ruled the earth and avoid the mistakes that had ruined the future. (The plot is surprisingly similar to the Julian May Pliocene Exile books of the late 1970s.)

The main problem was that Terra Nova was trying to be multiple shows simultaneously and many of these visions were anti-thetical to each other. For example, it tried to be family friendly by having a too-cute 5-year-old daughter be the focus of multiple plot points, as well as "tension" around teenage angst caused by the presence of a 17-year-old son with daddy issues and a 16-year-old daughter experiencing her first romantic crush. The attempts to try to attract the 18-49 demographic to the show were pretty extreme, such as having co-star Jason O'Mara show off his furry, chiseled torso as well having a group of rebellious teens caught in the forest and menaced by marauding dinosaurs. The structure of the Terra Nova colony was bizarre, with the benign dictatorship of the Stephen Lang character barely questioned, except by the rogue, non-conformists "Sixers" who preferred to live out in the jungle with the deadly dinosaurs instead of in the relatively safe confines of the Terra Nova complex. So the show had family drama, a teenage love triangle, a teenage first-love story, an insurgent war storyline, a police/scientific procedural AND there was an entire series-wide arc about the entire time travel mythology. Too Many Things!

Terra Nova also had very expensive visual effects (lots of people complained about the CGI dinosaurs, but my position was, hey this is TV not film, with proportionally reduced budgets and expectations of verisimilitude) and wildly uneven acting.

The point I'm trying to make here is that the cancellation of Terra Nova after Fox ate the tens of millions of dollars to produce the first few episodes (with ratings that were low but not disastrously so) chills the environment for other sci-fi flavored shows like Fringe and Alcatraz (both also on Fox) as well as, more importantly, future science fiction shows. There are so many amazing hard science fiction books that could be turned into well-done shows. It doesn't have to all be about the effects, one really just needs to be able to communicate a sense of significant difference from our current world.

I have been a longtime fan of Fringe which is now in its 4th season and is co-created by J.J. Abrams, the creator of Lost. Abrams has another new sci-fi-influenced show called Alcatraz which simply doesn't look interesting to me so I haven't watched it all.

It's interesting to compare the declining fortunes of science fiction on TV compared to the ascendant fortunes of its sister genre fantasy on cable (HBO). The new season of the critically acclaimed series Game of Thrones is starting on April 1 and HBO has committed to a huge investment in another fantasy series based on the work of Neil Gaiman called American Gods. 

I like fantasy and science fiction so I am happy about the success of Games of Thrones but still sad at the demise of Terra Nova.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The BBC series that Terra Nova was rather loosely based on, The Outcasts, was better but it was also canceled abruptly without resolution.


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