September 27, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and production of episodes for the regular season:  a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover in the off-season) give plenty of notes, both helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads.  The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting and even story.  Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular episodes of this year’s new series as well.
Previously… on TERRA NOVA:  In the first hour of the TERRA NOVA pilot, which was all that was available last summer, we were introduced to the plight of Earth in the late 21st Century.  Befouled by environmental ills, it was becoming all but uninhabitable except for those who could afford to live under domes.  In response, the government limited married couples to two children each, but Jim and Elisabeth Shannon (Jason O’Mara and Shelley Conn) violated this, and in addition to their teens Josh and Maddy (Landon Liboiron and Naomi Scott), they had 5-year old Zoe (Alana Mansour).  When Zoe was discovered, Jim, a cop himself, was put into jail.  Meanwhile, however, the government had a new program:  sending essential personnel like doctors (leading to Elisabeth being chosen) and lottery winners back 85 million years to Terra Nova, a settlement where the humans co-exist with dinosaurs and civilization attempts to get it right.  Jim manages to escape from prison, get possession of Zoe, and smuggle them both with Elisabeth and the older kids to the promised land, where the military authority is Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang).  Before long, Taylor realizes how valuable Jim is, and adds him to the Terra Nova police force, where Jim is told about the “Sixers,” rebels among the pioneers who live outside the walls as guerillas.  Both Josh and Maddy almost immediately meet potential romantic interests, and Josh goes exploring outside the walls with a group that includes Skye (Allison Miller); they show him mysterious cliff drawings that seem to be of intricate machinery.  The hour cliffhangs on Sixers entering Terra Nova itself.

Hour 2:  The initial pilot was tinkered with after its initial version, and extended with several scenes that more explicitly set out just why and how Jim was arrested back in the future, as well as the show’s notion of time travel (the Terra Novans are in a parallel timeline to the future they came from, so in theory nothing they do will affect that future).  There was also some editing of scenes that had suggested a co-worker of Elisabeth’s at the infirmary could become competition for Jim.  As a result, the “first hour” of the story now runs 75 minutes with commercials, leaving around 45 minutes for completion of the pilot’s plot.  Terra Nova‘s convoluted history is reflected in the credits (the show has thirteen Executive Producers):  the pilot’s first hour script is credited both to the original writers on the project (Craig Silverstein and Kelly Marcel), as well as later writers Brannon Braga and David Fury; Braga and Fury receive sole credit as a team for the second hour. 

That hour mostly just develops and resolves the immediate crises that were raised in the first hour:  the Sixers are allowed to retrieve one of their injured men from Terra Nova in exchange for some mineral ore the settlement needs, and then they as well as Josh, Skye and the rest of the group all converge on an area where “Slasher” dinosaurs are known to hunt.  The result is an extended action sequence, as the Slashers attack a disabled vehicle in which the teens and one of the Sixers are seeking refuge, while Taylor, Jim and Elisabeth attempt to track them down.   It’s a tense, exciting piece of work (the pilot was directed by Alex Graves), even if one notices that we don’t see all that much of the Slashers, and not everything we do see is as convincing as the dinos in Hour 1.

The show is content to be a Ripping Yarn, with a well-developed family group facing potential disasters and not being sure who to trust.  (The one major mythology point introduced in the second hour is that Taylor’s son is the one drawing the mysterious designs on the cliffs, and that it has to do with the real purpose of Terra Nova, which we are told is not actually to improve Earth’s future–and if Taylor turns out to be untrustworthy, it will come as no surprise at all to anyone who’s seen Avatar.)  Terra Nova isn’t going to be deep or profound stuff, but if the production values can stay comparable to what we’ve seen so far–we’ll see next week, when the pilot is completely behind us, if that’s the case–and the writing can avoid being too blunt, it should continue to be a broadly enjoyable piece of weekly entertainment.

Original Verdict:  Potential DVR Alert
Pilot + 1:  Still Looking Good

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."