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Terra Nova, Take Two

The show's setting in a lush, 85-million-year-old jungle may be unique, but the tempo follows many of the standard TV tropes.

A restoration of the pterosaur Rhamphorhynchus by ДиБгд. Image from Wikipedia.

Last week we got our first look at Terra Nova—FOX’s new dinosaur-populated, time-travel TV drama. I wasn’t exactly bowled over by the premiere. As much as I love dinosaurs, a pair of rampaging Carnotaurus, a herd of brachiosaurs and a plethora of “Slashers” couldn’t save a show plagued by stilted dialogue and numerous bits of setting and plot borrowed from other sci-fi. Still, many shows take a few episodes to really hit their stride, so I tuned in last night to see where the show would go once all the initial exposition was taken care of.

Episode two—”Instinct”—suffers from the same problems as the show’s movie-length premiere. The show’s setting in a lush, 85-million-year-old jungle may be unique, but the tempo of Terra Nova follows many of the standard sitcom and dramatic TV tropes that we’ve seen a hundred times before. This makes the program painfully predictable, and the focus of the program on a single family virtually eliminates any real feeling of dramatic tension. The family is entirely safe and has instantly become a major force in the community it has just arrived in. Even though Jason O’Mara’s character Jim Shannon is an ex-cop and escaped convict, for example, he almost immediately gets welcomed into the village’s security squad and becomes intimately involved with all the security and military operations at the base. Terra Nova seems so anxious to get the main characters into dramatic situations that it spends very little time on gradually building up character and story arcs.

But this is a paleo blog, not a television blog, and I would be remiss if I didn’t bring the focus to episode two’s leading beasties—a massive flock of small pterosaurs. Apparently modeled off of the famous long-tailed pterosaur Rhamphorhynchus, these angry little critters swarm the Terra Nova compound because (spoiler alert) the base was foolishly built on top of the pterosaur’s nesting ground. What they lack in size they make up for in ferocity. Don’t mess with a flock of pterosaurs that have “the itch.”

Compared to the dinosaurs in episode one, the pterosaurs which swoop through episode two look considerably better. They appear to be better integrated with their surroundings. Perhaps this is partly because we mostly see them at night—in the harsh daylight, computer-generated dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasts often look a bit silly. What frustrated me most about this episode, though, is that viewers were denied at least two action sequences involving the animals. There are two confrontations with the pterosaurs that took place off-screen—we only get to see the people returning from the confrontations and hear how harrowing their escapes were. I know digitally-created creatures are expensive, but this felt like cheating.

That’s all I’m going to say about Terra Nova for a while. Given the content of the first two episodes, I have a feeling that I’m just going to repeat myself each week as each new episode airs. Still, the show promises more dinosaurs—both real and imagined—and after the appearance of a few more creatures I’ll do a run-down of how the new show stacks up against the latest science.

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About Brian Switek
Brian Switek

Brian Switek is a freelance science writer specializing in evolution, paleontology, and natural history. He writes regularly for National Geographic's Phenomena blog as Laelaps.

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