Watching Terra Nova last night, it struck me that pilots are really not good indicators of what a TV show is actually going to be like; they’ve got too much to do in order to set everything up to have time to actually demonstrate what the show is going to be like on a week-to-week basis. And, judging by last night’s episode of the new series, what we’re going to see on a week-to-week basis is very, very familiar indeed.
I can’t have been the only person who thought that last night’s Terra Nova lacked the purpose of the pilot, seeming more like a bad episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation than the time traveling, confusing dystopian escape that we’d been sold the week before, right? I can quite believe that it’s what we’re going to see in the show moving forward: A mix of mystery-of-the-week, some family soap opera and the slow moving subplots about the truth behind Terra Nova and the Sixers, all blended together more than a little awkwardly. But that doesn’t feel like the same show that we watched last week.
It’s not that I particularly wanted to see a retread of what was in the pilot, but there was something there – More of an element of danger, perhaps, or of conflict between main characters that didn’t necessarily have an easy resolution (Said conflict, of course, was completely ignored this week: The teenage son’s simmering resentment of being abandoned by his father while he was in jail? Gone!) – that suggested that the show would be more than just the sum of its parts. This week, it felt exactly the sum of its parts, and something that we’d seen many times before on the Syfy channel but with more gusto. It’s not even as if the CGI dinosaurs looked that much better than what we see in the average episode of Sanctuary, for that matter. If someone had created a generic show based around a survey of “What America wants to see in its science fiction,” the result would have been this episode, and that’s the problem: It was tonally inconsistent, and didn’t feel in any way individual or even that interesting. It felt like focus group television.
There’s something about Terra Nova that, before it premiered, seemed to hint that it would be extraordinary. Perhaps in the “surprisingly good” sense, perhaps in the “stunningly bad” sense. Maybe it was the Spielberg producer credit, maybe it was the amount of money spent on the pilot and the numerous reschedulings of the debut episode… But what last night’s episode demonstrated was that this show is all about the ordinary, the comfortable and the familiar. As such, it may make for a good enough way to kill an hour, but it’s not anything that is likely to inspire the kind of rabid fanbase that will cause enough noise and fuss when it comes to renewing the show next year.