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Review: Terra Nova (FOX) "Packed With Sci-Fi Goodies"

Posted: 11/13/2011 - 13:18 COMMENT

picI was ready to write off FOX’s new fall offering Terra Nova as a Stargate meets Jurassic Park flop right away. Then I watched the 90-minute pilot and … Hold on thar, Baba Louie!

This series is so packed with sci-fi goodies but also personal encounters and family complications that even my soap opera-starved mother is enjoying it!

For the uninitiated, Terra Nova follows the Shannon family as they go 85 million years into the past to save humanity. The show begins in the year 2149, a time when all life on planet Earth is threatened with extinction due to dwindling worldwide air quality and overpopulation. It has become virtually impossible for humanity to survive, and almost no vegetation exists.

At Hope Plaza, a massive ring-shaped structure in Chicago, scientists discover a rift in space-time that allows people to travel 85 million years back in time to the late Cretaceous period of a prehistoric Earth, but in an alternative timeline (thus avoiding paradoxes caused by reverse-flow time travel), offering a chance to save humanity.

The Shannon family -- father Jim (Jason O’Mara), his wife Elisabeth (Shelley Conn), and their three children Josh (Landon Liboiron), Maddy (Naomi Scott) and Zoe (Alana Mansour) -- join the Tenth Pilgrimage of settlers to Terra Nova, becoming part of the first human colony on the other side of the temporal doorway.

The Shannons start a new life in Terra Nova while dealing with carnivorous dinosaurs (the animation is fantastic) and the Sixers, a splinter group of colonists from the Sixth Pilgrimage led by Mira (Christine Adams), a renegade with a very secret agenda.

Although it varies from episode to episode, most of the characters on the program are highly defined and motivated. Particularly appealing is Terra Nova’s benevolent dictator, Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang). The first person to arrive back in pre-history, Taylor survived the first four months (118 days) on his own, then began building a community as new settlers came through; he has been the leader for seven years. When Skye's (Allison Miller) parents died, he became her legal guardian and father figure to her. Taylorhas a son named Lucas (Ashley Zuckerman), who has abandoned Terra Nova and is working with the renegade Sixers. Taylorknows nothing of his son’s survival and believes he went missing.

One intriguing episode had the suspense of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds as the Terra Novans discovered their Shangri-La was built on the ancient nesting place of flying lizards – dangerous ones with teeth. Another episode featured the colony’s first true murder and we got to see Jim Shannon, a former Chicago Police narcotics detective, in sleuth action.

Just as I believe I have Terra Nova’s patterns down, it changes on me. For hungry sci-fi viewers – or even the soap opera-starved – that can only be a good thing.

Here is hoping this gem can endure the madness of Broadcast TV.