Last night’s episode of Terra Nova, “What Remains”, was a find the cure episode. If you’ve spent any amount of time watching any kind of television, you know what I’m talking about. The cast is infected with a mysterious illness and the resident doctor has a limited amount of time to cure it or they’ll all end up dead/old/crazy name your ailment. You average television show doesn’t usually resort to one of these until later in the season, when they’re running out of ideas or running out of budget to do something more interesting. Terra Nova did on in its third episode.
But I’m not here to debate the wisdom of resorting to such a worn out premise so early in the show’s run, that’s not really the worst thing about this particular plot. The worst thing about this latest Terra Nova is that it could have literally happened on any television show.
See the disease around which everything revolved didn’t even have anything to do with the premise of the show. It wasn’t a sickness caused by time travel, or by some alien plant they encounter millions of years in the past. One of the cast wasn’t bitten by some mysterious dinosaur and turned into a mutant, disease spreading monster. Nope. This was caused… and here comes the spoiler… by a scientist hanging out with too much time on his hands.
It’s the standard contagion plot which can and does happen on just about any television show. It’s probably the plot of this week’s House. The fact that it was set in a prehistoric world was pretty much irrelevant. It didn’t matter.
The episode’s b-story wasn’t any better. It mostly involved the lead kids just sort of hanging out doing nothing. They did manage to have dinosaurs show up for a minute or two, but only some little ones who chewed on a power cable… and it wasn’t even an important power cable because it didn’t really seem to affect anything. The only real indications that this show is happening in the past are some really impressive ferns. Being in the past doesn’t seem to have actually had any kind of affect on anyone.
Maybe we should have seen this coming. In my review of Terra Nova’s initial premiere episode I was intrigued by the shapelessness of the series’ premise. There wasn’t any specific plot set up, instead the premiere episode just created this big sand box to play around in. A sand box they could have used to do some pretty cool stuff. The flipside of this is, that wide open spaces can also be used to do useless, time-wasting bullshit. And that seems to be exactly what Terra Nova has done.
I wish I could say I had hope that things would get better, but it’s not like the second episode showed any promise either. Sure, that one did actually involve dinosaurs, but not very impressive ones. Basically the colony was trapped in a half-assed recreation of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, with a finale which was just about as unsatisfying as the non-ending Hitchcock came up with. But at least that had dinosaurs.
I can live with bad writing or stupid dialogue, or forced emotional scenes with characters we don’t really care about… but what I can’t live with is setting a show on prehistoric Earth and then using that setting to tell stories that could have just as easily been told on a 1999 episode of Chicago Hope. Terra Nova: You have to be better. Outside of Fringe this is the only science fiction programming left on network television, and only three episodes in it’s failing fast.