Take Me To The Pilots '11: FOX's 'Terra Nova'
Even after seeing two versions of the pilot, FOX's dino-drama's a mystery
[In case you'veÂ Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots.]
Show: "Terra Nova" (FOX)
The Pitch: "Steven Spielberg + Dinosaurs + That Guy From 'Avatar' = Gold"
Quick Response: So here's my problem: Back in June, I saw a 40-ish minute version of the first half of what was always designed as a two-hour "Terra Nova" premiere. It felt rough. It suffered from very flat writing and a slightly slow build-up, but in that slow build-up there were some interesting character choices and pieces of mysterious suspense that intrigued me. When it finally got to its time-jumping home in the distant past, there was too much exposition, but the dinosaurs were pretty cool, Jason O'Mara seemed like a sturdy enough leading man and Stephen Lang devoured scenery with aplomb. And the first hour ended at a tantalizing point where I NEEDED to see what was coming next. I was going to write a fairly positive (albeit with many caveats) Take Me To The Pilots. But I was under embargo. The embargo lifted as a new, far longer cut screened at Comic-Con. Ugh. The new cut has managed to simultaneously make the initial build-up even slower, while crushing those couple narrative choices that initially interested me. The tense dynamic between O'Mara's Jim and wife Elizabeth (Shelley Conn) has been eliminated in favor of a far-less-original tension between Jim and son Josh (Landon Liboiron). And the brain-busting (perhaps in a good way) conundrums of time travel suggested in the original pilot have been effectively negated by a one-mintue scene that practically screams, "Don't ask us any questions!" And, if possible, there's even more exposition unfolding after the main family arrives in Terra Nova than there was before. Without exception, the changes from the original pilot to the episode that will air on FOX made the pilot worse and my faith in a creative team that would make those changes isn't high, since they all reek of testing and a lack of confidence in the viewer's ability to follow what wasn't a complex pilot to begin with. But, like I said, it's a problem for me, in terms of making an evaluation. It won't be a problem for you. Most audiences won't have seen the original pilot, so they won't experience my twinges of annoyance and confusion at the tweaks. They'll notice how horribly cumbersome the pilot's first act is, but when the pilot gets to the thing that was originally presented as a surprise, but now isn't surprising even though the original "Here comes the twist!" editing remains, it'll play as flat and anti-climactic, rather than woefully disappointing. Viewers will notice that the family dynamic between the Shannons is flat, but they won't know that there was a prickliness that audiences in Las Vegas or Minneapolis told a market researcher they didn't like. They'll probably continue to like Jason O'Mara. He's always been a leading man in search of a worthy leading man vehicle and this could certainly work in his favor. I've vaguely noticed Shelley Conn in things and there's no reason why viewers shouldn't like her. Stephen Lang is having a delirious amount of fun in this current high profile phrase of his long career and it's infectious. Several of the six people who loved "Kings" will be plenty happy to have Allison Miller on TV again. It's a darned pretty pilot and the special effects made a big leap between the version I saw and the new version and I assume it'll look even better on premiere night. And the last act of the pilot features both rampaging dinosaurs and several well-introduced mysteries. I *still* want to see where things are headed at the end of the pilot,
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