A middle-of-the-road return for the show, which kept host Charlie Day boxed in all night
Peter returns, but the some of this season's problems remain
We learned last week that The Observers are probably St. Louis Cardinals fans. How else to explain the machinations that led to the delay of this week’s “Fringe”? Maybe the return of Peter Bishop to the show prompted them to realize that they needed to interfere more, not less, with the course of human history. Who knows? In any case, we’re back tonight with “Novation,” an episode that re-inserted Peter Bishop into the mix but didn’t really solve any of the problems that his absence created. If that sentence makes your blood boil, don’t bother to read on. I promise I won’t take it personally. For the rest of you? Let’s continue.
It’s only fitting that the title of the episode comes from the legal system. Novation refers to the replacement of one obligation with a new one, or replacing a party involved in said obligation with a new member. Given the shapeshifting nature of tonight’s plot, the title is clearly meant to be ironic. But the tortured definition offers a few sentences ago speaks volumes about the insane narrative weight under which the show is currently operating. If the title of the episode meant to evoke the ways in which the new breed of shapeshifters can weave their way even more insidiously into our world, it also evoked the reality that Peter’s presence only leads to a new set of conundrums to replace the old ones.
The girls write songs and then perform in the videos for those songs
You may have heard that we're in for a very special musical episode of "America's Next Top Model." This promises to be classy as hell.
The show returns, and with it does all its bad habits
I mean, where to even begin, people? It’s been weeks since last we saw “Glee,” and its return had me wishing that the baseball playoffs had lasted another three rounds. At gunpoint, I’d still rank the “Rocky Horror”-inspired episode of this show as its worse, but Lord, did tonight’s “Pot of Luck” give that hot mess a run for its money. Even by the show’s own less-than-lofty standards, this was a mishmash of disparate elements that confused “stringing together forty minutes of material” with “actually producing an episode of television.” We saw some hopes for this show’s future before its sports-induced hiatus, but this episode pretty much washed all of those away in a flood of stupidity.
An episode with all of the old flaws, but a few new wrinkles that offer hope
Let’s state this up front: telling a long-form narrative is incredibly, incredibly hard. When it’s done well, it represents a monumental achievement. So saying “Terra Nova” is pretty terrible at it isn’t quite the slam it might seem. It just means the show is just as bad as the majority of other television shows currently on right now. By now, it’s abundantly clear that the show barely thought past the pilot in terms of creating a far-reaching story that would sustain a single season, never mind a multitude of them. But that need not be a deal breaker for the show, so long as it recognizes its own limitations. But as long as it fails to do so, this will be an expensive misfire for FOX.
The reality stars do a photo shoot in which they pretend to be reality stars
As we open this next episode of America’s Next Top Model, we see what Bianca looks like without her mommy bodyguard sister best friend, Bre, who was eliminated last week.
“I don’t have a clique,” says Bianca. Yes, honey, but you do have an agency, so why aren’t you delivering better photos?
For some reason, Tyra gets the models to play flag football
In which our reviewer looks for ways to make this season more enjoyable for all
You know, it’s hard to review an episode of television in which nothing actually happened. Often I say something like that as a form of sarcastic hyperbole, but it’s not far off to say that nothing happened in tonight’s episode of “Terra Nova.” What’s important to take away can be summed up in about one paragraph. But there’s not much else to talk about. If you watched the episode, you know what I’m talking about. Part of my job is to not just tell you what happened, but what it meant. But there’s not much in the way of meaning that be teased out of “The Runaway.”
That’s not because the episode is as impenetrable as the box under Mira’s old abode. It’s because the episode, as well as the show, is all surface. The only reason anyone does anything on this show is because of family, lost or found. The Shannons’ are the show’s central domestic unit, but they stand in contrast to the myriad of people in “Terra Nova” that are part of fractured families. Whenever a base reason for any action is discovered, it boils down to, “I am doing it for [INSERT LOVED ONE HERE].” We learned tonight that the Sixers aren’t exactly freedom fighters so much as hired hands. But Mira, their leader, is doing it for the same reasons little Lea Marcos infiltrated the camp: for a family member held by someone else. Even Taylor, the enigmatic figure who likes to wear prehistoric couture running jackets when not out battling dinosaurs, has a secret past involving a missing son. At a certain point, this reasoning gets old and clichéd. And we’re already well past that point.
Essentially, the entire hour was built around a desire to have Mira and Jim sit around for a few minutes and expand the mythology of the show. But, you know, not TOO much. So we got dialogue like this:
Jim: “What’s Terra Nova really about?”
Mira: “You’ll see.”
Ryan McGee: “YOU CAN BOTH DIE IN A FIRE.”
That’s the type of dialogue that drove fans of “Lost” crazy go nuts for years. But at least that show had a wide cast of compelling characters to get one through the obfuscation. Here, we have a camp that’s already established (problem #1), filled with people we haven’t gotten to know (problem #2), and therefore have no investment in when things inevitably break down thanks to the dire threats of cute little girls and/or dinosaurs that invade during booty calls (problem #3). It’s not so much that we’re curious if the citizens of Terra Nova or The Sixers are in the “right” here, because both sides are equally faceless at this juncture. It’s not that we can’t tell, it’s that we don’t care.
“Terra Nova” has tried to pay some passing attention to character development, but it’s unclear how to unveil it through the course of the story. By introducing Lea into the occasion this week, the show had a perfect opportunity to see how each member of the Shannon family might react to this new visitor. Would Jim favor her over his own daughters? Might Josh magically turn into a human being around her? Might Zoe get territorial? All fine questions to explore and give dimensionality to this cardboard cutout family. But no: instead, barely anyone besides Jim spent any time with her, leaving this week’s character-building to a vocational irony story involving would-be doctor Maddie’s fear of gross anatomy. Did that tell us anything about Maddie? No. It was pure padding that added nothing to the episode except time between commercials.
At this point, the most of us can hope for are the little drips of story that seep through the cracks around the fifty minute mark each week. At the end of the pilot, I theorized that Mira’s dialogue near The Rock of Perpetual Mathematics indicated Taylor was actually the Big Bad of the show, something the Shannons would discover over the course of this season. Now, we learn that both Taylor and The Sixers are “innocents,” as it were, both fighting a nameless force from the future. Taylor might have been a company man once, but either went insane in the membrane during his time alone, or had a change of heart after his separation from his son. After that rebellion, “they” sent The Sixers back, holding something precious that belongs to each of the pilgrims in 2149 to assure their plan actually succeed. So rather than sending the Shannons over to the Sixers to fight Taylor, I’ll wager the two sides unite against a large army of super soldiers that some through the portal next. Until then, it’s just gonna be moppets hugging, I guess.
But we’re going to have to wait eight hours to see if that theory is right. That might not seem like a long time, unless you’ve seen these first five hours of “Terra Nova.” Then you realize it will be a might long time indeed. So with my editor’s permission, I’ve come up with a “Terra Nova” drinking game to get you through this first season. I myself will not be participating, because The Powers That Be at HitFix seem to frown upon reviews that consist of nothing but “oh come on”, “really?”, and “jdhfjdhfjksdjsj.” They are strange, that way. I know. But here are some simple rules, based on what’s gone down over these first four episodes, of ways in which you can take the show’s tropes and use them to your advantage. (Unless you’re under legal drinking age, of course. Then, you can drink soda until you’re sick. Deal? Deal.)
Take a sip whenever…
…Josh does something that makes you say, “What a douche.”
…future science is introduced to solve an unsolvable problem.
…one character tells another about an amazing action scene that happened off screen.
…a soldier walks in wearing armor from the videogame “Fallout 3.”
…the show finds a reason to have Jason O’Mara shirtless.
…Taylor mysteriously asks a person if they just heard anything about him, and in the process only makes himself seem guiltier.
…a dinosaur obviously shows up due to a studio note, not a story need.
Take a gulp whenever…
…Zoe actually has a line.
…the Shannons are actually all in the same room at once.
…someone besides the Shannons, Taylor, Washington, Reynolds, or Skye get a line inside the camp.
…something or someone easily penetrates the perimeter of the camp.
…Maddie says something that forces you to wonder why Reynolds is remotely interested in her.
…Josh does something that makes you think, “Wow, maybe he ISN’T a douche.”
Drink the whole thing whenever…
…a dinosaur kills a human being under the age of 20.
…someone answers a question about the past in a non-evasive manner.
…someone shows an emotion other than “blasé” at living amongst dinosaurs 85 million years in the past.
…Randy Jackson shows up during sweeps to tell a T. Rex he sounds “pitchy”.
That’s a pretty good start, no? And with two weeks until the next episode, we have plenty of time to build upon the work I’ve started here. And unlike the work that went into to creating the camp, we’ll be able to document all the work done here to make our time more palatable upon the show’s return. Nothing would make me happier than to have such a game be unnecessary to enjoy it. But for now, I fear it is. And even if I can’t personally enjoy it, I bestow this gift to all of you. I can’t give you a portal, but I can give you this.
Is such a game even necessary for you? Am I being too hard on this show? If not, what other rules should we add to the game? And what does the show need to do to sustain your interest enough to stick with the show for this season? Sounds off below!
Stick around after a slow start for some top-notch skits
It’s the fourth straight week that “Saturday Night Live” is airing new episodes. That can’t be a good thing, right? If I don’t get eight hours of sleep a night, I resemble an extra on “The Walking Dead.” I can’t imagine how the talent both in front of the camera and behind it are fairing after a month producing a live show each week. Will I take that into account when grading tonight’s ep? Nah. That wouldn’t be American of me. So I’ll throw the grading hammer down on host Anna Faris and musical guest Drake the way I would any other show. Who knows? Maybe running on fumes will produce a hallucinatory episode that will stand the test of time. Or, it’ll just be Kristen Wiig trotting out every old character for one final parade. Anything’s possible. Only one way to find out. Onto the recap!
Tonight's hour features a major breakthrough that produces even more questions
On last night’s “Community,” the show enacted several different timelines that played out based on a single roll of a die during a group game of Yahztee. I’m not as big as fan of the show as some people at HitFix, but I did appreciate how the show succinctly demonstrated how the removal of one person from the group brought out interesting sides of the others that remained. What works for twenty-one minutes, however, doesn’t always work over a much longer time period. We’re now four episodes into whatever roll of the die “Fringe” has currently cast, and the final moments of tonight’s episode doesn’t mean that we’re any closer to figuring out what Yahtzee reality we’re currently in.