Terra Nova Series 1, Episode 3: “Instinct”

Originally written for TV Pixie

Last week’s Terra Nova double bill was fairly silly in parts but ended up being quite engaging. Mainly because the second episode introduced some intriguing mysteries.

Intriguing-ish, anyway: odd, sciencey etchings on a bit of 85 million year old rock don’t sound worth tuning in for, but looking at them made a nice break from watching ‘bad boy’ cop/walking meat-mountain, Jim Shannon attempt to emote to camera.

Unfortunately for the viewers, this week’s instalment had no mention of these Lost-style mysteries, instead deciding to focus on an almost-embarrassing plot that was effectively a shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock’s The Birds. Wait, no: it wasn’t good enough to be compared with Hitchcock – scratch that. It was a shot for shot remake of ‘Birdemic: Shock and Awe‘.

Without the ongoing mystery ‘hook’, we had nothing to distract us from the constant close ups of Jim’s face scrunching up in an attempt to look like he cared about his three bland, tanned children or his boringly pretty wife.

Yes, boringly pretty. The characters in Terra Nova are all exhaustingly good-looking: it’s like the 22nd century has been affected by goodlookingness inflation. In fact, they’re so good looking, toned, smooth skinned and chiselled that they’re not even attractive anymore. They look like waxworks. It felt like a relief when Terra Nova’s leader Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang) popped up on screen with his slightly wonky eyes and craggy face.

In this futuristic/prehistoric ‘O.C. meets Jurassic Park’ nonsense-world, it’d be unusual looking guys like boss-eyed Nathaniel who’d be the real hotty-magnets: not dull prettyboy Josh Shannon with his pseudo-rebellious boyband chatter and faux-rumpled clothes that look like they came from the Flintstones version of Gap.

In between dodging attacks from horny, featherless dino birds (yes, horny: more on that later) Josh spends some time trying to buy a guitar, mopes about the girlfriend he left behind, looks strangely 90s in his baggy check shirt and t-shirt combo, wanders around the camp aimlessly and continues to develop a relationship with the equally boring Skye. It’s like watching Dawson off of Dawson’s Creek try to pull at Centerparcs, but approximately one third as interesting.

There were some hints last week that there might be more to Skye than met the eye: that she was perhaps linked to some shadowy goings on. Just before the credits rolled we saw her giving a report to Commander Taylor – but again, this wasn’t expanded on in this episode. Instead we were sucked into a very thinly-veiled metaphor about… well, mating. 

The aggressive dinobirds are migrating in order to get laid; Josh and Skye are trying to tap off with each other (even if they don’t know it yet) and cardboard cut-out Jim and his one-dimensional wife spent most of the episode trying (and failing) to find time to do a bit of rumpy-pumpy in their Lego-kit identihouse. Ick.

They were interrupted – in order of appearance – by a.) their 5 year-old child, b.) carnivorous birds and c.) a vapid English love rival in the shape of the Chief Science Officer for Terra Nova who seemed to have been stuck in the cast simply to make Jim look even more manly in comparison. Hardly necessary: he’s basically just a walking Y chromosome with a gun. If Duke Nukem and a fridge full of beef had a lovechild, he’d be it.

Why they felt the need to make the third episode into a rather pointless, bird-based ‘mating and competition’ analogy that did little to explore the possibilities of the series’ main concept is a bit of a mystery.

There weren’t even any good dinosaurs: the mini-pterodactyls, though impressive in number, weren’t half as scary as the average Aberdeen seagull.

Terra Nova isn’t without promise. As we saw in episode two, it seems to work best when it’s a bit darker, visceral and more mysterious rather than, say, ‘The OC cast go on a gap year.’ This week was sadly viscera-free (if you don’t count the pecked faces of the guys on the advance-guard) and – as a result – as dull as ditchwater.

Obviously it’s important to have the occasional character-driven episode, but unfortunately the characters in Terra Nova are almost all hard-to-relate-to, focus group clichés and about as interesting as a documentary about the history of narrow gauge slate railways narrated in a gentle whisper by retired football kicker, Gareth Southgate.

Hopefully next week we’ll see the character development idea ditched in favour of big dinosaurs with spikes on and hopefully a few more mysterious discoveries – ideally a polar bear, a smoke monster, some kind of inexplicable hatch and, hey! Why not? A statue of the Egyptian goddess of fertility, Taweret.

But mainly big dinosaurs.

*     *     *

Episode 1 & 2 – Review: Flintstones Ridiculous

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About Hilary Wardle
Hilary is a freelance journalist and copywriter who writes for a wide range of websites, magazines and newspapers, including Buzzfeed, MSN, The Poke, Chortle, the Guardian and the Independent. She specialises in arts and entertainment, comedy, video games and viral content. Contact her at Hilary3@gmail.com.

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