‘Terra Nova’ Reviews: Must-See TV Or Soon To Be Extinct?

Monday night’s two-hour debut of “Terra Nova” sits unwatched in my DVR, a victim of a new puppy who needs far too much attention and then my wife’s insistence that if we were going to watch any TV it’d have nothing to do with dinosaurs and everything to do with finally catching up on Leslie Knope’s political ambitions in Pawnee.

The day after, the web is abuzz over “Terra Nova,” though not necessarily for reasons that make me think my wife and my dog kept me from being an early adopter of a show I’ll be itching to check out each week. I plan to watch tonight, but I’ll approach the DVR with caution. Anyone under the impression that Fox has served up a “Lost”-like time-travel mystery should now be fully aware the show is trying to attract not just geeks but the four-quadrant demographics so important in Hollywood (and mega-budget TV series).

“A rollicking, old-fashioned action-adventure sci-fantasy family saga, ’Terra Nova’ strove mightily to offer something for everyone,” wrote Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly. “You could feel the strain ’Terra Nova’ was under to make this show appeal to as many demos as possible.”

The show, it seems, is as much “Swiss Family Robinson” as it is “Stargate”: a family in the year 2149 flees their dying earth and travels 80 million years back in time to our world in the time of the dinosaurs. There are action set-pieces, but also much time spent on Jim (Jason O’Mara) and his wife Elisabeth’s (Shelley Conn) strained marriage and the difficulties of taking their three kids on a road trip of epic proportions. For me, the key for “Terra Nova” will be how it handles its central mythology.

“[I]n a nice ’Mad Max’-ish twist, there are some renegade forces out there as well, trying to take down Terra Nova,” explains Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter. “They are the Sixers — so called because they came in the 6th Pilgrimage. This is another welcome element to Terra Nova. Who sent the Sixers from the future? Why do they want to kill Taylor [Stephen Lang] and stop Terra Nova?”

Any talk of a mythological component in a TV show leaves me a little intrigued and a lot wary (and weary): for every “Lost” there are a half-dozen time sucks like “Jericho” (dribbling out its reveals too slowly), “4400” (uncorking its big reveal and then finding it had nothing left to say) and “The Event” (just, honestly, a freaking mess from top to bottom). The recapper over at Vulture neatly summarizes all these thoughts as they relate to Fox’s new show.

“[The] pilot was at its most tantalizing when it teased us with details of the Sixers,” Chadwick Matlin wrote. “The man versus dino-nature stuff is fine, but if the show is going to grab us, it’ll be because we don’t know whose side to take. None of the principals in ’Terra Nova’ are compelling enough to earn our allegiance by default. By the end of the episode, I was already rooting for a Sixers coup, if only so life in Terra Nova would get a little more interesting. If there’s anything I trust the writers to flesh out, it’s the Sixers-Nova conflict: nothing makes better TV than two warring tribes. Just ask ’Lost.'”

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