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Fox is reportedly close to deciding whether or not to renew the much-hyped Terra Nova for a second season, weighing up whether the ratings – which have been in a state of decline since a premiere that already failed to meet network expectations – are weak enough to make the show too expensive to continue with. Purely because I want genre series to stay alive on network television, I’m hoping it gets renewed… but only if the following changes are considered.
Less Is More
You know what’s been surprisingly underwhelming about Terra Nova? The dinosaurs. It’s not that I’d bought into the idea offered in a lot of the pre-premiere hype of “It’s Steven Spielberg, and he did Jurassic Park, so you know what that means,” as much as… the dinosaur special effects were continually being hyped up as one of the selling points of the show, and let’s be honest, they’re not a million miles away from the kinds of thing we’ve seen for a fraction of the cost in Primeval. I don’t really mean that as a condemnation of the special effects team as much as a comment on just how underwhelming the very idea of “Look! It’s CGI dinosaurs!” is in the first place these days – Unless it’s something that is genuinely groundbreaking and spectacular, you’re left with a strong sense of “Yeah, seen it all before.”
There’re only really two possible responses to that; either significantly improve the quality of your CGI in the break between seasons or, much more realistically, change the focus of your show so that the CGI is much less important to the stories being told and let the audience see those dinosaurs much, much more sparingly. Remember how little we saw the shark in Jaws? Or the alien in Super 8? Remember how much scarier they were because of that? That would be great, wouldn’t it…? And cheaper, too. Just sayin’.
Lose The Family
I refuse to believe that I am the only person who thinks that Terra Nova is a potentially interesting show that’s continually overrun by soap opera and a misguided desire to try and be a “family show” with subplots about the three minor Shannons, Josh, Maddie and Zoe that more than occasionally seem to come from another show altogether than the more science-fictional elements happening in the main plot of the week. If the show could quietly shuffle the kids off to the side for extended periods of time (Like, forever, especially in the case of Josh and Maddie) without killing them – That would be a step too far, tonally, I suspect – the show could, perhaps, put an end to its schizophrenia and become more watchable as a result. Which reminds me…
Find A Purpose
What is Terra Nova actually about? That’s a really difficult question to answer, having watched the show, because based upon the episodes themselves, it doesn’t really seem to be about what it thinks it’s about. Episodes have a particularly “Star Trek meets Lost with some Jurassic Park thrown in” feel, all topped off with a crusty layer of “We’ve seen Avatar but don’t have that budget,” but more and more, it feels like it’s at best giving lip service to the idea of restarting civilization in the wake of a complete societal breakdown – Shouldn’t it be harder? Shouldn’t people be more… I don’t know, bitter, and hopeful, and just more extremely emotional and less level-headed in general?
I actually have no problem with the show choosing to be something other than a gritty, realistic and probably depressing and not-incredibly-network-TV-friendly look at how hard it is to try and reboot society on a weekly basis, but without that, I feel that the show doesn’t really have any purpose beyond “Hey, dinosaurs! And mystery!” That’s the kind of thing that’s really evident when you watch on a fairly regular basis: There’s no “there” there, no real heart or meaning behind the show, and it feels very empty as a result. For Terra Nova to be worth a second season to Fox, there has to be some promise to the show, some suggestion that audiences will come back and, more importantly, grow – but, unless the show gives viewers reason to care about what happens to the characters and what’s going on, that won’t happen, and until the show’s creators know just what kind of a show they’re creating, why should viewers care?