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John Doyle: Television

Terra Nova: No. 1 crock of the new TV season Add to ...

“At the dawn of the 22nd century the world is on the verge of environmental collapse.” Jiminy. David Suzuki was right.

The much-ballyhooed and hyped Terra Nova (Fox, CITY-TV, 8 p.m.) starts by telling us that the world in 2149 is a place where the air is unbreathable, there ain’t no sunshine and people are very fed up. By “the world,” the makers of Terra Nova – principally Steven Spielberg, whose idea this was – really mean the United States as seen in movies.

And that is a tad problematic. Terra Nova is all-American movie magic and storytelling rebooted for TV. Every movie genre – the western, the cop drama, the teen-slasher flick, the family-reunited drama – seems to have been thrown into a blender and then some dinosaurs thrown into the resulting bland soup of storylines. Ah yes, the dinos. Big selling point. The dinos help take Terra Nova from bad to fabulously bad.

Like most Spielberg productions (there are either 10 or 13 producers, depending on which list you read, but Spielberg is the boss), Terra Nova is about a family and family unity. We meet Jim Shannon (Jason O’Mara), a cop, and his wife Elisabeth (Shelley Conn), a great mom and a wizard doctor who does good deeds. In 2149 the law limits families to four, but the Shannons have had a third child. Without giving anything significant away, I can tell you that the third kid, an adorable tyke, is discovered, then mom and dad are punished and this really nice family is torn apart. Torn apart, I tell you. Not quite torn apart like a dino would tear you apart, but still.

Anyway, it happens that there is a handy tear in the fabric of time which allows the authorities to send people back to prehistory and fix the future. Or something. That bit isn’t too clear. These journeys back in time are called “pilgrimages” and, after considerable to-do but hardly white-knuckle tension, the Shannons become pilgrims on a journey back 85 million years into the Earth’s past.

You don’t need a PhD in American studies to decipher where Spielberg is going here – pilgrims, the new world, people running away from persecution. The dinosaurs are the Indians lurking in the bush, deeply ticked off at the arrival of these irritating people.

Honestly, you can see each segment of Terra Nova coming from miles away.

The dinos do indeed turn up and are mightily impressive. That is, there are huge and a teensy bit more realistic – in a phony-baloney movie way – than they were in Jurassic Park. And you may wonder, “How much did it cost to put fake dinos in there with that super-duper computer technology?” The answer is that Terra Nova cost about $4-million an episode to make.

Jiminy, again. For all that money you’d think the army of producers might have insisted on better writing skills being used. Along the way such gems of hokey dialogue as this are heard: “All we’re looking for here is a fresh start. We just want to be a family again.” And this: “This is what we’re fighting for, Jim, a new beginning for all of us.” Further, there is this groaner: “They hightailed it like thieves in the night.” Sure they did, because they are cliché-phobic.

Terra Nova is a crock because for all the money and technology being used, there isn’t a tincture of originality. The characters are boring. You end up cheering for the angry dinosaurs as the critters peer at annoying all-American teens going skinny-dipping. Yep, there’s skinny-dipping. No cliché is left behind in this turgid tale that amounts to a live-action The Flintstones on a really big budget, without the jokes.

* * * * *

The second biggest crock of this new TV season is The X-Factor (Wednesdays on Fox and CTV, 8 p.m.). The first episode the other night climaxed with the “discovery” of Stacy Francis, an African-American, 42-year-old single mother of two with a spectacular voice. She explained that a guy she was involved with told her she didn’t have talent and pushed her around. Part of her story is no doubt true, but the suggestion that Francis is an unknown, a mere aspirant to singing stardom in her 40s, is nonsense. A reader here in Toronna, a performer in musical theatre, wrote to let me know that she watched the staging of the Stacy Francis segment with some astonishment. The reader pointed out that Francis is a veteran of Broadway musicals and originated the role of Rusty in the first production of Footloose, in 1998, to considerable acclaim.

Francis also starred in Broadway productions of Street Corner Symphony and Smokey Joe’s Cafe. It took 30 seconds on Google to verify this. The X Factor feels like a con as well as a crock.

* * * * *

The third major crock of the season is the new Two and a Half Men (Mondays on CBS, CTV Two, 9 p.m.) with Ashton Kutcher replacing Charlie Sheen. Frankly, I don’t care how many millions watched last week. The show was an unspeakably crude concoction of penis humour, as tedious as formulaic porn. And it had less than two and a half minutes of genuine humour. That’s what I call a crock of a comedy.

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