Editor's note: The following is an e-mail conversation between CNN Geek Out's Elizabeth Landau and Henry Hanks.
Landau: After reading your recap of Fox's new series "Terra Nova," I have to say that I respect your opinions, Henry, but I wasn't as enthusiastic about the first episode of this show as you were.
First off – I hate to say it but, as much effort as the Shannon family put into leaving their dark, polluted, nearly unlivable world to travel back in time 85 million years, I was more interested in what was going on in that desolate future than in this rather absurd prehistoric past.
I almost didn't want Jim, the devoted father of three, to make it through the time portal so that maybe the show would be split between his struggles in the future and his family's new life in the past, and we could get a better understanding of the destruction that humanity has wrought on our planet. Apparently you can't even see the moon anymore in the year 2149, making its appearance in the sky of dinosaur land miraculous to the family. Too bad it looks so fake. Somehow the unbreathable air of the future felt more real to me than the crisp CGI-enhanced over-freshness of the past.
As a "Lost" fan I see obvious attempts at creating the same kind of intrigue that that epic cult series created. Those pesky Sixers - Taylor says of them, "at first they seem just like the rest of us, but pretty soon we began noticing some things, like how curious they were about security procedures" - seem to be positioned a bit like the Others, albeit minus the weird guy with the fake beard.
They're humans from the future that came in just like everyone else, but seem to have their own agenda that's not yet clear. And there are weird markings on rocks by the waterfall with mysterious meanings, but which are apparently going to be very important. All of these enticing pieces are there to draw us in, and yet because of the overdone effects and many unconvincing characters, I don't know why I should care that much
I mean, how about that drawn-out scene with the kids and the big guns in the Sixer vehicle and the dinosaurs prowling around them ready to pounce. It reminded me that scene in "Walking Dead" when Rick Grimes is trapped in that tank that zombies are crawling all over in downtown Atlanta. Somehow, that felt less like a horror movie cliché than Terra Nova, where these teens – whose backstories we barely know or care about – nervously await a potential thrashing by dinosaurs.
The characters of Jim, his wife Elisabeth and Commander Taylor are all strong, but the supporting cast needs to catch up to them. It's nice that Jim and Elisabeth's eldest daughter Maddy is clearly smart and loves science, but her awkwardness sometimes borders on ditsy and I hope she overcomes that. Josh, their son, has potential, too, with his thirst for adventure and daddy issues, but it's going to take some additional emotional connections to make us more sympathetic the next time he goes exploring in forbidden territory. Zoe is cute and can feed dinosaurs without getting her hand chopped off, which is great, but I'm sure that she can serve a greater purpose than that.
I'm glad they at least tried to explain why going back 85 million years isn't going to mess up the past – apparently they've found an alternate "time stream," so that the course of past prehistoric events as we know them (i.e. dinosaurs lived and went extinct, humans evolved millions of years later, etc. etc.) will remain unchanged, and nothing that these Terra Nova colonists do affects the course of history that they knew.
At least, that's how it's explained in episode one. There are hints that there seems to be some other, perhaps nefarious, goal of Terra Nova involving changing the future by changing the past, and I am indeed curious about how that will unfold. Apparently, Terra Nova was not built for the sole purpose of providing people with a better life.
So, overall, there are some reasons to keep watching this show, and it might get better, but it definitely fell short of my expectations for something that took so long to put together.
Hanks: I'm sorry to say but as a fellow geek I have to disagree.
Responding to each of your points:
I get that having Jim in the future would have made for an interesting show, but from what I understand, we will get the occasional (or more than occasional?) glimpse into the future. Maybe the Shannons can't go back, but we, the audience, can.
Sure, there are shades of the Others here with the Sixers, but I think we'll learn a lot more about them a lot faster than we did about the Others.
We do agree about the scene with the kids waiting to be a dino dinner. Didn't work for me either.
I think, or at least hope, that each member of the family will have their own story arc, going beyond the usual family drama stuff. Though, with the amount of money they're spending on this show, a sci-fi audience alone isn't going to cut it.
As for the supporting cast, I was not as unimpressed as you, but for now I'll say that the casting of Stephen Lang is probably the best move that's been made yet on this show.
I think the alternate "time stream" isn't all it's cracked up to be, and we'll run into some interesting time paradox stuff as the season progresses. (Great Scott!)
Perhaps the many delays lowered my expectations somewhat, but so far – one set piece notwithstanding – I enjoyed my trip to Terra Nova.
Landau: I totally agree that a sci-fi audience alone isn't going to cut it. I'd like to extend that point, however, to say that sci-fi elements alone aren't going to cut it, either.
After all, it doesn't matter if the characters of a show are trapped on an island or in a spaceship - at the end of the day, it's all about the relationships between characters and the emotions exchanged as those relationships progress, or else it doesn't matter who wins or who lives or who gets to feed the neighborhood T-Rex. This show really needs to step up the quality of those relationships and emotions so that more is at stake next time the kids get stuck outside the gates.
At the moment, a lot of time and money is being thrown at dinosaurs that try to eat characters we don't care so much about yet; I hope that effort also goes into building humanity in this brand new, er, old world.
As for the Sixers, I guess it's good that we know stuff about them, but I don't feel any sympathy toward them at all and I feel like the show could have given us more of a nudge in the direction of "hey, maybe these people aren't so bad." So far, there's no one Sixer who stands out as relatable or interesting; they've just been shooting a lot so far.
If the show is smart, it will build up sympathy for the other side, and complicate the animosity that exists between the two groups of colonists.
So, now that I've gotten all that out of my system, I'm going to take a deep breath and watch the next episode on Monday night.