Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Terra Nova”

Dear Frank,

All last fall, as I watched Terra Nova, YET ANOTHER family-from-the-not-too-distant-future-travels-to-the-past-and-gets-to-hang-out-with-dinosaurs drama, I knew it would be something I should tell you about at some point.

Frank, I thought we’d have more time. Alas, last night the word went out that Terra Nova was no more — at least for Fox, though the show’s going to be shopped around to other networks HAHAHAHAHAHAHA GOOD LUCK WITH THAT GUYS. I mean, I sure did watch it. But that doesn’t mean I think the odds of it returning are anything less than EXTINCT (HAHAHAHAHAH I AM FUNNY TODAY’S LIZ TELLS FRANK IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY COFFEEEEEEE).

With odds of pick-up low, let us memorialize the show the best way I know how — by snarking about it! It’s been a while since the show’s season finale last December, Frank, so I’m just going to tell you the stuff I remember, but that’ll probably all you ever need to know, anyway.

The gist is this: The future totally fucking sucks, people have to use respirators to breathe outside, but someone has discovered a magic time portal that allows people to travel back to one fixed point in the past — specifically, the prehistoric era with dinosaurs. (I refuse, on principle, to look up what specific prehistoric era they actually traveled back to, because c’mon.)

So, because the air’s much cleaner in the past, humans have set up a colony that’s humanity’s last hope for survival or something…

…Except of course for THAT METEOR THAT WILL AT SOME POINT HIT THE EARTH AND MAKE HUMANITY EXTINCT ALL OVER AGAIN. The closest Terra Nova gets to acknowledging this genius move is with a casual aside in the episode where people get infected with a virus that takes away years of their memory. Is anyone really surprised that this show’s not getting renewed?

Anyhoo, in the midst of this is the Shannon family (whose last name I only remember because the mom’s name is Liz — don’t worry, Frank, it never affected my vanity Googling). Mom’s a doctor, Dad’s a cop who’s in prison because he beat up another cop over the fact that they had a secret third child (overpopulation’s a bitch, y’know), and the children are a predictable mix of precocious (Zoey, the littlest), super-genius (middle child…shit, I forget her name — we’ll just keep calling her Super Genius) and unspeakably annoying (the oldest son, whose name I also forget, so we’ll just call him Whineface).

I chose this photo specifically because Whineface looks stupid in it.

Mom is so awesome at doctoring that she gets recruited to join the folks back in Terra Nova, and with a convenient prison breakout and whatnot Dad’s able to sneak back with the rest of the family. You’d think that this would be a bigger deal, but by the end of the pilot Dad (an escaped prisoner) is basically the sheriff of the colony. I do not remember exactly why anyone involved thinks that this is a good idea, except that it has something to do with Dad charming Stephen Lang, who was the first guy to go through the portal and is basically just playing a nicer version of his character from Avatar.

This Funny or Die short, btw, is basically all I have to say about Stephen Lang on this show.

Oh, I forgot to mention! Dad is played by Jason O’Mara, who is much better cast here as a time-travelling cop than that other show where he played a time-traveling cop. I actually liked most of Terra Nova‘s casting, and respected its commitment to gender and race diversity — it was its commitment to being really fucking dumb at times that drove me crazy.

Once the Shannons get to Terra Nova, every episode of the show essentially breaks down as follows:

  • Crisis of the Week stuff (that stupid virus I mentioned before, a murder investigation, maybe a swarm of bugs? I think a swarm of bugs happened once.)
  • Mysterious hints about another colony of people living in the past who are called the Sixers and occasionally try to steal shit from Terra Nova, and how they have some connection to the future
  • Family drama (mostly due to Whineface being a whiny waste of space)
  • CW-esque teen romance (Whineface’s fault again, though Super Genius is also at times to blame)
  • Awwww, Isn’t Zoey Cute? (She is.)

Well, that’s true of the bulk of the episodes. The season series finale actually featured some level of badassery; basically, the Sixers are revealed to be working with a corporation in the future that’s going to come back and harvest all of the past’s resources, and so in a two-part extravaganza the evil corp sends a bunch of mercenaries into the past, they take Terra Nova over, and then Stephen Lang and his soldiers retake it through some guerrilla warfare action.

I bet sometime like four paragraphs ago, you were asking yourself — wait, what about the butterfly effect? The long answer: By going into the past, the Terra Novans have created some sort of alternate timeline so everything’s just fine and dandy. The short answer: HAHAHAHA WHY ARE YOU APPLYING LOGIC TO THE SHOW ABOUT PEOPLE GETTING EATEN BY DINOSAURS?!?

Because Frank, that’s really where Terra Nova shone — in its commitment to people getting eaten by dinosaurs. I mean, let’s be clear, the CGI was pretty bad, but goddamn did those poorly rendered dinosaurs tear into humans occasionally. It was truly, truly satisfying. Fox was super-shy about letting video of its dinosaurs out into the wild, but below is a relatively good example:

The finale, by the way, includes one of the finest moments of television I have ever witnessed, a moment so amazing that it apparently eludes being pirated to YouTube or screencapped online. Let me just say this, Frank:


Outrunning dinosaur.

Outrunning EXPLOSION.


Frank, I could mention other stuff — like Stephen Lang’s hot crazy son, or the smarmy scientist guy who basically functioned as the show’s Wikipedia, or the big “game-changing” reveal at the end of the finale that was truthfully super-lame. But this is a memorial, so let us end on this note:


Outrunning dinosaur.

Outrunning EXPLOSION.

Terra Nova, you weren’t perfect. But every once in a while, you delivered.


About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of "X-Files" trivia.

Posted on March 6, 2012, in All the Spoilers, TV and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. If the show could just have started with the series finale (or perhaps the couple episodes leading up to it), this could have been amazing. I mean, the big reveal at the end of the season actually made me satisfied I’d hung in there through the family drama nonsense. If the commander had dealt with anything in a reasonable military fashion, 90% of the storylines would never have happened, imho. Anyways, the dinosaurs were awesome, of course, and I guess I’ll miss them.

  2. I think the real problem is that while it was visually stunning, you pretty much have to have some kind of drama plus over-arching story line, and considering the demographics they were going after (all of them), they tried plugging too many holes with it. The reverse would be a prehistoric National Geographic video on the other hand.

    Things they did right were using lower budget cast members, but the production costs were so high you knew it was going to be killed by the 4th episode. That being said, I enjoyed the show and hopefully someone can pick it up without gutting everything about it, but since Sci-Fi (because f’ their renaming) is looking at the bottom line and cancelling shows like Eureka, its doubtful. đŸ˜¦

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