Sunday, December 11, 2011

Television’s Best Western: Terra Nova & The Promise of a New Tomorrow

Lately I have been satisfying my western urges via trips to the sci-fi shelf.  Terra Nova, Fox’s flawed by fun time travel series, is the reason why I have strayed from the traditional western shelf.  As I have stated in past posts, I like westerns for the sense of exploring a new, potentially hostile, but also potentially rejuvenating land.  When I read about the trials of the early western explorers there is a sense of mystery in their journey as they ride or raft into terra incognita, the blank spaces on the map.  I know, of course, what is in those places on the map, and what will happen to the people there.  To some extent that prescience of observing from a future state takes away some of the allure of reading or watching these stories.  In science fiction, though, the future is often unknown (presuming you haven’t read spoilers or see the sequels first).  In science fiction that involves far flung colony worlds, you have the same appeal of the western frontier stories without the annoyance of knowing that the site of the story’s climax will one day be home to a Wal-Mart.  

Terra Nova is just this kind of story.  Instead of a far flung colony world, Terra Nova is the location of a city 85 million years in the past, where the good folks of Chicago in the 22nd century are hurling pilgrims as fast as possible before the Earth becomes uninhabitable because of environmental decay (please recycle and turn off lights when not in the room; also, compost).  Terra Nova is literally sitting on the edge of world, a lonely town / fort tucked away in an inhospitable environment filled with strange wildlife, with contact back home only available in brief patches every six months.  Sounds a bit like the western frontier, doesn’t it?  In the pilot the town even picks up a sheriff, a lawman / political refugee from the 22nd century’s population control laws, come back in time with his three kids (one over the legal limit) and his doctor wife. 

Mix a frontier town with family drama, eco-politics, and a dash of conspiracy, sprinkle liberally with dinosaurs, and you get Terra Nova.  Much of the story really is a rehash of Avatar, right down to some of the actors.  Avatar itself owes much to westerns, so much that for weeks after seeing it I called the movie “Dances with Wolves 2: Electric Boogaloo”.  Sure, the whole thing is a bit over acted, and the background music is more distracting than anything else, but it is a heck of a ride.  And unlike conventional Westerns, I don’t know what the end of the story is going to be.

Unless it is cancelled, of course.  The show’s costs are exorbitant, and it is only doing mediocre in the ratings.  The 13 episode run ends on Monday, December 12 (i.e. soon if you are reading this right after I post) and it’s still iffy as to whether it will get picked up for another 13 episodes.  Steven Spielberg may be the exec producer, but the show runner is Brandon Bragga.  You know, the guy who crashed 24, FlashForward, and the entire Star Trek television franchise.  Tune in for the season ender while the show is still on; who can say what will happen next?

(Oh, you thought this was about Hell on Wheels?  I just can't get into it.  Hopefully that will be a post for another day.)


  1. Thanks for the information about Terra Nova. I decided not to watch it this season. If they pick it up for a second season, I'll check it out.

    I look forward to your future post about Hell on Wheels. I have been enjoying the show, but they seem to be quickly moving away from the original premise of the show.

  2. Thanks, Jay. What do you like about Hell on Wheels? What do you see as the original premise?