Fall TV Preview

Is Steven Spielberg's Terra Nova a Blast, From the Past? Our Fall TV First Impression

The broadcast networks have more than 30 shows debuting this fall, including Charlie’s reborn Angels, homecomings for Sarah Michelle Gellar and Rachel Bilson, and no less than two series set in the ’60s. To help you prep for fall, TVLine is offering First Impressions based on the not-for-review pilots. Next up….

THE SHOW | Fox’s Terra Nova (Mondays at 8/7c, premiering Sept. 26)

THE COMPETITION | Dancing with the Stars (ABC), How I Met Your Mother/2 Broke Girls (CBS),  Gossip Girl (The CW) and The Sing-Off (NBC)

THE CAST | Jason O’Mara (Life on Mars), Shelley Conn (BBC’s Mistresses), Stephen Lang (Avatar), Christine Adams (The Whole Truth), and others

More TVLine First Impressions: Fox’s New Girl, ABC’s Once Upon a Time, The CW’s The Secret Circle and Ringer, CBS’ 2 Broke Girls and Person of Interest, NBC’s The Playboy Club

THE SET-UP | It’s the year 2149, and Earth is in a bad way, due to pollution, depleted natural resources and humanity’s excesses. You can’t breathe the air, overpopulation is being fended off by limits on children, and I’m pretty sure Mad Men is no longer on the air. To offer the world some sort of future, scientists use a cosmic wormhole to send folks 85 million years into the past, to partake in the biggest do-over ever. The Shannons are among the latest pilgrimage of “colonists” to take the ultimate family vacation. But what waits for them on the other side is two parts idyllic, one part mysterious, and one part deadly. Lang plays Commander Taylor, the man in charge of the Terra Nova camp, while Adams plays someone who apparently would like to be in charge.

THE GOOD | Many have been quick to snark about Terra Nova‘s delayed arrival (announced well over a year ago, it was first set to bow in May), but when it hits your screen you’ll see why. There is so much there there, probably due to the mindful eye of EP Steven Spielberg (here flip-floppin the premise of Jurassic Park). The bleak future reads palpably toxic, while Terra Nova itself (played by Australia’s South-east Queensland) is as lush as it is massive in scale. Storylinewise, I came into this knowing pretty much only what I shared above, so I was pleasantly surprised to see well-concealed subplots and character agendas get sprinkled in. (Watching the trailer below, there are at least three moments that play very differently once you have the actual context.) The script has a nice attention to details, such as how colonists need time to adapt to the clear air and vitamin-rich produce of clean prehistoric living. Among the cast, Lang is commanding as the enigmatic Taylor, while O’Mara (again sans his Irish accent) does well as a father/husband trying to do right by his brood.

THE… COULD-BE-BETTER | I’m not coming up with much; as I said, the script does a swell job of dotting the I’s and crossing its T’s. Appreciating that this is a TV series working with a(n albeit sizeable) TV budget, I’m A-OK with the special effects; those looking for the 100-percent convincing CGI of a $200 million summer movie simply aren’t being realistic. Also: There’s talk that Season 1 might only run 13 episodes, because of the post-production needs and dino-mighty price tag. Boo.

Fall 2011 TV Grid: Where Did Your Favorite Shows Land?

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE | The smartest thing Fox did, outside of taking its time with this epic effort, is scheduling it for the family-friendly hour of 8 pm. Given that the network will surely pile on the promotional muscle come summer’s end — and considering Terra Nova is unlike anything on TV, let alone in its time slot — it will be quite interesting to see how big a footprint its premiere makes.

Watch a video preview for Terra Nova, then vote in our poll below.