Using scientific mumbo-jumbo as an excuse to do “Jurassic Park Lite,” “Primeval” stirs up a strange but mostly entertaining brew. The special effects range from impressive to Gumby (with wings), there’s a serialized mystery, and the assorted crushes among members of the team researching the “dinosaurs among us” threat at times make the whole thing feel like “Piccadilly Place.” Still, the sci-fi yarn is breezy enough to fill the void left pretty much since “The X-Files” signed off. And as a bonus, kids will enjoy seeing dinosaurs tear up schools and other modern dwellings.
After previewing four episodes, the show remains a slightly odd duck, prehistoric or otherwise. The basic premise is that “anomalies” are linking the past to modern-day London, allowing dinosaurs to pass through and run amok. Enlisted to help the bewildered government officials (a typically bureaucratic lot) is Prof. Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall), an authority on gaps in the evolutionary record whose scientist wife disappeared eight years earlier.
The premiere assembles and introduces Cutter’s aides, a group that includes animal expert Stephen (James Murray), nerdy brainiac student Connor (Andrew-Lee Potts) and reptile minder Abby (Hannah Spearritt), who keeps things interesting when there are no dinosaurs to watch by walking around a lot in her underwear.
Each week, the flickering anomalies bring something new, big and often slimy through the portal and into London. Yet beyond that episodic quality, there’s also the awkward intramural relationships of Cutter’s libidinous proteges and the prof’s own mystery about his missus. The home office, meanwhile, frets about widespread panic should people realize that — as in the especially creepy second hour — giant ancient insects are running loose in the Tube.
“Primeval” was created by Tim Haines (“Walking With Dinosaurs”) and Adrian Hodges (“Rome”), and its primordial ooze of ingredients makes the show difficult to peg. The soapy elements are generally a rollicking snooze, and in the premiere, one worries that too many of the dinosaurs will resemble those in “Land of the Lost,” stampeding around but never really doing much. Yet the investigation surrounding the anomalies — and Cutter’s personal story — does thicken as the series progresses, and many of the computer-animated visuals are striking, especially given the TV budget.
The Brits have generated several sci-fi concepts with solid cult followings (think “Doctor Who”), but in the U.S. have been more frequently associated with costume dramas than rampaging reptiles. Still, with “Torchwood” and now “Primeval,” the BBC’s ambitions continue to evolve, even if this show’s DNA resides on an oft-climbed rung of TV’s evolutionary ladder.