Terra Nova

Depending on how one chooses to view it, "Terra Nova" represents another attempt to do a family drama in a (very) exotic locale, or the new TV season's biggest gamble.

Jim Shannon - Jason O'Mara
Cmdr. Nathaniel Taylor - Stephen Lang
Elisabeth Shannon - Shelley Conn
Mira - Christine Adams
Skye - Allison Miller
Josh Shannon - Landon Liboiron
Maddy Shannon - Naomi Scott
Guzman - Mido Hamada
Zoe Shannon - Alana Mansour

Depending on how one chooses to view it, “Terra Nova” represents another attempt to do a family drama in a (very) exotic locale, or the new TV season’s biggest gamble. Fox’s dino-spectacular — which counts Steven Spielberg and former News Corp. exec Peter Chernin among its herd of exec producers — boasts a muscular pilot, a serviceable plot and considerable ambition — none of which, it should be noted, sustained the net’s “Terminator” series. For starters, though, “Terra Nova” shines pretty brightly, even with the possibility it might wind up being remembered as another really expensive TV camping trip.

Opening with a nightmare vision of an overpopulated 22nd century — with toxic air, and every family limited to two children, China-like — the project is sure to draw the ire of conservative media. Too bad, because after that, there are plenty of family values.

In the revised opening, Jim Shannon (Jason O’Mara) has just escaped from prison, having been jailed for violating the strict reproductive policy. (The change from an earlier prototype gets into the story faster but, alas, ruins what was the premiere’s best twist.)

It requires guts and ingenuity for Shannon to reunite with his wife, a doctor (Shelley Conn), and their teenage kids (Landon Liboiron, Naomi Scott) in a grand adventure: Passing through a glowing portal to travel 85 million years into Earth’s past to Terra Nova, a seven-year-old colony meant to represent mankind’s best hope for salvation.

It’s hardly a spoiler (this is a series, after all) to say they get through, where they’re greeted by a crusty administrator who delivers a stirring speech. Unfortunately, said leader is played by a buff and sweaty Stephen Lang, and for a second, it’s easy to think you’ve accidentally stumbled into a preview for “Avatar 2.”

Eventually, the show begins settling in, for good (cool-looking dinosaurs; an exterior threat from a rogue group of colonists) and ill (stupid teenagers, who bring tired teenage problems back to the Mesozoic era).

The pilot probably peaks in the first 30 minutes, and the setup thereafter brings to mind both the forgotten “Earth 2” (a failed 1994 NBC series) and BBC America’s “Outcasts,” both of which explore how familial bands fare in strange, foreboding environments.

O’Mara (last seen in ABC’s “Life on Mars”) provides a formidable lead, at least when he shifts into hero mode. The show feels less sturdy when it drifts toward becoming “Jurassic Family Robinson” — an element that will have to work, admittedly, unless Fox wants to spend $80 million per episode on CGI.

In the good-news department, “Terra Nova” is big, noisy and wildly cinematic, and Fox has pulled out all the stops with an Allosaurus-sized campaign to ensure the series opens — all the things that ought to generate sampling in a big-screen HD era. Still, recent history suggests such constructs are vulnerable to erosion at a faster-than-geologic pace if they can’t maintain the pilot’s scope and excitement.

Happily, the two-hour premiere is generously stocked with action — even if a subplot involving Shannon’s son and imperiled peers feels too much like “Jaws 2.”

“Terra Nova will succeed,” Lang’s character promises the new arrivals in his welcoming address. By all rights it should, but primetime circa 2011 is its own brave new world, one where nobody — no matter how big — is safe from extinction.

Terra Nova

Fox, Mon. Sept. 26, 8 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Queensland, Australia, by Amblin Television, Chernin Entertainment, Kapital Entertainment and Siesta Prods. in association with 20th Century Fox Television. Executive producers, Peter Chernin, Steven Spielberg, Rene Echevarria, Brannon Braga, Jon Cassar, Aaron Kaplan, Katherine Pope, Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey, Alex Graves, David Fury, Craig Silverstein, Kelly Marcel; producer, Mark H. Ovitz; director, Graves; writers, Silverstein, Marcel, Braga, Fury.

Crew: Camera, Nelson Cragg; production designers, Carlos Barbosa, Joseph Hodges; editors, Jeff Betancourt, Caroline Ross, Henk Van Eeghen; music, Brian Tyler; casting, Cami Patton, Christine King, Tom McSweeney. 120 MIN.

Cast: Jim Shannon - Jason O'Mara
Cmdr. Nathaniel Taylor - Stephen Lang
Elisabeth Shannon - Shelley Conn
Mira - Christine Adams
Skye - Allison Miller
Josh Shannon - Landon Liboiron
Maddy Shannon - Naomi Scott
Guzman - Mido Hamada
Zoe Shannon - Alana Mansour

More TV

  • American Son review

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Releases 'American Son' Trailer

    In today’s TV news roundup, Netflix released the trailer for “American Son” starring Kerry Washington and first looks at Dolly Parton’s new anthology series, “Heartstrings.” FIRST LOOKS Netflix has released the trailer for “American Son,” which premieres Nov. 1 on the streaming service. Directed by Tony award-winner Kenny Leon, the film is based on the [...]

  • BBC's Little Mix Talent Show to

    BBC's Little Mix Talent Show to Be Produced by Management Firm's New Shingle, ModestTV

    The BBC has confirmed its Little Mix talent show, which the pop band’s management firm, Modest!, will produce through a new banner, ModestTV. “Little Mix The Search” will be exec produced by Andrea Hamilton, who has partnered with the management outfit to launch the new operation. Her entertainment show credits include “The Voice” and “Strictly [...]

  • Monica Beletsky Apple TV Plus

    Apple Sets Overall Deal With Monica Beletsky

    Monica Beletsky is the latest of a small group of content creators to set an overall deal with Apple and their streaming platform, Apple TV Plus. Under the multi-year deal, Beletsky will develop and produce television series exclusively for the streamer. This is the first overall of Beletsky’s career. Her previous credits include “Fargo,” “Friday [...]

  • Saladin Patterson

    Saladin Patterson Inks Overall Deal at 20th Century Fox Television

    Saladin Patterson has signed an overall deal with 20th Century Fox Television. Under the multi-year deal, Patterson will develop, write and produce comedy series for network, cable and streaming platforms. He was previously under a development deal at the studio earlier in his career. Patterson is currently an executive producer on the upcoming FX series [...]

  • Lenny Abrahamson and 'The Favourite' Producer

    'Room' Director Lenny Abrahamson and 'The Favourite' Producer Ed Guiney Present Their BBC-Hulu Series 'Normal People' (EXCLUSIVE)

    At TV market Mipcom in Cannes this week the team behind BBC-Hulu series “Normal People” – led by Lenny Abrahamson, the Oscar nominated director of “Room” – presented the first footage from the show, and explained how they approached the adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel. Variety had exclusive access to the presentation. Ed Guiney, one [...]

  • El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

    ‘El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie’ Scores 6.5 Million Viewers Across First Weekend

    “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” which dropped on Netflix Oct. 11, drew around 6.5 million total viewers in its first three days on the streaming platform, according to Nielsen. The movie also reached just under 8.2 million unique TV viewers. “El Camino” unsurprisingly drew its biggest audience of the three days on day 1, [...]

  • Natalie Morales, Photo by Catie Laffoon

    'Dead to Me' Season 2 Casts Natalie Morales (EXCLUSIVE)

    Natalie Morales has been cast in “Dead to Me” Season 2 at Netflix, Variety has learned exclusively. Morales will appear in the recurring role of Michelle. Described as wry and down to earth, Michelle has a relaxed charm and infectious wit. She forms a connection with Judy (Linda Cardellini) at the Assisted Living Facility, where Michelle’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content