Steven Spielberg's time-travel-with-dinosaurs show Terra Nova has been drawing plenty of comparisons to Avatar. But when the show revealed its first trailer to critics, the comparison on everyone's mind was television's former mega-hit, Lost.
Actually, it sounds like everyone involved with Terra Nova was eager to dispel comparisons to Lost at the Television Critics Association gathering... as if trying to avoid the curse that has befallen so many other shows that were trying to imitate Lost's success. The Hollywood Reporter quotes Fox President of Entertainment Kevin Reilly as saying Terra Nova "doesn't have as many plates in the air [as Lost]. This is one big buy-in." Executive producer Brannon Braga is quoted as saying Terra Nova is less science fiction-oriented than Lost, despite featuring time travel and dinosaurs.
And producer Alex Graves, who's directing the pilot, is quoted at Hitfix as saying Terra Nova could get a much bigger audience than the 20 million who tuned in to Lost regularly:
This has nothing to do with Lost for one major reason: It's so made for a massively broad audience, I can't even tell you. Lost was for that great Lost audience, and you would say 'the Lost audience.' Terra Nova, more than anything I've ever done in my life, is for everybody.
The trailer that Terra Nova showed off (which isn't online yet) certainly sounds impressive. According to EW, it starts out with the Shannon family (led by the father, played by Jason O'Mara) waiting for the "last shuttle" to Terra Nova. Then they walk through a bright light tunnel, and they're 85 million years in the past, at a fenced-in compound surrounded by "Pandora-like tropical forest," including a waterfall. They're greeted by Avatar's Stephen Lang, who's in charge. (No clue if he says anything bout Ju-Ju-Bees.) The Shannon family settles in and they talk about how they're starting over as a family — then dinosaurs (who aren't shown in the trailer) attack. There is lots of action and excitement as everybody arms up and jumps in their tumbler trucks. Then we see the tagline: "There is no paradise without sacrifice."
So far, so good. The big question hanging over this show, as Hitfix's Alan Sepinwall writes, is whether it will be better than the last several science fiction shows that had Brannon Braga in charge. If the goal is to create a relatable show about a family, that is less science fiction-oriented than the early seasons of Lost, then Braga may be an odd choice to be at the helm. As Sepinwall points out:
Braga's sci-fi shows - not just "Voyager" and "Enterprise" and whatnot, but CBS' short-lived "Threshold," and even "FlashForward" (Braga co-wrote the pilot, then left to work on "24") - have generally been short on well-rounded characterization and long on technobabble and endless discussion of the rules of various worlds... And Braga's performance during the "Terra Nova" panel didn't really change my impression of him.
When a reporter opened with the not unreasonable question of whether these time-traveling colonists might erase the people who sent them back into the past, Braga winced and said, "Oh my god. I feel like we're at a 'Star Trek' convention," then gave a vague answer about how they'd have to deal with that down the line.
Braga also said that this show feels the most like Star Trek of any show he's worked on since leaving the house that Gene Roddenberry built. And he boasted about the tons of research about real-life dinosaurs the production team has at its fingertips — then added that "you get to make up your own dinosaurs as well." (You do?)
And according to Screenjunkies, Braga did name a huge metaphysical question that Terra Nova will be tackling, in the spirit of Trek:
It is about a second chance for Earth, but Earth can only be saved if people restore it themselves and not bring with it the baggage they leave behind. That's the philosophical crux of the show. Can utopia be built? Is it possible?
So all in all, you have to wonder if being too similar to Lost is really the biggest problem that Terra Nova might face. The good news: the two-hour pilot, airing in May, is almost guaranteed to get gangbuster ratings. And the challenge of keeping a faithful audience week in, week out, will be postponed until September. Maybe the show will build buzz over the summer.