Continuum is our new crack. This show, which just premiered in Canada, is totally insane and mind-bending, and it has many of the same qualities that made us love Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. (Although the dialogue and characterization are a mite clunkier.) If you've been missing action-oriented science fiction that actually dares to explore science-fictional ideas, then you owe it to yourself to check out the first episode of Continuum.
When we first heard the premise of Continuum, we thought it sounded a bit like Time Trax: a cop from the future comes back in time to the present, to catch a bunch of escaped time-traveling criminals. But in execution, this show is much more serious and edgy. The cop is a cyborg, with memory storage and data implanted directly into her skull, and this fact is used in some genuinely clever, fascinating ways. Meanwhile, the escaped criminals are actually freedom fighters, struggling to overthrow a corporate-dominated future after the world's governments have all collapsed.
It's been ages since we've had a TV show where the lines between the good guys and the bad guys are this blurred — we root for Kiera because she's an awesome cop from the future, but it's pretty clear from the outset that the terrorists she's hunting down are right on the larger issues. Especially when we get lots of little hints that the corporate-dominated future is long on surveillance and short on basic freedoms. (I wish we'd gotten to see more of that.) The wrongdoers from the future have already launched a terrorist attack in 2077 that killed tens of thousands of people, and now they're preparing to launch an all-out war in 2012, starting with an attack on a police precinct that the Terminator would be proud of.
There's plenty of food for thought in the first episode, besides the basic question of whether the terrorists are actually right this time around. For one thing, when Kiera gets back to the present, she quickly starts communicating with Alec, who's only just invented the technology that's implanted in Kiera. Thanks to Alec's snooping, we soon learn that he's going to grow up to become one of those super-powerful corporate leaders in 2077 — and he's the guy we see smiling and nodding as Kiera is sent back in time. As Young Alec himself points out, there are two possibilities with time travel — Kiera's changing the past by going back, in which case Old Alec couldn't have known this would happen, or she's just acting out events that had "always" happened, in which case Old Alec knew exactly what was going on. Meanwhile, there are hints that Alec's family are on an anti-corporate crusade of their own, but they say that Alec is "not ready."
It's sort of astonishing that this pilot was directed by Jon Cassar, who also worked on Terra Nova — because this show is what Terra Nova should have been. (At least thus far. We'll see if it can sustain this level of coolness in following episodes.) This is a show about one-way time travel into the past, that takes the implications of time travel reasonably seriously and tries to be about something. There are actual ideas, and political statements for that matter, embedded in this pilot, plus it's an exciting, action-packed romp. (To be fair, Cassar also directed the finale of Terra Nova, which was also splendidly shot and staged. And he wasn't one of the writers of Terra Nova, so he was dealing with what he was given.)
Continuum certainly isn't perfect, thus far — Kiera's son isn't as annoying as a lot of television kids, but I'm still glad he was left behind in the future. The business where Kiera tricks the Vancouver cops into thinking she's a police officer from Portland, OR is a bit clunky, but necessary to get us into the action. Some of the dialogue is indeed quite cheesetastic.
But it's hard to watch Continuum without being sad that we Americans can't do shows like this any more. Let's hope a few U.S. TV execs watch this show and remember what we Yanks used to be capable of.