Terra Nova

FOX swung for the fences with the pilot episode of its new mega-drama, Terra Nova, reportedly doubling the $10 million ABC poured into Lost’s epic premier.  It’s too soon to tell if the show clears the fence or falls short with warning track power.

Terra Nova is a human colony in dinosaur times, set up after humans in 2149 find a one-way road back in time. The main characters are a family of five sent to the colony because it needed a doctor, which mom just happens to be. It also needed a cop, which makes it doubly fortunate that the husband escaped prison to go back in time with them.

The family dynamic is nothing special, and frankly it’s better left undiscussed.

Thus far, all but the first few segments of the series take place inside the colony’s barriers.  Even now, typing this review, I nearly typed “on the island” because there is a very island feel to Terra Nova’s setting. Recall the beginning of Lost, the island was an expansive unknown. We would later come to learn of Dharma stations, colonies and even a temple, but in the beginning all we knew was the comfortable beach and cave camps. Because of that, the writers were able to set up anything that took place outside those places to be mysterious, possibly dangerous adventures.

The colony is treated the same way. We are comfortable inside its walls with their markets and hospitals and modular homes. But outside there are dinosaurs. And Others, or “Sixers,” Terra Nova speak for the band of outlaws that lives outside the colony.

But are they really outlaws? The pilot dropped enough on us to show that there is more layers to Terra Nova’s onion. The island (honest to God, I did it again) has a commander, and that commander has a son who we learn is, well, we don’t really learn anything about him other than he has some chalk and wrote a lot of stuff on some rocks. Stuff about the real reason Terra Nova was created. Stuff we, as of yet, don’t know.

Again, this is a lot like what Lost gave us. We learned in season one there was something underground and some other people on the island, and probably there was a lot of history to be told. If Terra Nova’s creators have the same sweeping storyline in mind, we could be in for something exceptional.

Or we could be in for a dud. It’s too soon to tell. Some parts of Terra Nova aren’t up to par. The characters at times are too cliched: a teenage son angry at his father for going to prison, a saucy girl his age to tempt him away from the girl he left behind, a commander who is conveniently militaristic. You could have said the same about Lost in its early days. If Terra Nova can bring its characters and its story along well enough, it could last. If not, it will spiral downward and off our screens. Fast.

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Once Upon a Time

Emma Swan does not belong in Storybrooke.

Her look is all wrong.  She wears red, deep and rich leather. Her hair falls carelessly across her shoulders. She wears a tank top. No one in Storybrooke even has a tank top. Storybrooke, Maine, has the visual style of a seaside small town. Its people are pleasant and content. Its colors are subdued in blue, green and gray. That is not Emma Swan  In the city, where she is supposed to be, she would not look the least bit out of place. But this is Storybrooke. Nothing is at it should be.

ABC took this risk before, once upon a time. In 2004 it put a show on the air unlike any viewers had seen in some years, maybe ever. Perhaps because of their proven storytelling as writers on that show, the network gave Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz the green light for a project they conceived together before joining Lost midway through its first season. For Once Upon a Time to prove itself a success, they will have to have some creative magic left in their tank.

We meet Emma doing her job as a bailbondsman, er, person. She finds people. On her 28th birthday, she is found by the son she gave up for adoption 10 years prior. Henry is one of those children Hollywood always seems to find who is sufficiently smart. He convinces Emma to bring him back to Storybrooke, where he is the adopted child of a single mother, the mayor. With dark hair and grayscale fashion, Regina Mills is the epitome of an ice queen. She’s been the mayor of Storybrooke for as long as anyone can remember, and that’s exactly how she wants it to stay.

Henry wishes otherwise. We don’t yet know exactly why or how, but Henry believes his birth mother is the child of Snow White and Prince Charming, escaped from the fairy tale at birth right before the Evil Queen’s dark curse brought ruin. He brings her to Storybrooke on her 28th birthday, the time it was foreseen when she would return to break the evil curse. Emma sees enough to want to stick around, much to the delight of Henry and the despair of Regina.

Lost’s finger prints are all over Once Upon a Time. Like Lost, Time’s story bounces between to worlds — one the placid Storybrooke and the other a fairy tale. Although, Storybrooke is more like the flash sideways in that its inhabitants don’t know that their lives are not at all what they seem. Just like the escapees from the island, they are waiting to see, even if they don’t know it yet. The black smoke the Evil Queen conjures for her curse needs no explanation. And in probably the most blatant homage yet, Emma wakes up in jail after a car wreck in a way we saw someone on the island awaken and, ultimately, go back to sleep.

Kistis and Horowitz pledge Once will be a show steeped in character rather than mythology, and that’s good. Being based on one of culture’s most famous fairy tales gives the show all the mythology it needs. If it is going to keep viewers it will need the hooks that compelling characters provide.

Once Upon a Time is a daunting challenge. A fairy tale told to a prime time television audience? In 2011? Amidst the sprawling family of crime tech from CBS and more mature offerings of FX and premium cable channels? Once has to convince viewers to suspend their perception of what is and can be real so the show can have unfettered access to their imaginations, where it must and can only survive.

I will grant it because I like fantasy stories with unbelievable fictions, and my imagination is free to anyone who knows where to find it. Once Upon a Time has shown through two episodes to feature charming acting, intriguing curiosities and something else. Something not found in the gritty alleyways of dark and mysterious dramas. Something…Storybrooke.

American Horror Story

My TV habits historically stick with the four broadcast networks, I haven’t ventured far into cable dramas despite their critical acclaim. So American Horror Story is a new realm for me, and it’s still startling to hear strong language and see graphic violence in prime time. The shock wears off quickly when AHS reveals its demented side, which makes it my favorite new show of the season.

The premise is simple: Family moves across the country to reboot its marriage after a miscarriage and infidelity. Their realtor fulfills her legal obligation to tell the the previous owners died in their new house, but it doesn’t stop them from buying it. We’ve already been clued in by the opening sequence that there is more to this house than the previous owners being victims of a murder-suicide. The premier episode scrapes the surface of its haunted history, and terrifyingly so. I made the mistake of watching it at midnight, alone, and didn’t sleep for three hours.

But this isn’t a cookie cutter haunted house story, and that’s what makes AHS appealing and intriguing. Each show so far held at least one revelation that peels back another layer, giving the clear impression that there are many more layers left to discover. Indeed, that’s one of the main things that kept me interested. It would have been easy after the first episode to think, “Why don’t they just sell it and move somewhere else?” but the writers handle this in a deft and believable way that even manages to feed itself into the bigger plot.

Like Person of Interest, AHS features superb acting, this time from Jessica Lange. Lang plays the neighbor you know knows more than she tells you and mother of a child with Down Syndrome. The child brings the show’s first real haunting moments, but quickly pivots to a lovable character who you hope doesn’t fall victim to the mysteries surrounding her mom and the haunted house next door. Lange alternates between her character being an evil bitch and a loving mother with stunning ease. If you described her character on paper, I don’t now if anyone could reasonably expect any actress to make her work on screen. Lang succeeds, building a character that may rival Emerson’s legendary Ben Linus by the time her story is told.

The rest of the main characters are a tad thin, with the sense that their characters will be shaped more by the events that have yet to happen to them than those that already have. That’s compared to Lost, where each character’s actions were motivated by the events in their pasts.  I would almost unquestionably wager that the Lost structure will produce better and more fulfilling story lines, but AHS has yet to suffer. There’s enough mysterious, frightening and downright disturbing material to keep you engaged so far.

Revenge season one finale

I don’t like that they sort of threw Emily’s mom out there cold turkey, although I do recall her being mentioned once before.

Placing Victoria closer to the center of the David Clarke conspiracy didn’t feel right. It would also lead me to believe she is not dead. If she were really that close, the Silver Haired Man from the Initiative (come on!) will have gotten her away.

But more so it seemed to come out of nowhere. Victoria has always seemed to be the go-along in the Clarke manipulation, not the core manipulator.

The show transitioned nicely away from the sexy summer in the Hamptons.

It grew as a show from something soapy to something dramatic. The end of the finale was great and there were some great scenes along the way, notably Daniel’s television interview where he sided with his family.

About the story already being settled as I’d written before – that clearly pivoted around the engagement party. Things slowly but surely unraveled for Emily after that, or at least became less of her control. Because those were things that had NOT happened yet from the point of view we are being told to. Culminating in Victoria dying right as Emily learns there is so much more to her father’s story.

Who are they going to cast as Mom Clarke?

It’s Complicated

Let’s talk about relationships.

I inadvertently created quite a stir the other day when I set my Facebook relationship status as single.  Readers bombarded me with questions, but there’s no story to tell.  I was going through the profile settings, setting my hometown, adding siblings, etc and the relationship status was there, too, so I set it to what it is, which is single.  Simple as that.  Everybody just calm down.

But I am coming off a long relationship. Six years, in fact.  Great years.  Its end is still fresh, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to make that level of a commitment again, if ever.

I’m referring to TV, of course.  This isn’t the time or place to rehash my feelings about the way Lost ended.  But the end of one relationship naturally leads to thoughts about the next one, so the question is posed: Will I ever be as into another television show as I was into Lost?

I got to thinking about this when a co-worker sent me a link to the trailer for one of NBC’s new fall dramas titled “The Event.”  It is a great preview, but my first reaction was, “Maybe if it were a movie I’d watch. I don’t know if I want to be strung along for another six years again.”  I tried starting a new TV relationship even before Lost went off the air. (That’s okay to do in television show relationships because TV shows aren’t people who have feelings.) I became a fan of ABC’s Flash Forward, but the network yanked it away after its only season.  Really, I’m pretty much over that.  Fox has J.J. Abrams’s Fringe trying to reel me in, but it has been too up and down to want to give it any serious commitment of time and thought.  In Fringe’s case, we stick together because it can be fun sometimes, but if the show and I are honest with each other, neither of us is really excited about us being together.

Critics and people who get to see TV shows before the rest of us gave (cursed?) both of these shows – along with V and maybe one or two others – the tag of being a possible successor to Lost before they ever went on the air. None of them have been able to live up to it, but a classic relationship line may apply: It’s not you, it’s me.

Their failure may be the fault of viewers like me who aren’t ready to make a multi-season investment in a new TV show.  I’ll tell any network execs reading this that I am not in a place to watch one episode of a show and not learn what it was really about until four years later, as was sometimes the case with Lost.  I don’t expect “the event” to be revealed in the fifth episode of “The Event,” but I do expect to be told what the hell is going on in an upfront and honest way.  If the writers try to pull the same shady trickeries that Damon and Carlton did, I’m changing the channel before you can say women can’t have babies on the island.  Lost was that one that may only come along once in a lifetime.  As a viewer you recognize that and you commit to going that extra mile to stick with it.  Barely one month removed from its end, it’s hard to picture myself being willing to do that again.

All of that assumes that I even want a new long-term TV relationship.  Maybe I just want something nice, light and simple.  I watched an episode of Criminal Minds last week and you know what? I liked it. It entertained me. I might even watch it again, and if I still like it, I’ll watch it some more.  How do you like that?

Maybe Facebook is onto something when it lets you set your relationship status to “It’s complicated.”