Terra Nova Disappoints with a Bird-Brained Second Episode

Terra Nova's first episode wasn't the smoothest of rides, as awkward exposition and the fossils of old clichés obscured its glimmers of promise. After watching it, I thought the show could go one of two ways. It could build on the pilot's more interesting storylines (Jim vs. Taylor, everyone vs. the Sixers, the mysterious scratchings on the rocks) and become the show we all want it to be—some strange mix of Lost and Land of the Lost. Or it could be what Monday night's second episode, "Instinct," was.

Terra Nova's third hour was a whatever-the-opposite-of-an-homage-is to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, and an actual, if accidental, homage to Birdemic, a cult horror movie that was made for approximately $6.12. Turns out the Shannons arrived in Terra Nova just in time for a migration of angry pterosaurs—think smaller, pissed-off pterodactyls or mini-Rodans. A few people died and a lot more suffered second-degree pecks, but in the end, the crack science team manufactured a pheromone (i.e. the lazy man's script savior) that could be used to relocate the flying dinos, and everyone was saved.

I suppose "Instinct" would have been a fine hour of television if it was the 14th episode of Season 5, but this was our all-important second visit to Terra Nova. Is this what Fox thinks will make viewers come back for more? A flock of prehistoric pigeons? Anyone who was on the fence after the series premiere just fell off it very hard.

Terra Nova had a chance to prove its doubters wrong by delivering an episode that further advanced the mystery of the engravings and increased the tension between Camp Terra Nova and the rascally rivals of Camp Sixer, with an Allosaurus or two thrown in for good measure. Instead, it sprinkled the screen with horrible CGI reptilian Heckle and Jeckles . Is it too soon to say that Terra Nova has jumped the Mega Sharktopus?

"Instinct" also featured some minor stories, including Jim and Elisabeth trying to sneak off to have sex, scientist Malcolm having the hots for old-flame Elisabeth, Jim getting jealous over Malcolm and Elisabeth's history, Josh needing a summer job to earn money for a proto-guitar, and Maddie wondering if a boy likes her (OMG he does!). I was amazed at how casually these threads were woven into the IMMINENT DEATH BY BIRDS story, as if the lives of Terra Novians and, lest we forget, mankind in general, weren't in danger. As Jim was embarking on an important hunt that could help save the lives of his family and preserve his species, he grilled Malcolm about wanting to get it on with his wife. Was that really an appropriate time to play the jealous husband, Jim? And should Skye have bet the price of the guitar against her and Josh's survival while the room they were hiding in was being swarmed by pterosaurs? Terra Nova's repeated and ill-timed attempts to remain family-friendly make it very hard to take the series seriously. Given that it's a show about saving the human race, it probably should have some sort of gravity to it.

It's also becoming obvious that Terra Nova bit off more than it can chew in the effects department. At this point, I think producers should just put a man in a rubber Godzilla suit and call it a day. That's the burden of being marketed as a big-budget effects extravaganza: If it doesn't deliver, it really, really, really doesn't deliver. Right now the computer animators who created the Nasonex Bee and the General Auto Insurance army guy are feeling pretty good about themselves.

One think I did like about "Instinct" was its use of selective amnesia. Gone was the forced conflict between dad Jim and son Josh that stunk up the series premiere. And there was no more unexplained chasm between Jim and his wife Elisabeth. Do I care that the show didn't explain why things changed? Not really—I'm just it chose to pretend they never happened.

Going into the fall season, Terra Nova was television's most-anticipated event. The problem with that label is it's all too easy to become television's biggest disappointment. The show isn't that bad yet, but if next week's storyline is any indication (there's a mysterious virus!), it'll get there soon.

Notes:
– It's nice to see that Capitalism has already taken over Terra Nova. But why is there a new monetary system? What was wrong with dollars or space credits or whatever people used in 2149? Is there a mint on-site? Who is regulating the interest rates? And so forth.

– Over/Under on how many scenes Zoe will be involved in where she's not either in trouble or adorably playing with something prehistoric and dangerous? I'll set the line at 0.5.

– Maybe I missed something, but is Terra Nova strictly an American operation? Did we finally go public with the whole "we don't care about the rest of the world" thing?


Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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