Some Thoughts on Terra Nova


I watched the pilot episode “Genesis” the other night and wrote about it for whatculture.com. You can see the review here. In the review I mention that I was annoyed by the future as presented in the show. I figured I’d take a few minutes to expand on that.

The future that we see in Terra Nova is a bleak, dark place, with heavily polluted skies, a totalitarian government, massive overpopulation, and people who look, act, dress, etc, exactly like we do despite being from 140 plus years into the future. I’d like to address those four things.

Pollution – Apparently the skies of Earth are so polluted that now, when viewed from space, the planet looks yellowish rather than blueish. When we see people out on the streets, they wear breathing masks. Everyone in the main character’s family is astonished when he brings home an orange, when they go through the portal to the past, they’re told that their eyes will likely hurt because of the brightness of the non-polluted sun (why they weren’t given sunglasses is anyone’s guess), and the youngest daughter doesn’t know what the moon is because apparently it’s no longer visible.

I call bullshit on all of this.

First, pollution is a serious problem and one that needs to be addressed, and it is. We have environmental regulations and while they’ve been weakened somewhat, it’s worth noting that even in Los Angeles the air is cleaner than it used to be. It used to be so bad, that one day during 1943 people in the city thought there was a chemical attack and tried to drive to safety, crashing into other cars because no one could see. But the fact is that in LA, and in other places in the country, the concerted effort that we’ve put forth has made a huge difference and the air is simply cleaner than it used to be. (see here and here)

Second, oranges are that rare? Really? In fact it’s implied heavily that all “real” food is pretty rare. That’s also very unlikely. We’ve learned how to grow foods in places we couldn’t even imagine before. Hell, there’s massive areas near Phoenix (which is a desert region), that grow things like cotton and oranges. They do this through a mix of irrigation, fertilizers and other scientific techniques. There is no reason to assume that our food productivity will decrease anytime soon. Sure, you can cite global warming, but one little known benefit to it is that it will open up areas to farming that haven’t been practical before.

And last, when we see the future we see huge billowing smokestacks pumping toxins into the air. You know, the kind that seldom really see anymore because they aren’t very common? It’s unlikely they’re going to become more common as time goes on. It’s also very unlikely that by 2149 we’ll still be burning fossil fuels. It’s more likely we’d have things like fusion power, but even if we don’t have that, we’ll at least still have nuclear power which, while not perfect, doesn’t create that kind of air pollution.

Totalitarian Government – Now this is a bit of an assumption on my part. It’s never stated that there’s a totalitarian government running what I assume is the United States (it’s never explicitly stated to be the USA, but it seems likely, and according to Wikipedia’s article on the show, it starts off in Chicago), but from the evidence it’s pretty clear. We have police officers doing a search of a home without any apparent warrant, we have a man put into, essentially, a dungeon (which is very poorly lit, has no air filtration and would be clearly illegal even by today’s standards), and evidence of corruption on a fairly large level.

This all strikes me as unlikely. The trend historically has been for more freedoms and more democracy and I have a tough time believing that in the year 2149 we’ll be living in a dictatorship. It just does not seem plausible to me.

OverpopulationI’ve addressed this before. What I’ve said then remains valid. I just don’t see any trend worldwide to overpopulation. In most of Europe as well as Japan, there’s a net population decrease because people are having fewer children. As birth control becomes more widely available, and technology and economics continue to dictate that having less children is the wiser course of action, I’m sure even developing nations will start to see a leveling-off of their populations. In fact, most experts predict that we’ll peak sometime mid-century. So this is really nothing to worry about.

On the other hand, even if it were something to worry about, having a two-child per family policy, like what they show in Terra Nova, makes absolutely no sense. Surely the more logical course would be what they have in China, where it’s one child per family?

Future people = just like us! – This one always pisses me off, and to be fair, Terra Nova isn’t the only show guilty of this. Star Trek: Enterprise did the same, and Doctor Who, at least the new series of the show, is a regular offender in this category.

Ask yourself this: how similar are you to someone from 140 years ago? That would place you in 1871. Do you dress the same as someone from back then? Do you act the same? Do you talk the same? Especially if you are a woman, you have almost nothing in common with the women of 1871.

Hell, let’s just go back 40 years to 1971, the year before I was born. Watch any episode of The Brady Bunch and you’ll see that we most emphatically do not dress the same as people did then. We still act relatively similar (though again, if you’re a woman or a member of any minority group, there’s things you can do now that you couldn’t do then), and still talk similarly, though our slang has changed. But the fashions at the very least are extremely different. Heck, they’re even very different now from what they were in 1991. So do you really think that in 2149 we’re going to be basically the exact same as we are now? No, and it’s very lazy on the part of the show’s producers to try and say that we will be.

In summation – The good news is that, at least in theory, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see this future again, at least if the show plays by its own rules (so I give it about 6 episodes before we see it again). In theory it’s gone and we shan’t have to deal with it.

But here’s the other thing: they could have avoided all this entirely if all they’d done was set the future part of the show here and now. It’s made clear that the time travel method they have is a “natural” one and not one invented by scientists. Given that, there’s no reason to put the show into the future at all. Why not just set it in 2011, or 2012? Heck, if you wanna be real fancy, just put it twenty minutes into the future, or in 2021 or something. Make it close enough to our time and most of these complaints of mine go away. Actually, all of them go away. It fixes everything, and you can bet that if you offered people from here and now the chance to go live 85 million years ago, to play pioneer and have their own land and everything else, they’d jump at the chance.

One last thing. The first episode of the show wasn’t all that great. It was ok, but not great. The only character I actually liked was Commander Taylor. Everyone else was basically just there. If I didn’t need to watch the show in order to review it, I likely wouldn’t watch any more of it.

I’m willing to be that I’m not alone, and I’m further going to make this prediction: the show will last all of this season and part of next before being quietly cancelled. It’s a very expensive show, and unless the ratings are really stellar, it’s not going to last.

And that’s a pity, because the basic premise has potential, but with what they’ve shown on screen so far, I just don’t see it pulling in the audience it will need in order to stay afloat.

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