Pilot Reviews Part 1: ‘Person Of Interest’ and ‘Terra Nova’

I wrote an article several weeks ago about which 2011/2012 pilot episodes I was going to check out, so I thought I would write follow-up reviews about those shows! As you know, I have watched A LOT of TV series so I am well aware that many, if not most, pilot episodes are pretty shaky and they usually don’t embody what the shows eventually become. That being said, I am going to write reviews on every freshman pilot and then, at a later date, review the shows at the mid-term to see how much they grow and change. Just so you know, I may be changing the format of the reviews as they progress throughout the year; the ‘what worked’ and ‘what didn’t work’ just fits better with a pilot episode since there is no mythology to work with.  Anyway, let’s start it off with the two shows that have aired so far: Person Of Interest and the huuuuge, big budgeted Terra Nova.

Terra Nova

Episode grade:  B-

Plot:  Jim Shannon–who is in jail for breaking the law for having more than two children–realizes that he must take drastic measures to keep his family together after his wife, Elisabeth, is selected to travel back to prehistoric times to create a new civilization and, hopefully, help change the future.

What worked:  When they first announced Terra Nova, I was immediately concerned about all the hype surrounding this very ambitious TV project. I knew that it was going to be tough to live up to everyone’s standards, which is why I really try to take a TV series at face value, go in no expectations, and just enjoy the ride. And that’s what I did with Terra Nova.

I guess I’ll start off by saying that I did have fun watching this pilot. O’Mara, who I really enjoy as an actor, plays a very likable lead hero as Jim Shannon, and I can see his character growing even more as the show progresses. I find that it’s very rare to like and connect with a lead character after the first episode without any time to grow, so it was a great feeling to immediately route for the guy. I also really like Stephen Lang as Terra Nova’s first in command, Nathaniel Taylor. He pretty much plays the same character as his Avatar role, except that he’s a good guy (or seems to be!) this time around.

The relationship developments between Jim and his family seem very organic.  He was locked away for two years after breaking the law and when he eventually reunited with his family, there was no instant continue-things-where-they-left-off vibe, which I appreciated. His son was angry at him for leaving, his younger daughter didn’t seem to recognize him (only later did she recognize him and call him Dad in a touching scene), and his relationship with his wife had a first-date-like feel to it—there was no intense affection and he even offered to sleep on the couch in their new home, which he did. It was a nice touch showing Jim and his wife gradually holding hands near the end of the episode. They certainly have realistic family dynamics down pat and it will be very interesting to see how it grows from there.

I enjoyed the main arcing storyline quite a bit and I was actually somewhat surprised (minor spoiler ahead!) to discover that there was another settlement that broke away soon after they arrived to Terra Nova. I mentioned in my pilot preview post that I didn’t know where the series’ plot would go after the first episode, but thankfully my concerns were addressed near the half way point.

What didn’t work: As much as I enjoyed the first episode, there were some things that I really hoped weren’t going to be an issue that did end up becoming an issue; the most obvious one being the special effects. During the pre-time travel scenes, they were actually fine and at moments pretty impressive for a TV show; however, when we arrived at Terra Nova, it was all over the place. The first scene that made me go “huh?” was when Jim and Nathaniel were looking at the Terra Nova complex  from a cliff, off in the distance. It was painfully obvious that the background was a green screen and the lightning on their faces also did not match up with their surroundings. I was really odd to look at and the whole thing was almost embarrassing. Another scene that stood out was the Tyrannosaurus Rex-like creature chase scene (I forget what they called it in the show, but I’ll just name him Mr. T for now). I couldn’t take this intense action sequence seriously because Mr. T looked worse than the T-Rex from Jurassic Park; I am not exaggerating here! The creature’s textures were way too bright–almost cartoonish-like–and it just seemed very off putting. The dust and dirt that flew up from its movement also didn’t look real or organic. All of these things did bother me quite a bit because it took away from my immersion with the show. To be honest, one of the main reasons why I was looking forward to this show was the special effects and being completely immersed into prehistoric earth. So far, this is not the case. I really hope this isn’t going to an ongoing issue because it will certainly impact the series in the long term since it relies so heavily on special-effects.

Another thing that bothered me–at first anyway–was the son, Josh. I can understand his frustration with his father, but he just got on my nerves a little too often. It could be that I just really like Jason O’Mara and SCREW YOU KID FOR BEING MAD AT YOUR AWESOME DAD or perhaps it’s because I’m in my late 20s and I can’t relate to teen angst anymore, I’m not too sure. I will say that his annoying behavior does get a little better towards the end. I’ll leave it at that.

One last thing I want to touch on is how much they reveal about the mysterious plot points (eg. the sketchings on the rocks) during the very first episode. Maybe I want it to be more like LOST (I’m still looking for a show to fill that void, so maybe the problem is on my side of things), but I was really hoping to have more mystery by the end. It’s only the first episode, so I’m sure things can still get a little nuts; though I DO have a feeling that this is just going to be an episodic, self-contained, family action and adventure series. If that’s the case, I will be disappointed, but I guess that’s the norm with television these past several years. Oh well, only time will tell.

Outlook:  After the pilot, I am a little wary for Terra Nova but it’s almost impossible to speculate where it will go from here. I’m not sold yet on the series because things can easily take a turn for the worse in the coming months. Check it out, though; it’s certainly fun.

Person of Interest:

Episode grade: C+

Plot: When the social security number of a young prosecutor is revealed, Reese (Caviezel) and Finch (Emmerson) work together to figure out if their person of interest is the victim or perpetrator.

What worked: I really liked the cast they chose for this show, especially Michael Emmerson. He’s smart, mysterious and fits the role of a calculated vigilante-billionaire very well. James Caviezel is also fairly good and does a decent job with the action sequences making them very believable and enjoyable. This is also the first time I’ve seen him in anything since portraying Edmund in The Count Of Monte Cristo, so the similarities I notice between those two characters are fresh in my mind. I don’t really have much more to say about what worked for reasons below.

What didn’t work: A lot of stuff didn’t work in the pilot episode and I was sincerely trying to enjoy it (It’s not a bad show by all means! And there’s still time to be great!) The first thing that bothered me was how quickly they moved forward with Reese’s transformation from a shaggy bum, to a suave, handsome looking bad ass. I do realize they had limited time for his change, but I really wanted to see more of his internal struggle and more time to connect with his character before they went right into things. It was really hard to feel this connection when all we were shown were some close-up flashbacks of foreplay in bed with a woman that I didn’t know or didn’t want to know. They definitely could have edited out some unnecessary scenes to give room for more back story. As far as the editing goes, I thought the pacing of the episode was somewhat frantic and confusing, particularly with the investigation of the prosecutor, and when it came time to reveal who the victim was and who the perpetrator was, my reaction was “Oh. OK?” It was at this point I discovered that Person Of Interest isn’t a show where they give clues and subtle tidbits of information so the viewer can figure it out for themselves; every piece of ‘evidence’ or action you see is very ambiguous and usually out of context. And that’s totally fine! But it I think it tries to pretend to be something it’s not: a ‘whodunit’.

As for Caviezel himself, he really doesn’t have much of a personality so it was pretty hard to feel for him. Hopefully that will change. I’ve seen many ‘bleh’ characters grow into awesome and memorable roles, Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer for one.

The last thing I want to mention is the pilot’s story. I really wish they went with something a bit more than just dealing with a crooked prosecutor. I wanted to see a start-the-series-off-with-a-bang type of plot to establish some mythology rather than an inconsequential, and somewhat boring, case.

Outlook: Wow, there’s a lot more in the negative column than the good. Despite that, I really do think this has a lot of potential and I will be sticking with this show. The grade seems rather low, but I actually did enjoy it at certain points. I have a feeling we will be seeing some improvement here by mid season.

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