TV Review: BBC America imports sci-fi adventure with 'Primeval' jurassic journey
"Primeval" stars, from left, Connor (Andrew Lee Potts), Stephen (James Murray), Cutter (Douglas Henshall)and Claudia (Lucy Brown)
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It has been about a year since BBC America designated Saturday as its home for fantasy and sci-fi series, including "Torchwood" and "Robin Hood," and already it's clear that BBC America often has better shows than Sci Fi Channel, "Battlestar Galactica" aside.
Largely this is a matter of better writing on many of the BBC America programs, but it's also a testament to the improvement of the special effects that show up on British TV. Gone are the days of the papier-mache baddies on the old "Dr. Who." Computer-generated effects have been a game changer.
Saturday at 9 p.m., BBC America unveils its latest sci-fi import, "Primeval," which you could call "Jurassic Park: The Series." It's a rollicking adventure with decent special effects and better stories and character development than, say, Sci Fi Channel's "Eureka."
- Starring: Douglas Henshall.
- When: 9 p.m. Saturday, BBC America.
"Primeval" is the story of evolutionary zoologist Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall) and his team. In the premiere, they discover a sparkling portal in a forest that offers a doorway to the prehistoric past. It also explains how a rampaging dinosaur made its way into modern England.
Cutter's team includes research assistant Stephen Hart (James Murray), zoologist Abby Maitland (Hannah Spearritt) and student paleontologist Connor Temple (Andrew Lee Potts), who provides the bulk of the show's comic relief.
Connor gets off on the wrong foot with Cutter by mentioning Cutter's wife, Helen (Juliet Aubrey), who disappeared eight years earlier. What happened to Helen becomes the primary continuing story in "Primeval." But it doesn't seem like viewers will have to wait too long before they start getting answers as Helen's fate comes to the fore in episode three. In addition, there are weekly excursions to contain creatures that have made it through the rift. Next week's baddie: A giant, red, centipede-like creature living in the subway.
Once Connor worms his way onto the team, he tries to woo Abby and tells his friends about the dinosaur discovery.
"That's the saddest thing I've seen since 'Matrix: Revolutions,' " says one disbelieving friend, giving an example of the show's cheeky humor.
In addition to his team, Cutter must contend with a government agency that wants to curb his exploration and prevent news of the creatures and the unexplained anomalies that rip through time from going public.
"Primeval" has been a hit in England -- yes, there are action figures based on the show's characters -- and the show's third season is currently in production.
What most impressed me in the pilot was the show's sense of humor about itself. After a dinosaur chases a young boy home and tries to snack on the kid by bursting its head through a bedroom window, the boy brandishes a "Star Wars" light saber toy for protection. It's a cute, Spielbergian moment.
At a BBC America press conference last month in Los Angeles, co-creator/writer Adrian Hodges said "Primeval" has been successful because of its broad appeal.
"We are very aware that we have a lot of kids who love the show, who love the creatures and all of the rest of it," he said. "But at the same time, research shows that their parents and older people love more the serial side of it and the adult relationships. We really are trying very hard to put something in there for everybody."
For Henshall, the biggest acting challenge in "Primeval" is modulating his terrified reactions.
"How many expressions have you got for being scared witless?" he said. "I've just settled on one that I like and that's what you get. After 17 weeks of going, 'Oh my God!' it's really difficult to try to think of another one."
First Published August 4, 2008 12:00 am