Just finishing its first season on BBC America is Primeval, a british sci-fi adventure series that shows how monster-of-the-week is really done.
In recent years, science fiction and fantasy shows have generally tried to steer away from plotlines that involve creatures appearing, then terrifying and/or eating bystanders, and then being dispatched at the end of the episode once the cast has figured out the creatures’ main weakness. This plot formula is only for the start of season one, the thinking goes, when audiences need self-contained stories to introduce them to the cast and the show’s milieu. The real meat happens later, as multi-episode arcs and more complex character development are brought in, and monster-of-the-week episodes, with their limited formula, go to the bottom of the story pitch pile. Primeval explodes this thinking by having a show built firmly around the monster-of-the-week device, while still advancing engaging season-length arcs and furthering clever character development.
The premise of the show is that tears in the space-time continuum are popping up in increasing numbers across the countryside. The tears, referred to as “anomalies,” connect the present day with various time periods in the Earth’s history, typically tens or hundreds of millions of years into the past. Problems arise when the local prehistoric fauna—a T. Rex perhaps, or a gorgonopsid—wander through an anomaly into, say, a shopping mall parking lot. Our band of heroes, led by paleontologist Nick Cutter (played by Douglas Henshall, whose grounded performance makes a good counterpoint to the more fantastic elements of the show,) is tasked with keeping a lid on things. Complicating matters are the team’s abrasive boss (my favorite, as the writers have given him much more depth than such a character normally receives, and he occasionally steals the show) and Cutter’s sorta-ex wife, who is shaping up to be the best British female science fiction villain since Servalan.
The other big stars of the show are the creatures, beautifully and realistically animated CGI creations–it’s not a surprise that they’re good, since the team that produces them was responsible for the BBC documentary Walking With Dinosaurs. For Primeval, some artistic license does get taken, but the creatures that run, swim, and fly through the show are very believable, and prove you don’t have to travel to another planet to find creatures and worlds that are utterly alien.
The first DVD volume of Primeval was actually shown as two seasons on British television, then combined into one 13-episode season on BBC America. (A third season in expected to air in the UK in January). There is an audio commentary for some episodes, and behind-the-scenes bonus features. It goes on-sale tomorrow, when Science Not Fiction will have an exclusive clip from one of the Primeval cast members talking about what kind of creatures they’d like to see on future episodes of the show.
ETA: Typo fixed!
Links to this Post
- Primeval: Exclusive Cast Video | Science Not Fiction | Discover Magazine | November 4, 2008