Friday, November 11, 2011

Primeval Season 5: All the Dinosaurs with More Apocalyptic Doom

Terra Nova was not the first series to put dinosaurs on the small screen in a big way. Primeval, created by Adrian Hodges & Tim Haines, got there first and has fended off extinction quite scrappily, which might be more than the Spielberg backed show can claim. Quickly resurrected after an announced cancellation two seasons ago, Primeval swaggers back for a fifth series tomorrow night on BBC America’s Supernatural Saturday (promo here).

For those coming in cold, if you just think X-Files with dinosaurs, you can roll with season five just fine. In response to the inconvenient phenomenon of dinosaurs barging into our world through rifts in time, dubbed anomalies, the ARC (Anomaly Research Centre) was formed. Presumably most of them are coming from the past, but some of the marauding creatures might be from the future. It gets tricky. The ARC dispenses field teams to fight the monsters, seal the anomalies, and keep a lid on the situation, like good Men in Black. However, with the arrival of private philanthropist Philip Burton’s research team, the ARC becomes factionalized, with techie Conor Temple torn between camps.

Almost immediately, the new six-episode season goes T2, with the revelation field team leader Matt Anderson is actually from the future, sent back to save the world from Burton’s research project, apocalyptically code-named “New Dawn.” Evidently, you do not have to show anymore documentation to get a job at the top secret ARC than to vote in New York State, but so be it.

More importantly, there are a lot of dinosaurs in season five. They even figure out a way to get an eustreptospondylus on-board a submarine in the second episode. In fact, they are so busy fighting the sea monsters outside, they even forget they have it in suspended animation, which could be a problem. However, as satisfying as their dino-rampages might be to genre fans, season five’s best effects involve the massive swarm of beetles infesting the ARC in episode four. They put Irwin Allen films to shame.

As Anderson, CiarĂ¡n McMenamin is an engaging protagonist, far more Kirk than Picard. His character is also fallible enough to screw-up pretty badly at times, in understandably humanizing ways. Hannah Spearritt’s Abby Maitland is also a pretty solid action figure, but her soap opera relationship with Temple gets a bit tiresome, as does the whiny researcher, played by the baby-faced Andrew-Lee Potts. However, Ben Miller provides some fine pompous British color as Home Office representative James Lester. He might be a bit of a snob, but he really earns his stripes in the fifth season (if he hadn’t already), in some of the season’s best moments down the stretch.

Well written by Hodges and Haines, Primeval is sci-fi television with both egghead and meathead appeal. It is also relatively restrained expressing its cautionary themes of Promethean hubris, arguing rather narrowly that it is probably a bad idea to deliberately create man-made holes in the space-time continuum, which seems quite reasonable on the face of it. Good clean dinosaur fun, Primeval’s fifth season is perfectly accessible to viewers starting fresh when it premieres tomorrow night (11/12) on BBC America.

(Photos © Impossible Pictures Ltd.)