TV Crush

BBC America's Primeval: Your One-Hour Escape from Election Jitters

11/01/2008 10:01 AM

I’ve been on the lookout for escapist television - anything that will distract from the insanity, an antidote to the onslaught of negativity and the near daily elevation of lipstick-on-a-pig trivia to the level of national discussion. (The latest is now Obama’s aunt.)

It’s been tough. There hasn’t been much worth discussing about the new Fall television season.  NBC unveiled a spate of unwatchable programming, namely Kath and Kim and Knight Rider

CBS’ obsession with crime procedurals continues unabated.  Several new shows are thinly disguised conceptual twists on the concept - The Mentalist is neuro-linguistic programming as crime procedural; Eleventh Hour is a Fringe-y procedural. 

Compared to the reality show high jinks of the election season, scripted dramas just can’t keep up. Which brings me to BBC America’s Primeval.  The first (U.S.) season of this action-adventure tale concludes tonight at 9p.m. 

Scientists with big guns chase down nasty prehistoric creatures that break through time portals. That’s pretty much all you need to know - except it’s great fun and a good break from your daily obsession with fivethirtyeight.com and the latest (mostly untrue) Zogby Twitter rumors.

Tonight Primeval - sob! - ends sadly. You’ve been warned.  We will discuss here after the finale airs.  (Although anyone with an Internet connection knows what happened, since the series runs first in the U.K.)

Primeval is mostly non-stop action.  Tonight, a Silurian scorpion terrorizes a warm sunny beach where young ladies in bikinis play beach volleyball.  Yes, I know - we have to suspend disbelief on the warm, sunny beach thing in England but…it’s another little homage to Spielberg - except the threat is on the beach, not in the water.

The producers loaded this finale with a full complement of seething creatures, some with nifty "neural clamps"attached.  The creature effects are great, as are the shiny post-modern sets.  The producers have a particular fondness for underground chases too - through sewer systems and the ominous bowels of industrial settings.  Primeval is always fast-paced and time and time and time again, the writers manage to keep the tension high.

Why scientists are dispatched to do a man’s gun-toting job isn’t explained.  But, again, that’s all part of the suspension-of-disbelief fun.

There’s an extraneous girl fight, too.  It’s completely unnecessary but obviously the writers thought it would be entertaining.

Not a whole lot has changed with the characters.  They’re a bit static, unfortunately.  Claudia (who is now Jenny, in the new timeline), the pr gal hired to control the media, dresses only in short skirts and high heels.  (She gets around fairly well in her heels, nevertheless.) 

Helen, the ambitious ex-wife of scientist team leader Professor Nick Cutter, continues to pop in and out of the anomalies (time portals) at will.  She’s the tough chick, having survived alone for years off-world in the prehistoric past.  She’s also a manipulative enigma, drunk with the power of knowledge.  Alas, she has an over-used mannerism: cocking her head, lowering her chin and deepening her voice to a breathy sexiness as she slinks into flirty manipulation mode. 

Resident geek Conner inexplicably wears black wrist bands and presumably he sleeps and showers with them on.  Of all the characters, he’s grown a bit.  He’s somewhat less nerdy and, after a rough start,  he’s finally an accepted member of the team. His flirtation with Abby, the reptilian expert, is sweet but it will soon wear thin.  I’m not a big fan of unresolved sexual tension since it’s the plot device writers love to abuse..

At any rate, no one would argue that the writing on Primeval is the best on television.  Sure, it’s a bit too monster-of-the-week and the character development needs work.  In the plus column, the producers keep the episodes moving fast and, best of all, the series has a sense of humor.  And it’s all about the team.  Remember, back in the halcyon days, when Stargate SG-1 was all about the team?   The writers earn a lot of points in the plus column for sticking with the team concept.

Primeval
is one of the few series on television that I actually remember to watch or DVR on a regular basis.  I know I can count on the series for pure, unadulterated escapism - a sorely needed distraction leading up to the presidential election.

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