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From Across the Pond: BBC America's "Primeval"

I'll admit that I was skeptical about the premise for BBC America's latest series offering, Primeval, which launches next weekend on the digital cabler.

After all, it is the story of a motley band of scientists who investigate anomalies in time and the strange creatures--both prehistoric and futuristic--which have emerged from these rips in the fabric of time. If it sounds to you vaguely like Torchwood, you'd be correct, though I don't believe it was the Primeval producing team's intent to rip-off the Doctor Who spin-off, which teams with a motley band of, er, adventurers and scientists who investigate anomalies in time and the strange creatures--alien in origin--that have emerged from the rift.

But while Torchwood is an incredibly bleak, sex-fueled romp through the underbelly of Cardiff (not to mention the entire Doctor Who mythos), Primeval is just the opposite: at times impossibly sunny and inoffensive, it's an action/adventure series for the entire family, especially those with kids who are obsessed with dinosaurs.

Those dinosaurs (and other creatures who are biological throwbacks to other eras or futuristic evolutions of animals we know today) are the brainchild of creators Adrian Hodges (The Ruby in the Smoke) and Tim Haines of Impossible Pictures, who previously created the Walking with Dinosaurs/Walking with Beasts/Walking with Monsters documentary series franchise. The special effects are a bit wobbly; sometimes they are absolutely fantastic (and frightening to boot) and other times they are incredibly cheesy and fake-looking (take a look at the creature nicknamed Rex to see what I mean). But if you're looking for a mindless hour of vaguely pseudo-scientific action, you can do far worse than Primeval; hell, it's a full head and shoulders better in quality than the BBC's horrifically awful Bonekickers, currently airing now across the pond.

But I am getting ahead of myself. There's the plot to consider as well. Professor Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall) is a professor of paleontology at Central Metropolitan University still mourning the disappearance of his estranged wife Helen (Juliet Aubrey) eight years before; she vanished while investigating a possible time anomaly near the Forest of Dean. Now, eight years after her disappearance, another anomaly has sprung up, way too close to the area where Helen vanished to be coincidental and there are reports of a strange creature attacking a truck containing food. This last bit is brought to the attention of Cutter and his lab technician Stephen Hart (James Murray) by their conspiracy-hungry student Connor Temple (Andrew-Lee Potts). Meanwhile, reports of a strange lizard have brought local zoologist Abby Maitland (Hannah Spearritt) to the area as well. Cutter's investigation reaches the attention of the Home Office, which sends Claudia Brown (Lucy Brown) as an official government liaison.

Before you can say archaeopteryx, all of them have teamed up to explore the anomaly, a rip in the fabric of time that is connecting their world to a prehistoric era... which Cutter enters to investigate and uncovers evidence that Helen had entered that rift and perhaps died on the other side. Of course, Helen might not be dead either, as evidenced by two sightings by Cutter at the end of Episode One and by an injured Stephen Hart in Episode Two.

All in all, Primeval isn't a bad series; it's just not one that has immediately captured my attention by the end of the second episode. Sure, Henshall is good as serious, erudite Nick Cutter and, yes, he's surrounded with some quirky characters (including the underwear-clad Abby Maitland), but there's just something missing, for lack of a better word, from the series' scripts. I wanted something significantly more taut and tense, whilst being thrilling to boot. What I got instead was something a little more middle-of-the-road than I had anticipated. Primeval could improve in subsequent episodes (I only got through the first two of the four episodes provided for review) but so far Russell T. Davies and the writing staff of Doctor Who/Torchwood don't have anything to fear.

Primeval kicks off August 9th at 9 pm ET/PT on BBC America.


Dan said…
Primeval's first season is pretty awful (a clear case of the FX being the sole reason the show got made), but season 2 is a marked improvement. Still nowhere near as cool as it could be, but I found the later episodes breezily enjoyable. And yes, some of the FX are fantastic. Most are decent. Some are atrocious.
Li Wen said…
The thing that's missing from those early episodes, in one word?

Anonymous said…
Better than I expected but still not really my thing. A little too "vanilla" I think. But, as you said, could be good family fare.

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