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31 March 2013 @ 05:10 pm
PNW: The Sound of Thunder  
I've definitely been disappointed in the last few episodes of Primeval:New World. While The Sound of Thunder wasn't marking time in quite the way I felt the early episodes were, the show had had some excellent episodes mid-season which, among other things, helped establish its own identity. I felt The Sound of Thunder was a backwards step, both in terms of the storytelling, and in terms of separating itself from the British incarnation of the show.

I think, actually, my biggest disappointment at the end was when I realised that Primeval: New World was essentially retreading the first season arc from its parent show since we have:

  • Arrogant and obsessive scientist,
  • Who's wife is dead/missing,
  • Because of the anomalies,
  • A body that appears in the first episode turns out to be that of a character who dies in the last,
  • The last episode concludes with the realisation that there has been a change in the time lines and things are not as they were.

Primeval has been accused in the past of recycling its plots so I probably shouldn't have been as surprised and disappointed as I was. It is generally agreed that the first season of the parent was superior to the subsequent ones, but even so I felt a little bit like the creative team had run out of the ideas they really needed to make the new show work.

The finale seemed to suffer from having more characters than it knew how to deal with, and the pacing felt rather patchy in places as a result. Not only was there not enough Ken Leeds, but Tobie also gets hardly anything to do in the final episode. It felt like a story that really wanted to be about Evan, Dylan and Colonel Hall - the narrative drive was about Evan's choice between interfering in history to save his wife, or explicitly separating himself morally from the Colonel's agenda by refusing to intervene - but somehow that got lost in the mix. Evan never seemed particularly conflicted about his choice, Hall never really seemed to engage with the idea that Evan had this choice to make and it was a potential weakness in his armour. Instead we got a lot of running around in giant scorpion land with a red filter on the camera lens.

I think a number of things contributed to that. The need for the double episode and the cliff-hanger prolonged the whole giant-scorpion bit. Also the attempt to insert the other characters into this three-handed drama resulted in the whole poisoned Tobie sub-plot, which meant that they introduced the new character of Lexa Doig's doctor who, while potentially interesting, was stealing more screen time from the existing ensemble. There was some interesting tension between Mac and Ange during these scenes which might have built into something if there had been a second season but, as things were, served as a distraction. I did like Mac's death-bed confession to the dying Tobie that he wanted to be BFFs. It nicely undermined the trope of confessing your undying love in these situations, and at the same time, given Tobie is canonically gay, avoided the trap of suggesting that she was only gay because she had yet to meet the right man.

Similarly the insertion of Connor and his sidekick, while a nice nod to fans of the original show, was distracting us from the core drama. It was also a bit underwhelming. Obviously, Connor couldn't be in hero mode in this show, but as it stands he didn't really serve a useful role. His job primarily appeared to be wandering around telling people that Evan was right.

All that said, it was the finale, so it obviously needed to be big, and over-the-top with lots of running around. So there was really no option for the writers to simply write an episode focusing on the core conflict between Evan and Hall, with Dylan acting as Evan's conscience. I think the problem was the additions they bolted onto that story all looked like padding and weren't really doing the heavy-lifting required of them to make the two parter work.

I really liked Colonel Hall though. I thought he made a strong and convincing antagonist. Louis Ferreira deserves praise for managing to be quite scary even when delivering perfectly benign and sensible sounding dialogue. I noticed that they were deliberately vague about his fate, leaving the option open to pursue the Project Magnet storyline had the show been recommissioned. I think he's much the best out-and-out villain the show has created (bearing in mind that Helen, in her not-totally-mad incarnation was presented as an antagonist rather than a villain).

At the end of the day the show didn't go out with quite the bang I was expecting.

Looking back over Primeval:New World as a whole, though I was very impressed with some episodes, I think one of its biggest problems was that it lacked a character to inject humour into the story. Leeds was probably the closest, but he was framed very much in terms of "laugh at" rather than "laugh with". There was no one providing the equivalent of Lester's long-suffering sarcasm and I'm not sure I'd describe anyone in the central ensemble as witty. At the end of the day, I think maybe its biggest problem was that it took itself a little bit too seriously.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/93924.html.
reggietatereggietate on March 31st, 2013 05:04 pm (UTC)
I'd rather have liked to see more of Connor and the Devonian/Silurian/whenever-it-was landscape.

I think part of the problem was Evan. Though he was a likeable chap, he hadn't got the necessary gravitas to carry the series the way Cutter did, and I'm wondering if they shouldn't have had Colonel Hall as the antagonist all along. Or Leeds.

I didn't mind the paralleling of the old series plot too much, when it came down to it, but at the same time, it did feel a bit lazy. Or if not lazy, then that they hadn't quite got the nerve to do something really different while building on the legacy of the original. I'd like to have seen more travelling through the anomalies, for a start.

I'm not sure whether Convergence had taken place here, or was it only in GB? To be honest I wish they'd kept the anomalies more of a mystery in S5. That way they could still be a big bad open to being investigated. Bringing in the Spaghetti Junction was nice, though.

I did miss the humour of the original. They definitely needed someone like Lester for the others to bounce off from time to time.

I'd still like to see a second season of it. If only to find out what's changed.
louisedennis: primevallouisedennis on March 31st, 2013 05:35 pm (UTC)
I agree that Niall didn't bring the gravitas to the part that Dougie did, though he presumably didn't hold the show in contempt either which Dougie appears to have done. However, much as I liked Cutter's character, I think Evan's obsessiveness was useful for smoothing over some of the inherent idiocies in the Primeval set-up - particularly the desire to keep the whole thing secret, and keeping the response small scale.

I think the show-runners said in an interview somewhere that they were ignoring the problem of convergence. I can't quite remember what the wording was, but I think they expected the show to be set after the end of S5 but in a world where convergence hadn't happened, make of that what you will.

It was nice to see Spaghetti Junction once more, and I had hopes they had some plans to actually do something with it, rather than just forget about it.

I would happily have seen a second season, though I was less disappointed by the cancellation at the end than I was when it was first announced.
reggietatereggietate on March 31st, 2013 06:07 pm (UTC)
I think Evan's obsessiveness was useful for smoothing over some of the inherent idiocies in the Primeval set-up - particularly the desire to keep the whole thing secret, and keeping the response small scale.

Good point. I don't think Evan was badly played by NM, mind you, he just seemed to lack a certain weight. Whatever you might say about Dougie's attitude to the show, he always gave the part itself great conviction. Then again, I sometimes find characters in American/Canadian shows don't feel quite as 'real' is those in GB, so that might have something to do with it. Mac, on the other hand, would have fitted right in with Connor and the rest of the GB team. On the whole, he was my favourite, and I liked Toby a lot, too, by the end.

I don't know how much chance there is of a second outing - apparently it's done fairly well in a number of other countries, enough for the hope that someone may pick it up, but I'm not holding my breath.

I wonder if they were thinking of doing a Claudia/Jenny kind of thing in S2, given they seem to like mirroring the original a bit. Though quite how they'd do it...

If it doesn't get continued, it's going to be rather annoying! I hate not knowing! ;-)
louisedennislouisedennis on March 31st, 2013 06:13 pm (UTC)
Leeds was my favourite character in the end, probably followed by Dylan - though she was saddled, like Abby was, with an over-sentimentalised view of animals.

Given ?Space have canned it, I imagine it's a case of whether Impossible Pictures can put together funding with some other combination of Watch and a Canadian TV show before all the actors head off for pastures need. Quite a narrow window I would say, and probably not enough of a fan following to get Space to change their minds.

My guess is that they were waiting to see what was and was not well received about S1 and then giggle the format appropriately in the light of the time line change - that's certainly how I would have used it. It would allow them to quietly gettison any unpopular characters, and pull back from the full implications of where Project Magnet was going, because it was pretty hard to see how Project Magnet could be stopped, even with Evan's resources.
reggietatereggietate on March 31st, 2013 06:19 pm (UTC)
Who would you guess was/is on the chopping block? Mac's already gone, Dylan was with Evan. That only leaves Ken (alas, fatally boring name *g*), Ange and Toby.
louisedennislouisedennis on March 31st, 2013 06:22 pm (UTC)
I think everything apart from Dylan and Evan is up for grabs. They could get rid of Ange, Leeds and/or Tobie and bring back Mac. Dead wives and girlfriends could be resurrected (though given the events of the episode I think they would be pushing it to resurrect Evan's wife) - the balance between the military and Cross Photonics could certainly be altered if desired.
athene: connor and g-rexdeinonychus_1 on April 1st, 2013 03:18 pm (UTC)
Ah, but *is* Mac dead? I've literally just finished watching it about fifteen minutes ago - mainlined eps 11, 12 and 13 back to back this afternoon - and the thing that is different is that Mac is not wearing the ARC jacket when he goes through the anomaly to save Evan. If that's different, other stuff may also be different, including him surviving.

Of course, I may just be being overly optimistic because Mac is far and away my favourite character in the show...

That said, I also feel slightly vindicated, because I never believed this whole 'alternate timeline version of Mac' theory, I always thought as soon as we saw the body in the freezer that it was a circular timeloop from the future, and it was a future version of 'our' Mac.
louisedennislouisedennis on April 1st, 2013 03:22 pm (UTC)
It must be said that I reckoned the fact we didn't actually see "our" Mac killed was TPTB giving themselves another let out to bring the character back if it was popular enough.

I'm 90% sure that lots of the construction of the last five minutes was allowing them the maximum room maneuver going into season 2.
athene: connor and g-rexdeinonychus_1 on April 1st, 2013 03:28 pm (UTC)
I definitely agree about the last few minutes of the ep. Unlike our Primeval, where we definitely got Cutter coming back, and saw all the characters except Claudia before we got the 'timeline change' reveal, in PNW they can go anywhere and do anything in the new timeline, because we haven't seen it!

I did actually half expect Mac to come staggering out of the anomaly again before they left, because I was shouting at the screen about the different jacket.
lukadreaming: PriWriMo New Worldlukadreaming on March 31st, 2013 05:13 pm (UTC)
Bear in mind that I've only seen the first five or six eps, then the last one. I was underwhelmed and not very inclined to seek out the rest. It was painfully slow character-wise - just think how much we knew about the characters by ep 4 in the UK version. And it felt grey and really rather worthy.

None of the characters grabbed me. And giving the women blokes' names seemed a pointless gimmick and ensured I had to think twice about who everyone was.

You probably won't be surprised to hear that I didn't find Connor much of a draw in that last ep! Who. Had. Encouraged. Him. To. Talk. Like. This? Was it supposed to make him badass? It just sounded like crap acting!
reggietatereggietate on March 31st, 2013 05:22 pm (UTC)
I found the character gelled much more for me after ep 5 when Mac's girlfriend got killed, although that did mean he was absent for a while, plus once he knew about the frozen body it began to be more interesting. But it definitely needed to be snappier. Rewatching the first ep of the original on Friday really pointed that up - the storytelling may have simple, but it worked, it was very clear, and the characters came across really well. I recall I began to like them about half way through when I first saw it, but it took me nearly half a series to get with the PNW crew.

That said, they did eventually grow on me, even Toby and Dylan.
louisedennislouisedennis on March 31st, 2013 05:37 pm (UTC)
I agree about it all gelling around Undone, though at the time I was really annoyed about the fridging of the girlfriend, especially given Evan's wife had also been fridged. I actually wondered if they were deliberately taking the piss - especially when we got the reveal that it was Mac who was in the literal fridge.
louisedennislouisedennis on March 31st, 2013 05:27 pm (UTC)
I'm not an expert on American TV, but my understanding is that the default is very much to mark time, character-development wise until you are into the second season and are more sure of your fanbase. As such I think we did pretty well with character developing in PNW, because once they grasped the nettle around episode 4, they ran with it pretty well until it all car crashed around episode 11.

Were the women's names a specific gimmick? I've always found Northern US naming conventions really odd (people seem to get given surnames as first names a lot and all sorts of weirdness) so I just assumed it was a Canadian thing.
lukadreaminglukadreaming on March 31st, 2013 05:30 pm (UTC)
From what I know from reading US and Canadian crime fic, the names thing is more American - women called Robin and so on. I've never particularly seen it with Canadian books, which is why it felt like a gimmick.
reggietatereggietate on March 31st, 2013 06:14 pm (UTC)
One boy-name would have been okay - two seemed a bit too many. And Mac's girlfriend, Sam, made it three, though she did get the chop, poor thing.
reggietatereggietate on March 31st, 2013 06:13 pm (UTC)
Of course, the danger of marking time is that you may not secure your audience if they aren't grabbed by the show pretty quickly - at least within a couple of episodes. And if I'm not grabbed by the characters the plot/mystery has to be pretty good to keep me interested

I'm not sure how I would have felt about it if I'd come to it cold, not knowing anything about Primeval before.
louisedennislouisedennis on March 31st, 2013 06:16 pm (UTC)
I suspect the attitude of American producers is that you need to grab people with the characters and you therefore don't want to mess with them until the viewers are familiar with and invested in them - hence you don't do any character arcs but concentrate on building loyalty to the characters as they are. As you say a plot/mystery has to be very good to keep someone watching if the characters aren't doing anything for them, while people will generally forgive a lot on the plot front if the characters are likeable enough.

I'm not sure PNW got the characters quite right, looked at in that light.
reggietatereggietate on March 31st, 2013 06:27 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure PNW got the characters quite right, looked at in that light.

Yes. None of them were bad characters, or unlikeable (Ken was a bit weird, but in a mostly interesting way), but they were a little... bland? And in a sci-fi show I don't think you can get away with that. The original team's characters were painted in fairly bold, broad strokes, but that made them pretty distinct early on, and the plot was much the same - not especially deep, but presented pretty strongly.
athene: connor and g-rexdeinonychus_1 on April 1st, 2013 03:24 pm (UTC)
The original team's characters were painted in fairly bold, broad strokes, but that made them pretty distinct early on,

Yes, and then in series 2 they made use of the timeline change to tweak/tone down aspects that weren't working so well, like Connor's excessive over-the-top geekiness. This, in effect, seems to be the exact opposite of what Louise is suggesting that American show do - to have relatively bland characters until series 2, at which point they develop more.
louisedennislouisedennis on April 1st, 2013 04:05 pm (UTC)
I think, IIUC, American shows aim for vivid characters but no real development of them for season 1 (i.e., minimal arc plotting from a character point of view), unfortunately PNW doesn't seem to have really made them vivid enough at the outset...

I guess they aim for vivid but static, PNW gave us bland but slowing evolving...
athene: connor and g-rexdeinonychus_1 on April 1st, 2013 03:43 pm (UTC)
Hmmm. I think my overall verdict on PNW is, okay, but nothing special. I have felt no great desire to write fic about these characters (I was writing fic about Nick and Claudia almost as soon as the credits rolled for ep 1.5 in the original). Also, too many of the episodes felt like 'fillers', and while I appreciate getting more dinosaurs for my money, it was such a shift from the fast pace of Primeval.

I was largely unimpressed with ep 11, as I don't mind a bit of politics and power playing, but not for an *entire* episode. Ep 12 felt like a replay of Stephen in the underground with the arthropleurid in 1.2. I enjoyed ep 13 rather more, but I have a feeling that was mostly because of the appearance of Connor, unfortunately. Even if he did far less than I was expecting.

I don't know, I think I wanted to like it far more than I actually did in the end. The fact that I got to ep 10 and then waited several weeks before I could be bothered to finish the last three episodes suggests I really didn't get all that invested in it.

I definitely agree about the lack of humour, though. It was the humour and the immediate rapport between the main characters in our show that was one of the many reasons why I fell in love with it from ep 1.

With another series to develop the characters a bit more, and actually make a decision one way or the other about what they were doing with the military involvement (or lack of), it might have kicked up another gear. But to say they had twice the number of episodes, they seemed to actually do and achieve far less than we got in the original.

Shame, it could have been so much more, and now we'll never know.
louisedennislouisedennis on April 1st, 2013 04:08 pm (UTC)
I do think the slower arc pace is partly an American thing and partly a season length thing - I suspect S3 would have been a lot slower if they weren't trying to manage radical cast changes between eps 3 and 6 and it also had a lot of filler episodes of a lower quality than we got here.

I think, at the end of the day, it's problem was that the characters weren't engaging enough from the get go.
athene: connor and g-rexdeinonychus_1 on April 1st, 2013 04:18 pm (UTC)
True, I see your point about S3 (tries not to think about the future chameleon thing in the haunted house, the mushroom man, or the medieval knight episodes)!