Primeval was always a frustrating show. Promising so much, yet delivering so little.
Only sporadically, in fitful glimpses, did Primeval ever provide the sort of entertainment that its fantastic premise should have delivered automatically on a weekly basis. Portals to the past (and future) open up at random, and a secret government team have to contain them, and the various creatures that blunder through.
How can that not be awesome? Well, ITV found a way, and all too often, with a rotating cast of cardboard characters, poor production values and lazy, uninspired plots. The show had its moments (most of them in the latter series, unusually), but on the whole it was frustratingly small-time against the likes of Doctor Who, Stargate, etc.
So how does Primeval: New World, a new Canadian take on the premise hold up? Well, it’s no worse – and indeed it’s better in some regards – but it still suffers from many of the same shortcomings that crippled its British forebear.
The premise is very much the same, and this first episode – as you might expect – concerns itself with establishing the notion of anomalies and getting the gang that’ll be dealing with them together. First and foremost is genius inventor Evan Cross (Niall Matter), founder of a huge science company that serves as the gang’s base. Joining him are weapons expert Mac (Danny Rahim), scientist Toby (Crystal Lowe) and old friend Angelica Finch (Miranda Frigon), who actually runs the company for him. As the pilot goes on, local park ranger Dylan Weir (Sara Canning) and government weirdo Ken Leeds (Geoff Gustafson) also fall in with the team, completing the line-up.
Sadly, none of them make much of an impact. They’re none of them as bland and tedious as the British leads were (Jason Flemyng aside), but they’re far from engaging. You’ll know immediately who’s going to be romantically linked with whom, and the obvious script gives them little to work with. Still, perhaps we should just be grateful that they’re not as wooden as Ciarán McMenamin was.
And then there’s Andrew Lee Potts from the original, who turns up to pass the torch and give some vaguely cryptic advice to the new bunch of anomaly hunters. His presence is welcome, but also makes no sense. If this is a universe that Conner exists in, why is nobody aware of the anomalies that became public knowledge towards the end of the British run?
Primeval: New World’s opening episode doesn’t immediately inspire confidence, suffering as it does from moments of terrible, cringe-worthy exposition and poor pacing. A sloppy flashback to an event from Cross’ past is presented before we even know who Cross is, and thus we have no reason to care about it. There’s a horrible and inconsistent use of slow-mo, fast-forward and time lapse shots that only couples with the cheap way parts of the episode are shot to give this opener a distinctly budget feel. Thankfully, things settle down as the episode goes on, and the dialogue becomes less ham-fisted, albeit far from scintillating.
The episode opens, much in the way of the British version, with a random member of the public stumbling across an unfriendly visitor from the past. In this instance, it’s a Pteranadon troubling two people parachuting off a mid-city building, which is apparently something that’s perfectly acceptable behaviour in Vancouver. There is also a pair of Utahraptors to contend with, and it’s with the creatures that Primeval: New World is leaps and bounds ahead of the original.
The rest of the episode might be fairly low-budget and cheap- looking, but the CGI is terrific, and more than that, these creatures actually carry some threat, as opposed to the toothless, laminated critters from the original. Where the creatures in the British show always felt like they were added in post-production, rarely engaging convincingly with the environment on screen, here they are much more three-dimensional and believably there. And, let’s be honest, who doesn’t like seeing dinosaurs romping around, wreaking havoc?
If the rest of the show was put together with as much care and attention, we might be on to something. Unfortunately, the fantastic premise again proves to be curiously troublesome to realise, with the muddled introduction of the anomalies stripping them of any mystery or intrigue, failing to make them exciting or highlighting their potential for future adventures. It’s a portal to the past! How has the script managed to render that completely inert? Thankfully, a teasing reveal at the episode’s end is much better, and promises some interesting mysteries to come.
Primeval: New World has work to do, but it’s not without promise. The characters may be uninteresting thus far, but they’re not actively bad. The script needs some work, but the performances are fine, given what little the cast has to work with, and the CGI is far superior to the original.
The show just needs to better utilise its premise; which was always the main frustration of the original. If it can take the pieces it has and be brave enough to run with them, there’s fun to be had here. The British version never quite managed it; let’s hope the New World can.
Aired at 9pm on Tuesday 8 January 2013 on Watch.
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