Thursday, June 6, 2013

What Remains So Great About Primeval

Once the year mark passes on something I claim obsession toward, I call it an obsession more enduring than temporary insanity-interest.

It was March of last year when I first watched the British sci-fi show Primeval; since I still love the thing, it passes the longevity test. Now, finally, the Canadian spin-off, Primeval: New World, is about to begin airing in the U.S. on the Syfy channel, starting Saturday (6/8) evening. (This is the part where I pretend I haven't already watched the show by resorting to other means. But don't worry: I'll watch it on TV, too.) In preparation for its release, I give you (some of) the reasons why I love the original show:

1) No mad scientist at the root of all evil - The team that starts off the show is just as unaware of what anomalies are as the audience is. They aren't scientists gone wrong who created problems that they now have to fix. They're just explorers and peacekeepers of this new "problem."

2) Sci-fi that could almost as well be fantasy - There must be a reason sci-fi and fantasy often get lumped together (like at Barnes & Noble). At their cores, they share a sense of adventure, excitement, and otherness. As a generalization, sci-fi usually has more of technology and fantasy of creatures (as opposed to aliens). Primeval has technology, but it usually doesn't describe everything in detail: we're told just enough to know that there is science involved. Instead, the anomalies crop up like a force of nature and creatures from the dinosaur-like Gorgonopsid to the fantasy-like camouflage critters in Episode 3.2 show up with no warning. There is whimsy to the show that edges it closer toward the fantasy side of sci-fi.

3) Characters that matter more than the latest CG or action sequence - After Season 1, the CG on this show was usually pretty good. Maybe part of the reason for this quality was that they saved CG sequences for when needed: they didn't just sprinkle them everywhere. While there is curiosity about which creatures you'll see next, the plot revolves on the characters and what they're up to. And this is one set (or two or three sets?) of endearing characters.

4) Humor that keeps the mood buoyant and light but doesn't turn the whole thing into a joke - Let's use Connor as an example here. While he has many of the comedic lines, his character is also very important toward the plot; so he isn't the traditional comic relief/sidekick character--the comedy just happens to be one side of his character. The whole show tends to be like that. It never tips over into too much seriousness, but it's also light instead of dark.

5) Growth of almost every kind - The CG improves and evolves across the episodes. The characters don't stay stagnant, but develop in reaction to circumstances. Each season offers a new angle for the audience to consider the show through.

6) The inclusion of a time travel element without really using time travel - I wouldn't call Primeval a time travel. It's hard to even say that it includes time travel. Rarely do the characters actually step through the anomalies: usually it's just the creatures coming through to our time. So we usually don't see the "time travel" at work, just the results of it. That means it isn't so much like time travel as a jumbled timeline--or, to borrow Cutter's words, "gaps in time."

7) Britishness - As an American, I don't see how this can't be a factor. This show just felt so British, from the humor to the locations to the accents. It's all a big part of the appeal, which made it hard for me to imagine a Canadian Primeval universe.

8) Pleasing plot over practicality, as fits - This is a more random factor. The truth is, the show doesn't always follow what reality would be in a certain situation. How many times, for instance, does it seem like the secret of the anomalies must have gotten out to the public? But it's fiction, and sometimes the fictional version is more entertaining than the heavily reality-inspired version.

9) The ill-suited and/or newbie factor - Starting off the show, no one in the team was specifically trained (or even really chosen) for all the tasks they end up having to deal with. So what's fun is seeing how Lester and Claudia Brown, Cutter and Connor, Abby and Stephen all deal with situations, putting in what experience they have but also adapting and learning.

10) The nerdy factor - Maybe the fact that it's sci-fi alone achieves this. Maybe not. Maybe it's that there are dinosaurs and other creatures, or rips in time. Or maybe it's because Connor is good with computers and creating crazy new devices to help the team out. Whatever it is, everything becomes so quotable in a deliciously nerdy way. The show's a cult classic--not to everyone, but people who like the show tend to love it.

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