I watched the silly but mostly engaging pilot episode of Terra Nova last night. Terra Nova follows a family who travels back in time through a rift in the space-time continuum to 85 million B.C. because… I don’t know, the air is bad in the future or something. It’s not important.
Anyway, the family had been in dino-land for about 5 minutes when something happened that has to happen on any TV show with a teenager on it: namely, the teenager turned into a big dick.
The dad on the show, you see, had gone to prison for 2 years because he violated the oppressive future regime’s strict population control limit. Actually, I guess he went to prison because he punched the cop who found his daughter. So I’m not sure why his wife wasn’t in prison too, come to think of it. Whatever. Also not important.
Anyway, the dad breaks out of prison and risks his life to be with his family in 85 million B.C. with its breathable air, brontosauri and other local attractions, and his adolescent son goes all “YOU CAN’T JUST SHOW UP AFTER 2 YEARS AND TELL ME WHAT TO DO!” on him.
Because this is what television teenagers do: wherever (or whenever) they are, they turn into dicks halfway through the first hour of the pilot. Because this makes for Riveting Family Drama.
Except it doesn’t. It’s just annoying. I don’t give a shit what happens to this kid, because he’s an asshole. I want to see him torn apart by a T-rex. I don’t need to turn on the TV to see teenagers being annoying. Apparently the premise that a family can travel 85 million years backwards in time to get some fresh air is perfectly reasonable, but the notion of a teenager who does not inexplicably turn into an asshole halfway through the first show is considered “unrealistic.”
It was this same sort of lame, arbitrary inter-character conflict that doomed the superhero family drama No Ordinary Family. They ripped off The Incredibles but forgot a key factor: All of the family members on The Incredibles basically liked each other (and were basically likable). Sure, there was intra-family conflict, but it was in the context of a family that mostly got along — and when they fought, it was about stuff that mattered to the plot.
Now that I think about it, irritating intra-family drama has killed off (or at least not helped) a lot of sci-fi shows recently: V, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Invasion, The Bionic Woman. Every one of these canceled shows has one thing in common: at least one really irritating teenager.
Contrast that list with this one: Smallville, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lost, and Supernatural. All these shows featured teenage (or young adult) characters who were edgy without being assholes. And they all lasted at least six seasons. In fact, I can’t think of a single show that I watch regularly that features an annoying teenager as one of the main characters.
The writers of Terra Nova and other TV dramas should consider this before writing any more Riveting Family Drama.