Primeval: New World aired Saturday Nights on SyFy.
Here there be spoilers.
By now, if you're a fan, you've probably heard that Primeval: New World isn't getting another season. It had bad ratings in Canada, and if they don't manage to get, say, SyFy to pick up the production costs (which, let's be honest, might be something they'd do, but probably won't happen), this is all we'll get to see of the Canadian version of the beloved dinosaur-chasing show.
First, a review of what we have:
It wasn't that bad. It certainly wasn't as bad as it could have been. But, honestly, it wasn't all that great either. The last two episodes, the two-part cliffhanger we'll probably never get to see a resolution to, was the best part of the entire run of the series. Which is annoying because a) it should have always been like that, and b) it means they always had it in them to make it like that, and for whatever reason, they spent a whole season not doing that.
It started instead of fans getting the original show's much-wanted Season 6, so it was already up against a certain amount of resistance on that front. And then it was shaky as any show I've ever seen as it introduced us to the characters, the world, and what we could expect from the show--is Dylan tough and hard-edged or is she naive and idealistic? Is Mac interested in Toby, or does he have a girlfriend out of nowhere that we should have heard about before the third or fourth episode? In fact, in the first half of the season, all the characters had issues. We're supposed to believe that Ange has always been in love with Evan when we get three or four formative episodes of her browbeating him like a stern nanny, and that he's developing feelings for her in return when he's been spending all these episodes bonding with Dylan?
And four times during the thirteen episodes, we're introduced to interesting characters that could have been added to the team--Sam (who somehow was already part of the team even though she literally came out of nowhere), the Native Canadian who would have been a useful source of folklore, the wonderfully roguish pilot who got stuck in the past, and the fantastically eccentric competing inventor from Evan's past.
What did the show do? Two of them didn't make it through their episodes or one other, one got left on a cliff and was never heard from again, and one walked himself into an Anomaly and was also never heard from again.
On top of this, we're introduced to Leeds, who seems cooky and sweet and bumbling, and pleased to finally have his dumb job mean something, and then toward the end it turns out he's been acting against them all this time when the evidence either doesn't show anything or shows someone being strongarmed into something he doesn't agree with (depending on which part of the season you're looking at). If the scenes where he's being interrogated are cut, his storyline makes much more sense.
I could go on, but I'm going to address that stuff afterward.
So what we're left with is a show that's intended to be darker and more adult than the original which was already pretty adult to begin with, but which really just comes across as a plot-mess and a pile of characters who have no lightness in them and take themselves too seriously--while fighting dinosaurs that more often than not don't seem to really present all that much actual danger to them. There's not a lot of interaction with the rest of the world despite the first episode having an Animal Control group, cops, and a whole city being threatened. The government agency winds up being a typical conspiracy and so takes the support they could have given them out of the show's basic bones--and then makes a big deal about arguing over whether they'll accept the help or not, when by then it's obvious that they can't.
But they did get some things right. Toby and Mac making friends was lovely. Leeds going against his superior to side with Evan and the side of right was fantastic. The tone and pacing of the whole last two-parter was as close to dead-on as that show ever got. Bringing Connor back and hint-dropping Duncan back in London was brilliant. Giving them a mission other than just 'leave everything alone' was the best idea the writers had.
Still, the final analysis, it come across like the people in charge here had a list of attributes of Primeval, but hadn't actually watched the show, and because of it, obviously, it didn't hold up to renewing the series. It took too long to figure out what it was doing, and coming after five seasons of the main show not having nearly as much wobble, there was no tolerance for them finding their legs.
So! What can we learn from this? If the show does somehow manage to get picked up by another channel, here's what I'd change to make the whole thing hold together better:
- Slow the pacing way down. There's actually three distinct story segments here that could have been whole seasons: Evan learning to trust Leeds; Leeds figuring out how to run a division with more than just himself in it, and getting funding; the dinosaurs being taken away from him and Hall turning out to be a loon. They would have all worked better given more space to build up and then fallout.
- Slowing it down also would have fixed most of the character issues: Dylan and Evan could have worked out whatever they were doing, Ange could have been something other than a harpy before she was suddenly interested, the characters that were introduced and then shuffled off could have had more screentime so that we cared more when they left, the cultural framework around the team--most notably the cops and the Animal Control people who were introduced and never used--could have been built up and explored, and the city they were defending could have actually factored into the show.
- Let the characters have lives outside the office. We see nothing of their homes, their hobbies, their friendships, their previous lives, their families, anything that would have existed before they started working there or when they're not there.
- Give the show a little lightness. What kept the original from being dire was that Connor was always joking, there was Rex, there was a little hapless romance, and there was a sense that these people enjoyed what they were doing--that they understood that it was awesome. There's none of that here.
- Make Leeds a pawn, not a turncoat. Clarify that he thought it was doing good, but it was all based on the information he was getting from his boss, who was a creep--he said he wanted to fix the world, but he was actually doing something else. Make Hall the actual villain; for most of this season, there was no villain, nothing to force them to band together and keep coming into work. When Leeds realizes that he's been had (which he never really does here), have him take his whole division--the new finding, the resources, the fun and totally underused Merriweather--and team up with Evan without any interference from Ange, who, as it stands, is wishy-washy, ambiguous to the point of being annoying, and often more of a plot device than an character.
- Go into the Anomalies more. Rescue people, explore, chase monsters, fall in and get stuck, everything. Don't just stare at them.
- Be active. Give them a mission other than 'leave it alone' which is the lamest and most passive basis for a show I've seen in ages.
- Acknowledge that at the end of the original show, the Anomalies opened up all over the world, and therefore it should have been Evan's personal project coming up against a local cop one and a government one, and not just one of them with everyone unaware of the cause.
- Widen the scope of the team. Get their own doctors, their own PR people, their own scientists and labs, their own researchers, their own security people. Add liaison officers to work with the cops and the military and the government. Give them a framework to work inside of and a support system to work off of.
- And start working toward the idea of the ARC. Either they reach out to it, or the ARC reaches out to them, or some other country's version of it contacts them, or their own government sets one up--one that's actually about the current issue of dinosaurs, not about 'fixing the world' but not actually having anything to show for it. That was most annoying: Hall talks a lot but other than some chopped up dinos, he hasn't done any testing, there's been no experiments or test runs, he hasn't stolen any tech or developed any tech that could lead toward his goal. Even the villains are pretty passive here.
And that's my two cents. What would you keep or change about Primeval: New World? What would you have done with the series?