Alibi V.17 No.37 • Sept 11-17, 2008 

Idiot Box

Dinosaurs = Good

“Primeval” on BBC America

BBC America has been doing a cracking job lately of picking up the slack left by Sci-Fi Channel. A slate of original hits like “Doctor Who,” “Torchwood,” “Hex,” “Life on Mars” and “Primeval” make Sci-Fi’s lineup of “Battlestar Galactica” (yes!), “Stargate Atlantis” (meh) and ... um, lemme think ... oh, that chintzy “Flash Gordon” series (yeesh) look almost anemic.

Unfortunately, the BBC may have shot its budgetary wad, as the upcoming seasons of “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood” look to be severely truncated. Oh well, we’ll take what we can get. In the meantime, BBC has offered up some fun, sci-fi filler in the form of “Primeval.” Spanning a mere six episodes in its first season, “Primeval” has its season finale this Saturday. If you haven’t had a chance to watch it, now might be a good time to play catch-up.

The show is set in modern-day England where a random group of smart people converge on the picturesque Forest of Dean, where a mysterious predator has been spotted. We’ve got paleontologist Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall), hunky lab technician Stephen Hart (James Murray), computer nerd Connor Temple (Andrew-Lee Potts) and zoologist Abby Maitland (Hannah Spearritt). Turns out the mysterious predator in the woods is a giant Scutosaurus (I don’t know, look it up) from the Permian Era.

As it happens, England is riddled with strange temporal anomalies, gateways that allow passage to the Earth’s surface as it was millions of years ago. The four major witnesses to the anomaly in Dean are bound together into an ad hoc science team by hush-hush government types (shades of “Torchwood”) and sent to the far corners of England to investigate whatever deadly dino invasion takes place that week.

Pumping up the “Monster of the Week” formula (pteranodons, giant centipedes, dodo birds, etc.) is an intriguing backstory that finds Dr. Cutter’s long-lost, assumed-dead wife traipsing though prehistory wreaking god-knows-what havoc with evolution. Is she protecting the past from exploitation, or destroying the future?

The CGI work in “Primeval” ranges from passable to semi-convincing--which is good, since it’s the primary attraction of the show. The writing is simple and tight, and fortunately not a lot of time is spent worrying about soap opera-ish entanglements. (Bit too much of that on “Torchwood,” if you ask me.) However, Spearritt, who spends a decent amount of time in panties and a tank top, is clearly on board for the sex factor. Astute Anglophiles might recognize the round-faced blonde from the Britpop group S Club 7 and their breezy tween sitcom “S Club 7 in Miami.” Not to mention the vastly inferior “S Club 7 in L.A.” with Linda Blair, in which the gang ... Oops, I’ve said too much.

In short: CGI dinosaurs, sci-fi geekery, a time-traveling conspiracy theory and a cute Brit in pink knickers make for a well-spent Saturday night.

This season’s “Primeval” season finale takes place Saturday at 7 p.m. on BBC America.