It's taken more than a year and a half to get "Terra Nova" to the airwaves, the effects-laden premiere episode cost millions to produce, and among the many (many) names credited with bringing the sci-fi drama to fruition is Steven Spielberg.
And while all that time, money and tinkering didn't result in a pilot at the level of a "Lost" or "Alias" premiere -- those pilots that immediately grab you and have you setting up a season pass on the DVR -- "Terra Nova," which premieres tonight on Fox (8 p.m.), is must-see viewing.
Because a spectacle this big warrants a spot in your primetime line-up, at least once.
There's something for everyone in the "Terra Nova" premiere: dinosaurs, cops, family drama, time travel, rogue explorers, environmental concerns, a prison break, population control… maybe a little too much, since it's not clear during or after the pilot which plots are going to get the most attention as the series continues.
The basic story: It's 2149 and Earth has gone to hell. Overpopulation and an environmental disaster have left earthlings breathing heavily polluted air and dealing with nearly extinct animal and plant life, and the government has instituted a maximum two-child-per-family rule.
The solution, for those lucky enough to win a spot via a lottery, is Terra Nova, a new civilization set 85 million years in the past, thanks to a time travel portal. Setting off to this new land is a ticket to survival, so when the Shannons get a shot to go, they're thrilled.
There's just the little matter of breaking cop dad Jim Shannon ("Life on Mars" star Jason O'Mara) out of prison, where he's been sentenced after an altercation with police over their discovery that he and surgeon wife Elisabeth ("Strike Back" alum Shelley Conn) have three kids.
Once at Terra Nova, the Shannons meet the gruff Commander Taylor ("Avatar's" Stephen Lang), who's running the show, and find out they're surrounded by dinosaurs and "the Sixers," a group of people who fled Earth earlier and now want to destroy the gated community known as Terra Nova.
Why? We don't know, but their subversive activity gives cop Jim a purpose, and sets up one of many potential storylines.
Will the show focus on the Sixers vs. Terra Nova drama? Why are the Sixers so against Terra Nova? What about the Shannon fam's three-kid problem? Is the brusque Taylor friend or foe? What's happening on Earth while the Terra Nova folk try to maneuver prehistoric territory?
And why, with all those millions thrown at the screen, don't the dinosaurs look … better? We're not saying they look "Land of the Lost" unrealistic, but the "Terra Nova" dinos aren't substantially more dino-y than some of the beasts seen in National Geographic Channel specials. (The settings however, are pretty spectacular.)
Still, in a fall full of overhyped and underwhelming series, here's hoping "Terra Nova" can live up to some of its fuss.