Time travel, teenagers and dinosaurs. What’s not to love? Arguably the most promoted and highly anticipated drama of the fall, “Terra Nova” (7 p.m., Fox) does not disappoint. The two-hour pilot unfolds like a short movie you might actually pay to see.
Like any series opener, it has a lot of explaining to do. But the action never flags, and at the end, viewers will be waiting for more. The last movie-length pilot to look this good, throw so much money at the screen and hook so many potential viewers was for a show called “Lost.”
Like many sci-fi stories, “Nova” borrows furiously and freely from the best. It kicks off in “Blade Runner” country, a dark, blighted Earth. If I have any quibble with the pilot, it’s that it takes too long to escape the dreary “present” and travel 85 million years into the past via a “Stargate”-type portal. Once through, our protagonists arrive at Terra Nova, a stylishly rustic encampment not unlike the Dharma Initiative’s colony on “Lost.” Only here, the gates protect them from rampaging dinosaurs.
As with most series produced by Steven Spielberg, the cosmic and political drama is projected through the prism of family dynamics. On “Terra” we have former cop Jim (Jason O’Mara) married to surgeon Elisabeth (Shelly Conn). Fifteen-year-old Maddy (Naomi Scott) is a brilliant nerd, all but written out of the pilot. Five-year-old Zoe (Alana Mansour) is on hand to provide looks of wonder at the vegetation and giant visiting reptiles. Seventeen-year-old rebel Josh (Landon Liboiron) gets most of the attention. He resents his dad and immediately runs off with Terra Nova’s teen clique. Their adventures lead us outside of the gates and introduce us to some of the island’s more ferocious creatures, as well as its mysteries. Why has a rogue group split off from the leadership of Cmdr. Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang)? And what is the meaning of the hieroglyphs they discover near their swimming hole?
This being a Spielberg production, I expect more teenage swashbuckling than “Lost”-like conundrums. And I don’t expect characters as quirky as Hurley or Sawyer to emerge. But so far, I’m hooked. And I don’t think I’ll be alone.
• “Gossip Girl” meets “Sweet Home Alabama” in “Hart of Dixie” (8 p.m., CW). This new series borrows the plot of at least 10,000 Hallmark Channel movies. That of the arrogant and assured female urban professional forced by fate to relocate to a picture-postcard but inconvenient rural locale, only to be smitten by its charms and find a cute, uncomplicated guy in the process. “Hart” stars Rachel Bilson as a petulant New York surgeon stranded in Bluebell, Ala. Help yourself.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Way out west on the season premiere of “Gossip Girl” (7 p.m., CW).
• Cartoon monsters abound in the new series “Secret Mountain Fort Awesome” (7:45 p.m., Cartoon Network).
• Teen burglars target celebrities in the 2011 drama “The Bling Ring” (8 p.m., Lifetime). Jennifer Grey stars.
• Otherwise engaged on the season premiere of “Mike and Molly” (8:30 p.m., CBS).
• The Red Flag declares war on the season finale of “Alphas” (9 p.m., Syfy).