I'm a creature feature kind of guy. There are few things I enjoy more than a bowl of popcorn, a cold beer and a monster-of-the-week movie. So it goes without saying that BBC's Primeval - in which portals to the past unleash horrors upon modern Britan -- is my kind of show.
The pilot episode of the 13-episode Season 1 sees a variety of dinosaurs wander through into the Forest of Dean, including one particularly nasty carnivore that's taken to hunting the woods for prey (and the occasional tractor trailer). Episode #2 features giant bugs infesting the London Underground, while Episode #3 has a giant aquatic dinosaur prowling the nation's waterways.
Each has traveled through a rip in space/time connecting our present with eras millions of years in the past. And the portal's aren't one way; creatures (and humans) can pass back and forth between the two time periods. They have to be quick though; the portals are unstable, and time travelers can easily find themselves trapped in the past when one of the wormholes evaporates.
Meet the Monster Hunters
Investigating these portals, and the creatures they spawn, is an ad hoc team of professional researchers and students. The team's leader is Professor Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall), a palentologist who's wife disappeared eight years earlier in the Forest of Dean. It's a mystery that's haunted him for years, and in the pilot he learns that rather than having died, she may have stumbled across one of the portals ... and become lost.
Joining him is his assistant (and the show's adventurer archtype), James Murray (Stephen Hart). He's the kind of guy who can track a bleeding lizard across the Amazon forest for two days, while it was training. Drawn into the initial investigation is the plucky zoo keeper and reptile expert (Hannah Spearritt), as well as the would-be cryptozoologist and resident geek Connor Temple (Andrew Lee Potts). The team's government liaison is Lucy Brown (Claudia Brown), and she provides the necessary muscle (and occasional cover story) for the monster invasions.
It's a good mix. Each character has just enough back story to keep things interesting ... but without sidetracking the main trust of the show, which is undeniably the creature features.
I can't say that the series has blown me away, but the special effects have been adequate, and better than say, the monster movie featured on the SCI-FI channel on any given Saturday. While there is one ongoing story arc -- Cutter's search for his wife -- for the most part each episode is a self-contained.
The show got off to a strong start in its first two episodes, setting up the premise and characters in rapid succession. It's refreshing to find a series that doesn't have a deep convuluted mythology from the word go (unlike, say, Fringe), and which doesn't take itself too seriously. That's not to say it's satirical or self-mocking, but rather, it knows what it is -- a weekly creature feature -- and it sticks to that premise.
And I think it's a good premise. I don't think there's a geek alive who hasn't daydreamed about a portal to somewhere suddenly opening before him or her, and stepping through to see what lies on the other side. Watching it on a recent flight back from Minniapolis (after purchasing the first two episodes from iTunes), I was also struck at what a great premise it would make for a short role-playing campaign.
I could easily see firing up Savage Worlds to come up with my own monster-of-the-week, and I think you could have a lot of fun with this premise over a limited run of 6-8 episodes. Role-playing brainstorming aside, it's a fun series, and one I'm planning to queue up on Netflix in the near future.