Did Primeval New World deserve to be cancelled?

Feature Philip Lickley 27 Feb 2013 - 07:00

Philip evaluates the success of Primeval New World, recently dropped by its network, and asks whether it deserves another chance...

Warning: this feature contains spoilers for Primeval New World

Last week Primeval New World came to an end on Canadian sci-fi channel Space after a thirteen-episode run. A spin-off from the UK Primeval, now seemingly languishing in cancellation hell, it was purported to be an “older, darker and scarier” version of the five-season programme that inspired it, about anomalies opening up around the world allowing creatures from the past and future to invade our world, and the team who deal with them.

Primeval New World featured an entirely new cast – with one guest appearance aside – and a team discovering the anomalies for the first time. Admittedly, the show had its ups and downs (and more of the latter near the beginning of its run), but did it deserve to be dropped by Space? And, should it find a home on another network, what needs to change?

Characters 

Let’s start with the characters. By far the strongest, most well-written character in the piece was that of Lieutenant Ken Leeds, played with gusto by Geoff Gustafson. Turning from an off-beat, weird loner trapped in Project Magnet, an off-the-books “department” looking into the supernatural, to someone with some power and a purpose to their role, who finds himself stuck between two teams with apposing aims, Leeds brought humour into the series as well as being a genuinely interesting character. Though underused in the final episode, I always looked forward to his appearances on screen and consider him one of the strongest additions to the tweaked formula of New World.

Evan Cross, played by Niall Matter, was the leader of the group and felt like a cross between Nick Cutter (even sharing a similar back story), and Connor Temple. Often perhaps seen to be infallible when it comes to his intelligence, he was a flawed main character through his handling of the situation, driven by the death of his wife. His character wasn’t quite as interesting as the other “leaders” of the team but he certainly became stronger as the series progressed. 

My second favourite character in the series had to be of Mac Rendell, played by Danny Rahim. Though perhaps succumbing to the series’ stereotypical portrayal of British accents, he was the one character that changed the most throughout the series and the one I felt most like rooting for throughout the thirteen episodes. Despite, like several other elements in the series, his character feeling at times inconsistent, as seen when he went from emotional distress after the death of his girlfriend to being fine, but then returning to this state after the revelation of episode eight. Like Leeds, he felt more of a rounded character than the others. 

Dylan Weir, played by Sara Canning, was this series’ Abby Maitland in relation to her work with animals, her spirit and her power but not, thankfully, as sexed-up as Maitland was in the early series of UK Primeval so as not to discredit her character. Though she was involved with many of the creatures and incidents she felt underplayed, and didn’t really have much to do until the final couple of episodes other than be a potential love interest for Evan. 

Toby Nance, played by Crystal Lowe, felt like a mix between Connor Temple and Jess Parker, and enjoyed the most varied of roles throughout the run and did more than just sit behind a computer. She felt well-rounded and as a bisexual character created a positive portrayal, even if she was lumbered with a slightly titillating plot-line because of it.

Angelika Finch, played by Miranda Frigon, also enjoyed a strong character arc morphing from a team supporter to a team traitor, and felt realistic as both and was a strong rock through the series. 

As characters go, the team didn’t feel as instantly likeable as the original group. Though we did have five series to grow with the other team, this set didn’t feel as distinct with not as much personality to latch on to, outside of Ken Leeds and Mac Rendell, but this is something that would grow as the series continues. The strongest element though was the character development: by the end Mac and Evan in particular had changed, with the events they’ve faced impacting on them, with the former coming to terms with who he is and the latter having to face up to having to set the wheels of his wife’s death in motion to avoid any timeline problems.

Plotlines 

A series lives and dies on its plotlines and Primeval New World had a tight-rope to walk: it had to both stand on its own two feet and present something cohesive, but also acknowledge what came before it, and mostly it succeeded. The first episode generated a good balance of information to keep new viewers and those familiar with the original Primeval up to speed. It managed to introduce some new concepts outside of the original including a stronger military focus, a grander scale and other advancements such as the ability to work out when anomalies would close, but elsewhere it felt at times like it was a remake of the old series rather than a new one. 

It’s difficult when you have thirty-six other stories out there not to copy, but the final two-parter felt like an extended version of the second episode of UK series one and the capturing of creatures was lifted from series two. 

The main issue I had with the plotlines was the lack of consistency through the thirteen episodes. The presence of the frozen body in episode one – a brilliant way to end a strong opener – wasn’t touched upon until it was revealed who it was in episode eight with no teasing in between; the capture of the creature at the end of the episode four didn’t get referenced until the end of the series; and the great sub-plot of Howard Kanan in the first episode after the mid-season break was set-up and then didn’t have any further impact for the rest of the series. I imagine the latter would appear in a second series but it felt like they kept setting things up and then forgetting about them. In series two and three of UK Primeval, the overall arc was referenced each episode even if it was only in minor ways but here they felt separate to the plot, as if the episodes weren’t being held together by anything overarching. 

It’s not the only guilty party though. The original series felt a little dismissive of ongoing plots such as the disappearance of on-going elements like Rex, Sid and Nancy; the issues with Danny returning due to Jason Flemyng’s other commitments; and shifts in style necessitated by the constant issues of cancellation, but these felt more pronounced in the new series. For instance, Mac behaves as you’d expect after the death of his girlfriend for the episode afterwards but after that he’s cracking porn jokes and making light of things in the next episode, not feeling consistent with how his character has changed. Characters like Lisa Merriweather appeared and then disappeared; and plotlines seemed to be set-up and dropped quickly, with some a little confusing and underdeveloped like the love triangle of Evan-Angelika-Dylan. 

Primeval New World was, though, a stronger series towards its back half. The final six episodes were, without exception, absolute corkers but between those and the strong opener, episode five aside, it felt a little on autopilot. 

As plot goes, Primeval New World was good with many interesting strands: the death of Evan’s wife and how it happened; Howard Kanan and his rivalry with Evan and just who invented Photonics; the development of Mac as a character; and Project Magnet. It’s just at times as if they were underutilising what they’d set up and needed to make more use of what they’ve got. 

The one thing they didn’t skimp on was the fan service. With the appearance of Connor Temple in the opener and closer, plus a return for kit like the anomaly locking device and a teasing mention of Connor’s marriage, they tied up both series nicely and stuck with the canon, even if the lack of seeing a few of the other team in episode thirteen felt like a missed opportunity. 

More adult? 

One thing that was pushed at the time of commissioning was that this series would be “older, darker and scarier” than the original, that is more adult. But was this the case? 

Primeval as a concept has never shied away from death with many of the characters in the original meeting their maker, but the one element the spin-off did concentrate more on was a more visible signs of death with corpses and such like. Elsewhere it didn’t feel much darker than the original series. The only real adult elements that felt added in was the shower scene with Mac and Sam, a little bit of language here and there and the lesbian kiss of episode seven; it certainly didn’t feel like Torchwood to Doctor Who. Blood aside, it’s not a series I wouldn’t be uncomfortable showing to the same audience of the original but in creating a few more adult overtones it felt like some of the magic of the original was missing, something noticeable when Connor return in the final episode and proved to be one of the strongest elements of the piece. 

It did feel more realistic at times but then again the original handled the concept, as far as you can, realistically. It wasn’t Torchwood adult, it was just dropping the more “family” elements of the original like Rex and Sid and Nancy and replacing them with dead bodies and a train full of drugs. 

The creatures 

The series did well with the creatures with a good range of dinosaurs and others coming through the anomalies, with only the raptors of episode one, the beetles and the terror birds feeling recycled from the original series. The creatures were handled well and the CGI was strong throughout the series, but never felt any better or worse than we saw in the UK version. The anachronistic animals did feel more involved at times, such as the terror bird ripping a corpse to pieces and there were some strong set pieces, such as the Albertosaurus and petrol station climax in the final episode, but they didn’t stray too imaginatively with the creature. In the original first series we were given the future predator, and there didn’t feel like an iconic creature established in this series, plus the collecting of the creatures by Project Magnet never felt as visual in the laboratory as it did in that final visual scene of UK series two, but the depictions of creature autopsy were done well. 

The best episodes 

My favourite episode is a toss-up between three: it’s either Truth, that closed the first half of the series, with its fresh plotline of Evan Cross being ‘drugged’ by something from the dinosaur and hallucinating and putting the team in danger, alongside the revelation of the frozen body at the end; the second-half opener Breakthrough which felt like a breath of fresh air to the series that felt like the arc was finally being explored, and the interesting Kanan sub-plot; or the series closer which tied things together nicely, threw in some great moments for fans of the UK original, and worked as a strong closer. 

When it comes to my least favourite it has to be Babes In The Wood which felt like an awkward inclusion mid-series that replaced the grieving Mac with a ten-year-old school-boy sniggering Mac and used a lesbian plot-line as titillation, damaging what was otherwise a fun episode. 

Where to go from here? 

In the wake of the series ending it was announced that Space would not be picking up the series for a second season due to low ratings, which I feel is a shame. With the UK series looking not to be returning this was the only way for the concept to continue. It’s disheartening now that so many series appear to get cancelled without the chance to let them breathe and grow with an audience, something affecting shows on both side of the Atlantic. With it yet to be shown in America there may be a chance of it being picked up elsewhere but with lots of drama I enjoy watching cancelled recently including this and The Hour, I’m starting to wonder if it’s worth investing time in following a drama only for them to be cancelled, leaving cliffhangers dangling. 

And of course it would be from the cliff-hanger the series would be going from. Having fulfilled the timeline and Mac sacrificing himself to make sure everything has happened as it should do, something has indeed changed and anomalies are closing. Will Evan and Dylan get trapped in the past and if they do get back what will have changed? 

I don’t know whether the writers have planned that far ahead but it’ll be interesting to see what a second series would bring. Personally I’d wanted a second season to be more focussed, with a strong concentration on the arc. I’d love to see Lieutenant Ken Leeds getting more screen time and I’d like to see Mac back in some alternative form. The Howard Kanan sub-plot would need to be addressed and I’d like more from Connor, as he suggested in the last episode he would be back. 

I’d also like them to address the direction of the series: if they are going down the adult route it needs to be more adult, with stronger deaths or more genuinely dark elements, or if not go more like the UK series and put a bit of magical sparkle into the plotlines with a little more humour: either direction, I don’t mind. 

Now that the team has been established and viewers will be familiar with the anomalies, I’d like to see a stronger arc and darker plots, and perhaps changes have happened that will affect the cast as they did between the first two series of the UK Primeval

I do hope a second series is commissioned as it’s our only link to the series and I feel the second half proved they have the characters and plots to carry it. Networks can be their own worst enemies by cancelling so many series early on into their run without them being able to build up a fan base and by not broadcasting simultaneously in different counties. Though the UK has been lucky in getting it only about six weeks behind, it’s not yet appeared in America and already big fans will have viewed the series by other means. 

Here’s hoping for a second series so we can step through the anomalies once more...

Read Philip's Primeval New World episode reviews, here.

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