TV Review: PRIMEVAL, 5.1

As part of ITV's co-financing deal with BBC America, Germany's Pro Sieben and UKTV, that allowed the return of their axed sci-fi drama Primeval, it's UKTV's digital channel Watch who receive the British premiere of series 5. This results in mixed fortunes: loyal fans get new episodes mere months after series 4 ended on ITV, but it's no longer accessible to everyone and isn't being simulcast in HD. It also strikes me as odd that Watch have moved Primeval from its customary Saturday timeslot, as I suspect they could have lured a sizeable post-Doctor Who audience their way... Regardless of the business decisions behind its scheduling, Primeval itself remains a frustrating sci-fi series that's never achieved its huge potential to be Stargate-meets-Jurassic Park. Its fans are eager to excuse its failings on grounds Primeval's never trying to be anything more than a romp with impressive-for-television CGI, but the fact it demonstrably tries to deliver something of substance in-between people trying to capture marauding beasts, makes it reasonable to expect better. The show has fun ideas, but rarely the intelligence to implement them effectively. It rigidly conforms to a strict template, and only rarely finds ways to be creative within that framework. By the end of series 4, it was confirmed that ARC newcomer Matt (Ciarán McMenemin) is from the future, sent back to prevent a dystopia created by the space-time anomalies; that underwritten villain Ethan was the missing brother of lost-in-time ARC hero Danny Quinn; and that ARC's co-financier Philip Burton (Alexander Siddig) has a connection to the late Helen Cutter, Primeval's khaki-clad villainess. But it was business as usual for series 5's premiere, as the pace coming off series 4 was flushed away, and the gang had to go through the motions exterminate giant lice from the future. I guess nature decided size matters after all? Said creatures have been harmlessly scuttling around city tunnels, but have now been disturbed by road works and become aware there's a food source above ground. In a subplot, chipmunk-cheeked Connor's been taken under the wing of Burton, who reveals his secret project "New Dawn": a cutting-edge endeavor to harness the energy of the anomalies to provide the world with clean, limitless power. Elsewhere, pompous Lester (Ben Miller) provided a dose of comic relief, as he tried to impress a government official he believes has arrived to assess his suitability for a knighthood. You get what you expect from Primeval, which is usually action sequences that resemble life insurance adverts being interrupted by a Walking With Dinosaurs special effect. It's pretty much a serialized Syfy Original Movie with more realistic monsters and slightly better acting--with the exception of Ben Mansfield, who remains more wooden than a rocking chair as the team's gung-ho muscle. Everything regarding the giant lice was weak and predictable guff, considering the potential for an imaginative adventure in the vein of an urban Tremors. Instead, there's just ridiculous scenes like people trying to coax a giant burrowing crustacean to the surface of a garden by mowing the lawn to create vibrations! The most entertaining aspect was getting traction on issues regarding Burton's secret project and Matt's identity, which we spent the majority of series 3 being teased interminably about. The reveals aren't big surprises (Burton's "New Dawn" energy's obviously going to cause a global disaster by tampering with the anomalies), but I quite like how lovers Connor and Abby have been split up as a result. Connor's ego has been stroked by Burton so much that he'll have a vital role in taking the planet to the brink of destruction for his mentor's approval, while Abby's been taken into Matt's confidence about his mission and will be working to find out how to stop the looming apocalypse. What more is there to say, really? Enjoyable CGI, tepid direction, by-the-numbers plotting, asinine characters, jokes a ten-year-old would groan at, and an unfortunate deficit of creativity. As a show primarily aimed at kids with dinosaur wallpaper, it does its job in terms of delivering monsters to bloodlessly kill and later collect the album stickers for, but that's about it. It's a shame Primeval's failed to rise to the next level, despite clearly wanting to, and the corniness of its characters doesn't help matters. The cast changes almost yearly, but series 4 and 5's ensemble is by far its weakest line-up: Miller purses his lips, adorable Ruth Kearney pretends to look busy at a bank of monitors, Potts admittedly gives everything boyish enthusiasm, Spearritt drains the life out of most scenes, McMenemin delivers dialogue with the emotional range of a ventriloquist doll, ditto Mansfield, and Siddig is perhaps trying to convince himself this is just a bad Star Trek Deep Space Nine episode.
WRITER: Chris Lang DIRECTOR: Mark Everest CAST: Andrew Lee Potts, Hannah Spearritt, Ciarán McMenamin, Alexander Siddig, Ben Miller, Ruth Kearney & Ben Mansfield TRANSMISSION: 24 May 2011, Watch, 8PM
I will be reviewing Primeval every week at my blog, Dan's Media Digest.

Dan Owen hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.