I, a Teenager (1971)

Tine Holm
(originally published in Denmark as Jeg-en-pige [1967])

Danish Bildungsroman of 14-year-old girl named Stine who, though madly in love with Jens, finds herself continually frustrated by her boyfriend's emotional neglect and refusal to communicate. Without telling her family, Stine takes the train down to her grandmother's beach house to spend her winter break getting her thoughts together.  There she falls in with some German tourists camping on the beach and almost has a fling with a guy named "Knud," but his attempt at an unusual sexual position puts Stine off the proceedings.  Returning to Copenhagen, she briefly reconciles with Jens, but after another tremendous fight, becomes infatuated instead with an older guy performing at the local theater.  At first Mikael is worried that Stine is under-aged, but after they sleep together and neither Stine nor her parents seem particularly outraged, they decide to live together in a tiny basement apartment.  This eventually leads to a marriage proposal and Stine decides she will throw a big engagement party complete with French-fried potatoes (cooked by an interesting side character--a mopey American named David doing the whole Europe and philosophy trip).  But once the big party day arrives, Stine feels invisible amidst all of Mikael's older friends and so she breaks off the relationship later that night. 

Moving back home, Stine begins spending her days hanging out with an art student at a local museum, which eventually leads to a one-time tryst in a empty passageway somewhere in the gallery's rafters.  She also finds a sick duck and nurses it back to health.  But who should come back into Stine's life at this point but Jens?  He's very sorry for treating her so badly and asks Stine to move in with him.  She does, but soon they are back to their same old fights.  Stine has a passing infatuation with a waiter at a jazz club, but nothing comes of it.  Then Jens insists she take her stuff and move out, which she does, squatting at the apartment of her completely Platonic older friend, Anders.  Jens comes over one night and says he didn't really want Stine to move out, that he was just kidding, but now he's suspicious of her relationship with Anders.  She assures him nothing is going on and agrees to move back.  As the book ends, some two years after it began, we are told that she still fights with Jens all the time, and yet somehow "everything was different, even though I was never able to figure out exactly how we had changed." 

That's pretty much it.  Though marketed as a sleazy romp through sexy Scandinavia, the book actually has more in common with Judy Blume than the other notorious "I" titles of the era like I, A Woman, I, A Sailor, and I Am Curious Yellow.  Chock full of details about the streets, bars, and neighborhoods of Copenhagen, circa the mid-1960s, for those who might have an historical interest in such things. 

Toward the Final Beatle

Confronted with the prospects of watching yet another Beatles documentary, there are many who would understandably prefer a ticket to ride—some place where no one has ever even heard of the Beatles.  Well good luck, mean Mr. Mustard, because that octopus’ garden doesn’t exist.  You may have never given them your money, dear Prudence, but you can no more escape the Beatles than you can throw an old brown shoe across the universe.  “And your bird can sing” is another great title.

So Martin Scorsese had his work cut out for him in producing a 208-minute opus that once again revisits the single most perverse fame eruption of the twentieth-century--Beatlemania.  Even more remarkable, Scorsese’s Living in the Material World (currently playing in two 90-or-so minute chunks on HBO) is really only about 25% of the Beatles; namely, George Harrison…the “third” Beatle, the “quiet” Beatle, the Beatle who forced millions of pop fans to contend with the sitar and songs that occasionally strayed from 4/4 time.  

Fifty years after the Beatles began playing for beer and lodging in Reeperbahn (Hamburg’s notorious red light district, brought to screen here courtesy of contemporaneous footage culled from Mondo Cane), what is there left to say about this collective psychosis that defined a generation, a fixation on the music, biography--and most importantly--the mythos of the Beatles that will continue to enshroud the planet until someone pulls the plug on the last baby-boomer clutching the faders at the final classic rock station?  Even those who have only a casual Beatles habit will be familiar with most of the territory covered in part one—the lads meet in Liverpool, gig in Germany, get signed to Parlophone and George Martin, ignite a mass adolescent sexual frenzy, come to America, become bigger than Jesus, drop acid, push the confines of the recording studio, and so on.   

There are a few new details for the truly obsessed.  We meet George Harrison’s brothers, for example, who rather refreshingly seem to have remained non-fab Liverpudlians unfazed by a having a little brother who, in some improbable cosmic lottery, turned a fascination with skiffle riffs into a billion dollar empire.  Studio geeks, meanwhile, get to hear a few new tales about the recording of Harrison’s tracks on the Beatles’ records, including the story of an Abbey Road engineer working tirelessly to mix properly the saxophones on "Savoy Truffle" only to have Harrison request they be more distorted and bright (and truly, that track remains a treble endurance test to this very day—very “toppy” as George Martin pops in to opine).  Ringo also informs us that if it wasn’t for Paul, the other 3 Beatles would have spent most of the late 60’s in their respective Surrey mansions smoking pot and just hanging out.  Perhaps the oddest detail: the Beatles actually commuted into work each day at Abbey Road in Lennon’s psychedelic Rolls Royce (somehow the idea of the Beatles as working stiffs commuting on the A3 is a winning image—especially given that today even the most abject reality star flotsam expect to be driven everywhere by limo). 

But expecting something “new” in a Beatles documentary misses the point, really.  No one stands alongside the route of a Passion Play with a box of popcorn wondering how things are going to turn out.  And so it is here.  The entire point of watching the story of the Beatles—over and over again in seemingly endless iterations—is to see the mop tops take up the cross of global fame, get cranky with each other, and then wander like lost souls into the 1970s.  Twelve men have walked on the moon.  There were four Beatles.  Both professions remain utterly mind-boggling in terms of their impact and exclusivity.  Much of Beatles’ lore has to do with the singularity of their collective experience.  What would it be like to be that famous?  That beloved?  That influential?  To be so epoch-defining that even those who hate you have to use you as the reference point for reclaiming another vision of late twentieth-century culture? 

All of which makes Part Two of Material World--the real heart of the documentary--all that much more interesting.  With the necessary Beatles preamble out of the way, Scorsese and editor David Tedeschi are able to focus on what becomes the unexpectedly poignant and even tragic afterlife of Harrison proper. 

Part two starts with a bang as the Beatles break-up (rather strategically and wisely withheld as the seemingly natural climax of part one).  We then get an extended account of the recording of All Things Must Pass, still the single greatest post-Beatles album by any of the four (this is provable by objective, song-by-song, empirical science—I will accept no arguments on this point.  What are you going to put up against it?  Band on the Run?  The Plastic Ono Band?  Goodnight Vienna?  Please, take a seat, you’re just embarrassing yourself).  Sitting atop a dozen or so songs that could not find room on the later Beatles records, Harrison and friends produced what was the first and probably the last wall-of-sound, folk-rock, Krishna record.  Scorsese is such a fan (recall that Ray Liotta freaks out in the last reel of Goodfellas to “What is Life?”) that virtually every song on the record receives a detailed accounting of its genesis. 

George-fans will also appreciate that Scorsese endorses the proposition that Harrison’s musical talents have always been woefully under-appreciated.  Even as early as “I Want to Tell You,” with its oddly dissonant piano figure under the chorus, Harrison’s songs were always the weirdest and even spookiest of the Beatles’ catalog (“Blue Jay Way,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Piggies,” “It’s All Too Much,” and, of course, the criminally obscure yet chillingly sublime “Long, Long, Long.”)  There is also some respect for Harrison’s guitar chops, both his distinctive “wah-wah” slide technique and the non-shredding elegance of his soloing (the short solo on “Something” is a clinic on not wasting notes—even as the solo on “All You Need is Love” remains a mysteriously aborted failure—evoke it in your minds, fellow Beatle-nerds, you’ll see what I mean).

After the huge success of that record, Harrison moves on to the Concert for Bangladesh—becoming, for better or worse, the first rock star to leverage his fame for charity relief. 

And then things get a bit sad and weird.  In addition to being the “quiet” Beatle, Harrison was probably best known for his enthusiastic embrace of Indian spirituality and philosophy—bringing sitars into the studio for “Norweigian Wood” and spearheading the band’s famous expedition to India to learn meditation.  Part one of the documentary emphasizes that this was no fashionable hippy trend on Harrison’s part, that his commitment to getting airlifted out of “maya” remained a lifelong pursuit.  Those who hate the Beatles often find this aspect of the fable particularly annoying—one of the richest men in the world using the security of his wealth and fame to engage in quite literal navel-gazing.  But Scorsese rather doggedly works to convince us that Harrison’s relation to the “material world” was genuinely tortured, that he really attempted to escape the suffocating obligations of being an ex-Beatle (and even if he was, in the end, more a pampered rock star afforded the luxury to indulge in spiritual experimentation, the story of how a working-class kid from Liverpool becomes one of the most famous people of the twentieth-century and then whole-heartily embraces eastern mysticism is, in and of itself, a fascinating story). 

In part two, Harrison’s commitment to embracing the non-material world experiences some obstacles.  There is the notorious triangle with Eric Clapton and Harrison’s first wife, Patty Boyd (speaking of burdens—imagine being the woman who inspired both “Something” and “Layla”—truly she is the face that launched a thousand tracks on Ampex tape).  Scorsese rather delicately handles Harrison’s apparently bad cocaine problem in the mid-70s (footage of a rail-thin Harrison, his voice absolutely decimated, chugging through a truly awful live arrangement of “What is Life?” is one of the documentary’s more cringe-worthy moments).  Wholly absent, no doubt by demand of second-wife/producer Olivia Harrison, is the foundational copyright lawsuit fought between Harrison and the Chiffons over the melody of  “My Sweet Lord.”  Also hanging like a dark cloud over part two is the knowledge that Harrison’s spiritual journey will eventually culminate in getting stabbed in his own home by a schizophrenic and then dying shortly thereafter from cancer. 

This might make Living in the Material World sound like a total bummer.  And in some respects, part two is often melancholic to the point of being downright depressing.  There are bright spots, of course, as in Harrison’s support and patronage of Monty Python (Harrison produced Life of Brian and Time Bandits…as well as Shanghai Surprise, which Scorsese understandably ignores).  Mostly, though, Scorsese’s portrait of Harrison casts him as someone who genuinely wanted to be a better person in a better world, and who ultimately preferred to stay at home and garden rather than do the obligatory record tour every year (at the time of Harrison’s death in 2001, Ringo had put out more albums than his former bandmate—Ringo, for Vishnu’s sake!).  Toward the end of part two, Olivia Harrison recounts how, toward the end of his life, George was invited to various award ceremonies to honor his many achievements, invitations invariably declined by the Beatle who really no longer wanted to have anything to do with the Beatles.  His widow offers this as evidence of her husband’s incredible humbleness—but there is also a sense that his reclusiveness had a touch of bitterness in it as well.

The Traveling Wilburys.  And then a “come-back” solo album that Harrison claims wasn’t really a “come-back” because, by that point, he had long stopped considering himself to be a pop star/public performer anymore. 

And then the stabbing at his home in England.  Given the unprecedented mass cathexis on the Beatles, it’s a miracle all four of them didn’t end up murdered by various crazy people.  Olivia Harrison narrates the events of that particular evening, leaving us to wonder why someone didn’t simply pick up a phone and call the police (Harrison’s initial strategy for dealing with this intruder, we are told, was to “chant” at him from the upstairs window.  A few moments later the guy has broken in, rushed up the stairs, and is wrestling with a wounded Harrison for the knife. So remember, while your mantra may be good for your soul, it remains generally ineffective in warding off the psychotic). 

Harrison survives, of course, only to die two years later from his ongoing bout with lung cancer.  As recounted by Scorsese, Harrison’s death is both more banal and yet, oddly, more profound than the murder of John Lennon.  Assassinated at forty, Lennon died so young and so abruptly that he was able to assume Kennedy-esque stature as a generational icon unimpeded by the embarrassment of continuing to live and thus disappoint everyone (and Lord knows, Double Fantasy was a bad step in that direction).  And besides, getting shot by a nut job outside the Dakota is a freakish tragedy—much like getting hit by an asteroid or falling through a manhole.  But to be someone who ruled the western world at the age of 25, only to then slog on through a failed marriage, some bad investments, a drug habit, and the burdensome expectations of your former greatness, all so that you might then live to be stabbed in your home before dying of cancer two years later—that’s the kind of depressingly common life arc almost any middle-aged boomer can relate to (if, of course, one substitutes the general exhilaration of one’s perceived youthful immortality for Harrison’s time as a Beatle).   And I don’t care how much you think you hate the Beatles, if Ringo’s account of his last meeting with George doesn’t get you misty-eyed than truly you are a soulless monster who deserves to come back in the next life as a latrine-born cockroach (while I understand the counter-distinctual obligations of thinking the Beatles were overrated or even just downright terrible, how anyone who has ever listened to and enjoyed a 3.5 minute guitar-based pop-song in the last 30 years thinks they “hate” the Beatles is beyond me.  It’s like loving spaghetti while claiming to hate Italian cuisine.  Even Kurt Cobain had the self-knowledge and graciousness to acknowledge that nothing much had happened since the Beatles, except perhaps for a general increase in yelling and distortion.    

Ultimately, Living in the Material World, with all its familiar popcult signposts of the past fifty years, is as much about its audience as it is about Harrison himself, artfully beginning the perhaps inevitable process of rewriting Beatles nostalgia into boomer elegy.  Here, too, is where the fascination with meditation, Krishna, and all things eastern finds its ultimate rendez-vous--both for Harrison and a generational audience that once upon a time fancied itself disenchanted with western politics, morality, and religion.  Throughout the documentary, we are told how Harrison’s spiritual quest was to practice “the art of dying,” to be at peace with one’s death so that the universe doesn’t force you to return for another round of frustrated desire and corporeal misery.  Apparently realizing at a freakishly young age that one faces the end alone, no matter what one acquires or achieves in this world, Harrison makes for a compelling index on boomer spirituality in general, an emblem of material success/excess apparently quite sincere (and thus quite conflicted) in his attempt to renounce the trappings of this world. 

This, finally, is the ultimate trick of Scorsese’s documentary--transforming Harrison the counter-cultural icon into just another aging boomer (albeit one of unimaginable wealth and fame—and, technically, not actually a boomer), doing his best to survive the humiliations of mortality with some grace and dignity, all while trying to remain true to a core set of beliefs.  Olivia recounts her husband’s last moments on earth as “glowing.”  I certainly hope so.  If, after his extraordinary ride through the late twentieth-century, George Harrison couldn’t figure out what does and doesn’t ultimately matter, what hope remains for the rest of us still plowing our way through the particularly pernicious maya of western existence, the legions of boomers who--years after their perceived rebellion against the social order--have rather lazily crawled back to the church of their parents more out of habit than belief.  Scorsese ultimately makes the viewer admire George, the quiet Beatle, not so much for being a Beatle, but for fighting so hard (and perhaps so futilely) to escape the absurd cosmic joke that gave birth to the Beatles in the first place.

Group Therapy in Childhood Psychosis (1965)

Rex W. Speers and Cornelius Lansing
University of North Carolina Press

Book details the ongoing group therapy of five small children deemed "psychotic" (i.e. autistic) at a Chapel Hill psychiatric clinic in the early 1960s.  Then suddenly this happens:
As an integral part of the program, each family hired a colored "mammy" who was to be in the home 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, to relive the mother of responsibility for the physical care of the sick child as much as possible.  She was instructed to play with the child at whatever level he wished and to gratify as many of his wishes as possible.  We had hoped the "mammy" would proved the child with an alternative to the constant anxiety-provoking interaction with the mother.  In practice, however, we discovered that the mothers' jealousy prevented them from hiring the desired type of "mammy."  In most cases a maid was hired to perform the household duties, while the mother continued her intense interaction with the child.  In those instances where an adequate "mammy" was hired, the tensions resulted in her being dismissed within a short period of time.  The mothers withheld information about the "mammy," and it was only when the social scientist made home visits that inadequacy of the hired maid was discovered. 
Given that autism/psychosis in children was, in the early 1960s, generally thought to be the fault of "icebox moms" (emotionally detached mothers), using grant money to hire a "colored mammy" for each patient probably made a lot of sense.  Still, it would be interesting to know if and why the supervisors of this study insisted on African-American help in the psychotic home (all of the children in the group are white).  No doubt this logic (presented here as self-evidently scientific) was based on the racist legacy of the "mammy" as an inherently nurturing being--a "magic negro" whose open heart and folksy wisdom could distract the psychotic child from the emotional train wreck that is the skinny, uptight, frosty, white mother.  Astounding.  Someone write a dissertation about this immediately so I can read more about it.

Sandy Filler

The current teaching quarter is kicking my posterior...so before the next real post, please to enjoy this trio of sand related videos. 

thanks to Jacob Smith for bringing this wonder to my attention.

Bonus Sand:

Love Camp (1953)

Louis-Charles Royer
Pyramid Books (G533 1960)

Love Camp is a surprisingly restrained dramatization of life within the Nazi Lebensborn program, an initiative under Heinrich Himmler to curb Germany's abortion rate and produce "racially pure" children for the Third Reich.  Begun as an orphanage and charity house for widows of the S.S., after the war many described Lebensborn as an Aryan brothel, bringing eugenically selected young women to live under one roof so that they might be impregnated by an equally select group of Nazi soldiers.

This is certainly Royer's take.  In part one of Love Camp, the patriotic Dr. Werner tours the German and Austrian countryside in search of suitable young women to take back to Venusdorf, a remote monastery on a lake refitted to host week-long mating furloughs for the soldiers.  Meanwhile, as Werner looks for good breeding stock, Royer interweaves the stories of the three soldiers selected by their commanders as most deserving of this assignment.

In part two, Royer documents daily life at the camp while following the story of the three "couples" who find themselves matched for reproductive service to the Fatherland.  A day at Venusdorf consists of the young Frauleins assembling in the morning for nude calisthenics and swimming, after which they are paraded single-file (and still nude, of course) past the most recently arrived soldiers.  Each soldier picks the woman he finds most alluring, and they spend the rest of the week shacked up in private bungalows along the lake.  The other women, meanwhile, continue their daily routine until selected.  All of this is under the watchful eye of Frau Flitter, a thirty-something matron who rules the women with an iron fist while also offering them special "comfort" in the loneliness and shame that comes with not being selected...by men.  

There is also Cordelia, the enthusiastic leader of a Hitler Youth group, who takes the train to Venusdorf to volunteer for the program.  Homely and skinny compared to the other women, it is Cordelia's great hope that a soldier will select her for her superior intellect.  That doesn't happen, of course, but she does at least distract the elderly Dr. Werner from his scientific enthusiasm for the project long enough to become pregnant herself--an embarrassing development given that no soldier has picked her.  Werner finally realizes he can blame the child on a rogue solider thrown out after only a day at Venusdorf for trying to move in on the women already chosen by other soldiers.

The "couples" in the second half suffer various and diverse fates--protracted disgust, love at first sight, etc. Offended by the barbarism of it all, an upper-class pilot selects a similarly upper-class friend (sent to Venusdorf by her vengeful father) so that he might protect her virginity for one additional week. 

The Lebensborn program would return in even more distorted and lurid form in the 1969 grindhouse title, Love Camp 7, a film so patently offensive that it remains banned in the U.K. to this very day. 

I Saw That Show Where People Travel Back in Time to a Spielberg Movie from the 1980s.

Conventional wisdom has it that science-fiction doesn’t do well on television, or at least on network television.  Too expensive to produce and too limited in its appeal.  Earth 2. Firefly. The Event. V.  None made it beyond 30 or so episodes.  “But what about Battlestar Galactica?” cries the guy with the phalanx of Cylon Centurions protecting his iMac from the incursion of various snack-related threats, “that was the greatest TV series of all time!”  Cool your jets there, space-boy, that was first-run syndication and a whole other kettle of space-fish.  For the most part, network executives listen to sci-fi pitches with the same enthusiasm that label heads used to reserve for concept albums.  A plucky band of space pirates raiding ships in the Van Allen belt, played for love and laughs but still true to the principles of actual science?  Great…let me clear Thursday night for you.

What a surprise, then, that sci-fi (or sexy, sexy Syfy as the Sci-Fi Channel has rebranded itself) should make such a triumphant return to the fall schedule. Most hyped, of course, was Chuck Lorre turning to Encino Man as a way of rebooting Two and a Half Men.  For those who missed the two-part season opener, this year’s shenanigans began with a giant wave off the coast of Malibu splitting open a prehistoric rock to reveal Walden Schmidt, a caveman mysteriously “frozen” in stone for the past 10,000 years.  Somehow, as he makes his way from the beach to the Harper House of Prongs, Schmidt slips into some discarded clothing and concocts a bogus story about a fake suicide attempt.  It wasn't long, though, before he reverted back to his natural state—walking around the house nude after successfully implanting his gametes inside two willing young wenches.  For good measure, the premiere ended with Schmidt squatting and taking a dump in Charlie’s old sock drawer.

Meanwhile, over at NBC, the peacock has made the daring decision to program sci-fi during its storied Thursday-night block of comedies.   Taking a nod from the 80s girl-robot oddity, Small Wonder, upcoming episodes of Whitney will reveal that the show’s sassy lead is actually under the brutal cybernetic control of her bionic ass, an implant turned sentient that now demands endless display and tribute.  As seen so prominently in the first two episodes, the imperious buttocks frequently compel their helpless host to wear silly costumes that better accentuate the bio-butt’s perky insouciance.   Will Whitney’s jaunty yet evil ass ultimately demand admiration and tribute from all of the earth?  Just what does Whitney's ass want of us?  Stay tuned and find out.

But it is Fox that may well be taking the biggest sci-fi gamble, partnering with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin’ productions for Terra Nova, a mind-bending entry into that subgenre of sci-fi typically known as “a real hoot.” The basic premise here involves the standard Spielbergian narrative-focalization family-unit traveling back in time 85 million years to start over in a new human colony, one that seeks to escape the tech noir future so cruelly foisted upon the earth by Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the 1980s.  

We open in the Chicago of 2149, where every cliché of our collective dystopian future must be mobilized in just under twenty minutes in order to motivate Jim and Taylor Shannon’s rather impulsive decision to flee the civilized world so that their children might touch dinosaurs. In this horrible future of 2149, we are told, the air is really bad, oranges are rare, kids have never seen the moon, and the government strictly enforces a two-child limit on breeding.  Worse yet, decent middle-class families with Irish surnames are forced to live in small apartments that, while they would be palaces to most of the world’s population in 2011, are shown here to have the bad taste and abysmal feng shui that comes standard with a galley kitchen. 

Now, I realize I’m supposed to think this is the most horrible fate imaginable, and that any sane person would gladly run blindly into a wormhole for the chance to eat a fresh peach and see the Big Dipper.  Perhaps it’s because I live in the Windy City, but all I could think of was how amazing the Chicago of 2149 looked, as if five Hong Kongs had been smashed together on the shores of Lake Michigan, all interconnected by tubular monorails and reaching up into a perpetually hazy sky.  It looked like a city where a million different adventures were taking place at that very second—an urban paradise where you could eat any cuisine in the world, network on your quad iReality device, solve a perplexing future-crime, and have your scrotum painlessly tattooed… all at the same time.  Why anyone would leave this citadel of wonder is anyone’s guess, especially for little more than an opportunity to repeatedly hammer one’s thumb building some kind of prehistoric hut in which to store a sumptuous harvest of nuts, twigs, and berries, most of which no doubt fished out of the great steaming piles of Apatosaurus shit surrounding the Terra Nova compound.  

If you subscribe to Spielbergian logic, of course, you would do this because nebulous “government” agents represent a hazard to your dear sweet innocent children.  Sure enough, as the Shannons gather at home to savor their precious orange, the police arrive unannounced to investigate a rumor that the family is harboring an illegal third child (which they are).  Not being the sharpest tool in the shed, dad (Jason O’Mara) hides the contraband toddler inside an air vent, thus insuring that the child will start crying from claustrophobia and dust mite infestation in under a minute (which she does).  Jim takes a swing at the cop and ends up in jail, thus initiating a pre-credit action sequence in which dad must escape from the pokey, pick up a suitcase stuffed with child #3, and get to the wormhole in time to meet his wife (Naomi Scott) and other two kids.   Once again, our sympathies are supposed to be with the Shannons, sharing their outrage that the government would be so evil and repressive as to enforce a ban on having more than two children.  Still, you have to think that if ol’ Jim would have just snipped his vas deferens, his family and the world would have been better off, leaving more oranges and kitchen space for everyone else.

Once we get to Terra Nova, both the Shannons and the viewers have a lot to learn in order to make this a functional weekly franchise.  We discover that Terra Nova was founded by Nathanial Taylor (Stephen Lang)—a great white father who was the first to stumble through the wormhole.  There are dinosaurs, of course, and a big fence separating the community from the more interesting narrative possibilities outside.  Then there are “the sixers,” a group of castaways that apparently crashed on the other side of the island—a splinter group of settlers who live near the quarry and continually hassle the Terra Novenians.  There are also lots of boss machine guns and sonic pulse weapons, as well as a motor pool stocked with all kinds of military vehicles.

So, in this effort to “save” the human race and rebuild humanity without “repeating all the same mistakes,” we can see that Terra Nova is already D.O.A. from scene one.  A charismatic patriarch, nuclear families, guns, gasoline, and a mysterious Other living out in the woods—why not call the show Red State Nova instead?  How long until the Shannons are standing in line for a shot of cyanide-flavored Kool-Aid, convinced the mysterious Robamanites are about to raid the compound and take away the colony's best guns and cutest children? 

I will admit that at this point I took a break to pay the delivery guy and eat some Thai food, so I missed a good 15 minutes or so of the premiere’s first hour.  From what I can surmise, however, this is when we learn that Terra Nova exists in an “alternate time stream,” which is of course the chicken-shit way of explaining oneself out of various time-travel paradoxes (i.e. if Terra Nova “succeeds,” isn’t it inevitable that it produce the very future that allowed the Shannons to go back in time?  Or, wouldn’t the existence of Terra Nova skew history to the extent that the Shannons might never have existed in the first place and thus could not go back in time to follow House?  An “alternative time stream” takes care of all that, space nerd, so just enjoy the ride).

The true highlight of the first episode, however, is the moment when the Shannons are shown to their tasteful bungalow, complete with hardwood floors, a breezy open floor plan, and even a little SoCal landscaping.  Incredibly, though they were just living in a supposedly hellish cube in a Chicago high rise of 2149, everyone seems vaguely disappointed—like they expected better digs in 85 million B.C. Truly, American privilege knows no limits.  Happily, Mom decides they might salvage the space with a rug of some kind…that is, if they have rugs in 85 million B.C.  It is an anxious moment, played for pathos, in which the family realizes--perhaps for the first time--that they now live in a world without the riches and comforts that come from living in proximity to a strip of Big Box stores. 

With some basic exposition out of the way, Terra Nova then chugged into a second hour that was strictly about making work for Spielberg’s old raptor pals from the nineties. The terror begins when the son (Landon Liboiron), like any rebellious high school senior,  ditches his mandatory orientation session to hang with a cute girl and some other teens from the rec center.  Together they sneak outside the fence so they can drink some moonshine they have brewing out in the jungle and play a little G-rated grab ass.  Before you know it, they are at the center of a standard Jurassic era scenario—trapped in a vehicle and getting knocked around by a pack of bloodthirsty dinosaurs!  The producers must think this is a major draw for the series, since this dinosaur evasion sequence ended up eating about thirty minutes of screen time.  Run! Shoot!  Growl!  Scream!  Run some more! But in the end, everyone's okay, and the son has learned important lessons about obeying dad, respecting the rules of Terra Nova, and following the directorial cues for interacting with CGI beasts that aren't actually on set. 

The second episode ends with an attempt to get us invested in the mystery of some inscrutable cave scrawling, folding in a bit more Lost folderol to hook the easily hookable into thinking something more profound might be at work here (beyond a table of writers treading water from week to week).  The scribbling, it would appear, is the work of the Great White Father’s missing son, who now lurks the jungle as a primordial Boo Radley.  Given the already pissy relationship between the men in the Shannon clan, this certainly puts Terra Nova in the running for the most Oedipal series of 2011.  

All in all, Terra Nova is just what you’d expect in a craven attempt to travel back in time to the stronger and more certain entertainment franchises of the golden nineties.  Apparently, though, not everyone was pleased with the two-hour premiere spectacular, as evidenced by the following comment at imdb (the very first, no less):

Apparently, the dinosaurs are bullet proof because they wouldn't take ANY damage! All you saw was a ricochet effect off them, and in some cases they were using a 50 caliber gun mounted on a transport vehicle. This wasn't a plot point or anything so it comes off as very lazy special effects. This then leaves the problem, if the guns don't hurt the dinosaurs, why would you take a weapon out to defend yourself from them if it doesn't work? I mean they had about 6 guys shooting one and it eventually turned and ran. I can see maybe they wanted to tone down the blood and death a bit in the pilot but it came off as a major flaw.

So there you have it, Fox.  You wanted to do science-fiction?  Just remember the type of fans that come with the genre.  This customer won’t be happy until you spend a couple extra million animating some convincing bullet trauma to T-Rex’s face.  And are you ready to withstand the overly long and ridiculously self-righteous letters you will get once you cancel Terra Nova?   Maybe it's not too late to greenlight that new Gordon Ramsey show where he tears down little kids' lemonade stands.  Or, given that Terra Nova's premiere got bested by the second episode of Two and a Half Men, maybe we can look forward to Charlie Sheen emerging from the wormhole at mid-season. That would be Terraterrific!   

UPDATE: Episode 2 (or 3, depending on how you count them) featured a pretty straight forward rip-off of The Birds (1964), with tiny (but deadly!) pterodactyls taking the place of Hitchock's murderous crows.  Episode 3 (or 4) promises an "amnesia virus" sweeping through the compound. Could Terra Nova signal its fundamental contempt for television any more loudly?

Statuary Rape (1959)

Denison Hatch

Self-explanatory, really.  I will step aside and let the book speak for itself.  In honor of this book, I am introducing a new tag: the truly tasteless. 

                                                       Caption: "He says he hates camp."

                                                Caption: "I know your brother has one, dear..."

Caption: "I've told you a thousand times why I can't marry you."