Review - BBC America's 'Primeval'

'Primeval' castmembers (left to right) Hannah Spearritt, Douglas Henshall, Ben Miller, and Lucy Brown

What would you do if a dinosaur crashes through your bedroom window and sees your kid as its next meal? How about 40 foot long centipedes who put the fear in subway rats or if your wife is literally millions upon millions of years away from you?

That’s just three of the questions posed by the sci-fi series Primeval, which is making its debut on BBC America this Saturday (August 9th) at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Starting Douglas Henshall (best remembered in the U.S. for his portrayal of TE Lawrence in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles) as Professor Nick Cutter, the series operates on the premise that various “anomalies” are popping up throughout the UK. They turn out to be portals to various other periods of British history. And the thing is, these portals are two-way. Creatures of all shapes and sizes from the Jurassic or Paleolithic period can not only wind up in contemporary times, but modern explorers can wind up back in those eras as well.

The series succeeds because producers/creators Tim Haines and Adrian Hodges have made Primeval much more than just your monster of the week splatter-fest. The didn't forget the human element. Two other important characters in the series are Lucy Brown (played by Claudia Brown) and Sir James Lester (Ben Miller), operatives of the government’s intelligence division. As the more cynical Lester puts it, “We tried to plan for any kind of emergency, including alien invasions. But nothing like this.”

And honestly, ten-foot long tarantulas attacking subway workers is not something one usually plans for.

The series also deals with the sometimes tricky sci-fi issue of time paradoxes. It isn’t necessarily the much-explored idea that if one touches a butterfly's wing in the past you might return to the present to find the Roman Empire still in charge. In Primeval it’s more a case that Cutter and company just have no clue what may happen given the potential paradoxes springing up around them. This makes for some interesting discussions in addition to the action sequences.

Like all solid science fiction series, Primeval surrounds its lead with an equally important cast of side experts. This includes Cutter’s personal protégé Connor Temple (Andrew Lee Potts), super geek Stephen Hart (James Murray), and zoologist Abbie Maitland (Hannah Spearitt). The chemistry between this crew quickly settles into a sharp and enjoyable mix. Maitland also provides much needed eye candy for fans who love that element.

Still, the big mystery in Primeval is not the big lizards popping up in people’s back yards. It’s the anomalies also popping up in the strangest of places, as well as Cutter’s wife Helen (Juliet Aubrey) doing the same. Based on the first two episodes previewed here, it implies there’s something much more complex going on. It’s a La Brea Tar Pit of a mystery, and if Cutter himself isn’t careful, he could end up drowning in it… not even mentioning ending up dino kibble.

Already having aired in the United Kingdom for two seasons (13 episodes), Primeval is apparently surviving the Doctor Who comparisons in its native country and thriving on its own. So set your watches for Saturday at 9:00 p.m. As this series progresses one gets the feeling there’s going to be some interesting surprises popping up in the very near future…or should we say the past?

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