The Dog Days Of Summer (Or Shows You Don’t Watch But Should): PRIMEVAL

This post was written for the site by Erik B.

For American audiences, trying to watch British Television can be a
nightmarish experience.  The only easy option is to watch them on BBC
America, but that’s been problematic in recent years.  BBC America
often waits for over a year before putting a show on the air, making
it hard to know when the show will start.  They also pull shows off
the air with very little notice (such as the recent disappearance of
the 2nd season of “Ashes to Ashes”, which vanished quite literally in
the week between the end of the 1st season and the scheduled start of
the 2nd.)

Every other option gets more complicated.  Although the British
networks have streaming video (like any other network these days), you
can’t get the video to work unless you live in Great Britain (or are
tech savvy enough to find a good proxy server to make the sites THINK
you live there).  Other sites that DO work in the U.S. often have
massive pop-up window issues or malware problems.  Pay sites such as
ITunes sometimes have the shows available and sometimes not, without
much rhyme or reason.   Finally, even DVDs can take forever to come
out (such as the British version of “Life on Mars”, which is only now
finally getting released on our side of the pond.)

So you can’t be blamed for not having watched the sci-fi/fantasy
combination show “Primeval”.  But you SHOULD be watching it.  And
here’s why: It’s a dynamic, fast-paced, brave in its plot choices
adventure show about creatures from the past (and the future)
appearing in our world and the brave souls who try and keep them from
destroying it.

In its most basic form, Primeval is a show about monsters.  In fact,
you could even call it the ultimate ‘Monster of the Week’ show because
you’ll see a new creature almost every week.  The premise is simple:
“Anomalies” begin to appear in England and creatures from other times
(such as dinosaurs and mastodons) come through the anomalies and wreak
havoc.  A team of scientists (and eventually military specialists)
gets put together to try and understand these anomalies and deal with
what creatures come through them.  All three seasons (or ‘series’ as
British TV calls them) have followed this general formula.  So what
you see from the beginning you’ll continue to see throughout.

But if you think that’s all Primeval is about, you’ve not taken a good
look at it.  Weaving through the show is a deeper, more involved story
about the team members’ pasts and futures, as well as ongoing thematic
discussions about the impact of mankind (and individuals) on history
and the world.  As the seasons go on, these
not-connected-to-the-monster stories become stronger and more deeply
emotional.  That leads to a show that is stronger now after 3 seasons
than most shows ever reach.  Let me give you some examples (without
giving out any real spoilers–and believe me, this show has some huge
ones.)

Season 1 of Primeval is largely about setting the stage of the world
for the show.  The anomalies appear, as do the creatures, and a team
is put together to try and deal with both.  This team is led by Nick
Cutter (played by Douglas Henshall), an evolutionary biologist.  He
soon realizes that the anomalies are, effectively, worm-holes that
connect modern day locations in England with locations throughout the
past.  The creatures that are appearing are actually from those other
times who just happen to walk into the sparkling worm-holes and come
out into our world.  Throughout the first season, Cutter’s team
attempts to deal with these anomalies.  At the same time, Cutter
learns that his wife Helen, whom he thought dead, has actually been
traveling through the anomalies.  When he finds her, it turns out she
has a very different agenda than he does.  She seems to want to
control the anomalies for some reason.  The end of Season 1 shows us
the ramifications of interfering with the past when a choice Cutter
makes quite literally changes the world of his present.

Season 2 gives Cutter’s team better funding but also more bureaucracy
as the team now has a director who reports directly to the British
government.  This season spends much of its time dealing with the
ramifications of Helen’s determined plan to gain control of the
anomalies, even if that means interfering with Cutter’s team.  It is
also the season where we learn that anomalies don’t just link to the
past–they also link to the future (since from the future’s point of
view, WE are the past.)  The future shows us creatures that are
extremely dangerous, as well as suggesting that what is happening in
the present may have something to do with what is to come.  Finally,
the season ends with a major attempt to wrest control of the anomalies
for good, largely dependant on a traitor in Cutter’s team who has
begun to work for Helen.

Season 3 is where the show’s deeper questions become the main thrust
of the plot.  Over the course of this season, several characters are
either killed or removed in other ways, and each loss of a character
can be directly tied to the impact of these anomalies on both the
world and the ongoing psychological health of those who deal with
them.  The show has finally finished its move away from “Monster of
the Week” that began in Season 2 and has now become a show about the
people who fight the anomalies, not the anomalies themselves.  The
military also becomes a much more important aspect of the show this
season, which only makes sense given how close the team has come to
letting the world know about these holes in previous seasons.

Is Primeval a deep show?  No, it’s not–but it’s not designed to be
so.  The questions it poses are typical of those posed by any
time-traveling show, although they’re done with real style here.  The
digital effects are almost always good for television, and each season
they’ve gotten dramatically better.  The acting is top notch–not
always the case when you’re trying to realistically play someone who
suddenly sees a giant praying mantis monster crawl across the ceiling
above you.  The supporting cast is great with almost no exceptions,
and gets better each season.  And since British TV has much shorter
seasons than we do in the US, the plot moves much faster.  In fact,
Primeval does more with its plot in one short British season than many
similar shoes (including X-Files) did in two full American seasons.

Primeval is a show designed to bring out the kid in you–that kid who
always wanted to be able to play with a dinosaur and now gets to watch
people who actually DO.  It’s designed to creep you out when giant
centipedes come swarming over oil cans directly at the camera or when
creatures from the future smash through windows, howling their creepy
howl.  It’s an adventure show with class, a monster show with heart.
And thanks to Britain’s television standards that are stricter about
violence than ours are, it’s a show that can (and does) show people
getting ripped apart by a raptor and can still be a family show (and I
have friends whose entire family watches, the youngest 10 and the
oldest 55.)  It melds fantasy and sci-fi into a genuinely fun show,
something that’s been sadly lacking in much of recent television.

And with the 3rd season playing on BBC America currently and the 4th
season still to come, now would be the perfect time to strap on your
goggles, lock-and-load your shotgun and leap through the glittering
sphere that’s the portal to Primeval.

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15 responses to “The Dog Days Of Summer (Or Shows You Don’t Watch But Should): PRIMEVAL

  1. Pingback: Twitted by NotErikBlair

  2. Primeval is really good, unpretentious, fun. Emphasis on the unpretentious, showing that the writer is confident enough not to spend the show trying to prove to the world how clever he/they are.

    It is a contrast with American Scifi where most writers have an inferiority complex about the genre they are in, and spend most of the time trying to prove they are clever. This resulting in pretentious products that forget that TV is supposed to be fun too. Just look at TSCC or Dollhouse.

  3. Two things:

    1. Stop trying to force a line length with the constant insertions of the ‘br’ tag. Then the text looks weird on some (like mine) screens, just let it be paragraphs which reflow for easier reading by the public.

    and

    2. Primeval? You gotta be kidding? 99% running and screaming, 1% dialog which is predictable, cliched, derivative, unimaginative and predictable. No surprises for any under 20 *g*

  4. RickyG, that is the beauty of Primeval. it doesn’t pretend to be nothing else either. It is not like crap or fluff pretending to be more than crap or fluff, and forgeting to be entertaining. Llike TSCC, Dollhouse, or Pushing Daisies in the fluff department. Shows that only fool the moderately educated that have pretension of looking more clever than they really are, just like the creators of those shows.

  5. You can also download Primeval off iTunes. Not sure how many seasons they have on there, but they were giving away the Pilot a while back.

  6. Its close to being cancelled due to budget cuts although a US version is hitting screens soon apparently

  7. Primeval seems to be like another version of Dr. Who which spends a lot of its time running from aliens/monsters too.

    Doesn’t Primeval have high ratings in the UK? Why would budget cuts affect it?

    Primeval is also playing on Fridays for people like me who are to cheap to buy it on iTunes and don’t get BBC America.

  8. …Fridays on the Sci-Fi(Sy-Fy) channal that is.

  9. It effects it as even though ratings are good, due to the CGI etc, its still not doing good enough to warrant the high budget.

    Networks are cutting costs everywhere

  10. WHat a great review. But did I miss it or is this thing available on BBC America or not? I want to see it now!

  11. Never mind. I now know where to check it out…free on S-Fy I go.

  12. Primeval is airing season 3 on BBC America and I’m not sure if they are on season 1 or 2 on SyFy.

    As for the review, I watch this show because its fun and because I can watch it with my 9 year old son. Its one of the few sci-fi shows we can watch together. It is fluff and I agree that it doesn’t seem to pretend to be anything else.

    Its interesting the two shows that have been suggested thus far, Supernatual and Primeval. I recently got into a discussion on these two shows with the other person suggestion that Primeval was far superior to Supernatural. I disagreed saying that Primeval was like cotton candy, all air and sugar. Good but not very filling. Supernatural was more a 5 course meal leaving you completely satisfied. For me there is room for both shows because sometimes you want fluff and sometimes you need a meatier show to sink you teeth into.

  13. My advice when it comes to Primeval is simple, avoid the first two seasons.

    The third (and most recent) season has been a dramatic improvement on what has until now been a dire series and that’s thanks to the departure of several members of cast and the introduction of new and more dynamic cast members. The show itself is still incredibly flawed from a dramatic and character stand point but improvements have been made and it does seem to have found its feet this year. The irony is that now its finally found its feet there’s some doubt about whether it will come back.

    ITV (the network that air the show) aren’t happy with how much its costing them vs. advertising returns so something is likely going to have to give. There’s been a lot of talk about it becoming a co-production with a UK cable provider (the UK version of Sci-Fi is the leading contender) but I’m not sure how keen ITV would be on airing a repeat of episodes already shown on cable, which is what’s been discussed right now. Of course there’s also every chance that a Canadian or US broadcaster will step in. Primeval USA is currently in development with on of the Canadian networks and Warner Brothers have just brought movie rights for the show.

    As it is though Primeval would be way down the list of UK shows that I would recommend anyone track down. US audience will probably have problems with the effects shots as well.

  14. For the person that asked Primeval does strong but not stellar numbers. It is at this point one of ITV’s strongest scripted shows but that doesn’t say a whole lot given the general state of scripted content at ITV, which isn’t good. If it were cheaper ITV wouldn’t hesitate to bring it back but as things stand I don’t know if the ratings are big enough to justify the budget, which would present a problem or two for the show.

    On a related note since it was also mention, Primeval was in fact introduced as ITV’s answer to the BBC’s Doctor Who revival. It has ultimately been dwarfed by the massive success of Who although ironically quality wise I think Primeval has had the opposite trajectory to Doctor Who, its gotten better whilst Who has undoubtedly gotten worse with each season. Hopefully Stephen Moffat can change that when he takes over next year.

  15. Bad news Primeval fans, ITV have axed the show and there will be no fourth season.