Brook Rushton/Fox
EW Staff
September 15, 2011 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Terra Nova opens in 2149 amid a Chicago landscape blighted by pollution and the destructive effects of global warming. Residents must wear masks to breathe, and the sight of an orange can set a family like the Shannons — Jim and Elisabeth (Life on Mars‘ Jason O’Mara and British actress Shelley Conn) and their children, Josh (Landon Liboiron), Maddy (Naomi Scott), and Zoe (Alana Mansour) — alight with glee. Things are bleak. But the recent discovery of a fracture in time has prompted a series of ”Pilgrimages” filled with brave (or perhaps foolhardy) folk who embark on a one-way trip to Terra Nova, a settlement on prehistoric, Cretaceous-period Earth where they can literally start fresh. Desperate, the Shannons decide to go. Jim, a former police officer, hasn’t seen his brood in two years, since he was jailed when population-control officers learned about his third child, a no-no in dystopian Chicago.

Along with their fellow travelers — the so-called 10th Pilgrimage — the Shannons come under the cagey leadership of Commander Nathaniel Taylor (played by grizzled Avatar baddie Stephen Lang, who was handpicked by executive producer Steven Spielberg), the inaugural resident. Meanwhile, a rogue group of residents called the Sixers keep attacking the settlers for unknown reasons. And then there are those pesky dinosaurs, which hover just outside the camp’s not-quite-impenetrable barrier fence. ”If the Shannons can survive,” says exec producer Brannon Braga, ”maybe humanity has a chance by extension. That notion mirrors what the whole show is about, which is second chances. Humanity has been given a second chance to do things right.” (Sept. 26)Nicholas Fonseca

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