The Binge-Watching Files: Primeval

In the brave new world in which we live, folks rarely watch a show episode by episode.  I should know, as I’m currently watching Breaking Bad that way, and it’s a strange experience.

And when I say, “Watching Breaking Bad,” I certainly don’t mean, “Watching live on TV.” Heavens, no. I’m watching it on AMC’s website after the episodes have been released. I just can’t watch it whole seasons at a time on Netflix, the way I did season 1-5a.

After watching a show seasons-at-a-time, going back to one episode meted out per week is like: 


The future lies, not in plastics, but in streaming shows whole seasons at a time, which is what makes Netflix’s release-them-all-at-once shows House of Cards and Orange is the New Black so genius. 

Most people, when I mention, “Hey, I’m doing this website about TV,” are like “But I don’t watch TV….”



Then they add: “I mean, I watch [this show and that show and that show and this show] via [Hulu/Netflix/Amazon/iTunes/Roku/Apple TV], but I don’t watch, you know, TV.



The definition of “watching TV,” has increasingly shifted from “Channel surfing through DIY channels and sitcom reruns,” to “mainlining via the internet three seasons of some obscure BBC drama in three days.” Or “getting sucked into the latest BBC/HBO/Showtime/AMC award-winner only to panic when you realize you’ve run out of new episodes.” 

I, for one, welcome our new benevolent internet streaming television overlords, and I love that we live in a world in which random  shows released years ago are just as accessible to most of us punters as shows airing now.   Sure, it turns us all into the Battlestar Galactica addicts depicted on Portlandia, but on balance I’d call it a win.

I could, and probably will, write oodles about the benefits of watching a show a season at a time versus watching it episode by episode (I have a lot feelings about that issue), but that’s not what this is about. Instead, I want to periodically report on a show that’s available for binge-watching.

Our current candidate is ITV’s (and BBC America’sPrimeval.

Where is it available to binge? Netflix.

How many seasons are available and is it complete? Five, and yes, it appears so. There’s talk of a feature film, appartently, and there was short-lived North American spin-off that is available on Hulu.

Is there a cliffhanger? How satisfactory is the ending? I’m only in season four, so I don’t know! <bites nails>

How long are the seasons? Most are only six episodes long, typical British-TV style. Season three is unusually long, having 10 episodes. That makes it very satisfactory to binge, as things move pretty fast and you can get a sense of “accomplishment” from finishing a season quickly. Naturally, “accomplishment” is a relative term when you are binge-TV-ing.

So what can we expect from the show? What’s the basic premise? Something that sounds very, very dumb. And is pretty dumb. It involves modern-day scientists in Britain who hunt down dinosaurs. Yes, dinosaurs have somehow appeared in modern-day Britain. 

I know, I know. When I started watching the show, I expected ludicrously bad special effects and cheestastic acting. Basically, what this image would lead you to believe: 


 I found this on a website run by someone called Dan Owen. Hello, fellow Owen! We have the same last name and each run a television website. Soul twins!

But it’s actually a bit better than that. I expected special effects like this, but it’s not like that at all. The CGI is surprisingly good. The very first dinosaur in the very first episode kind of sucks, but as the show goes on, they’ve done some really good creatures. 

I mean, I don’t know what ITV’s budget is, but I can’t imagine it’s huge. Yet what they manage to do with the dinosaurs is impressive and makes me side-eye some American shows that don’t manage to do nearly as well with what has to be a larger budget.

Plus, the mythology Primeval develops behind OMG DINOSAURS IN MODERN DAY TIMEZ! is somewhat interesting — more so than I initially gave the show credit for: I assumed they’d basically be like, LALALALALALA…SOMEHOW…DINOSAURS…LOOK! UH…EVIL SCIENTISTS PLAYS GOD?

But it’s a bit more interesting and complex than that — let’s just say it involves time travel (I said a bit more interesting/complex: nobody’s breaking the box here). And they build on what they have as the show goes on, exploring different implications and complications of the mythology they’ve developed. It doesn’t get to Continuum levels of complexity and moral ambiguity, but it’s interesting. 

Io9 had a great article on how you can tell if a show is going to be any good, even from a lackluster pilot. One important question is, How boring is the “thing of the week” going to be?

Well, Primeval does well in the “Thing of the week” regard. You can expect: 

  • A different creature each episode. The show is smart and didn’t pull out a T-Rex right away (that promo image? That’s a Giganotosaurus, thank you very much, and they smartly didn’t use it till season three). Because the premise of the show means they can use any kind of creature throughout time (including, as it turns out, creatures from the future), there’s a massive variety of scary creatures to be had, and they don’t stick just to the old stand-bys. It’s not always man-eating dinosaurs, but sometimes more subtle threats that don’t seem apparent at first. The gang has been menaced by parasites, worms, and fungus, as well as the more classic saber-tooth tiger, velociraptor and giant scorpion types. Plus, you know, like I said…monsters from the future. Anything is fair game!
  • This means each episode eventually includes a pants-wetting Jurassic Park-like sequence, when the team is trapped by a creature, and they have to come up with a totally new way to defeat the latest opponent. Despite a similar structure to each episode, the new creatures and the challenges of time-travel keep things somewhat fresh.
  • Each episode, for the most part, also advances the larger story arc about what’s behind these appearances and the implications for the future.

Points in the show’s favor

  • The show is really quite effective at playing on your deepest fears. Those who know me know I have a massive fear of sharks, which basically extends to “all creatures in the water.” Most people can sympathize with me on a slight fear of swimming in the ocean or a lake, but they start to think I’m a little crazy when I confess that I have trouble swimming in a pool by myself. (What? Other people somehow make the sea-monsters disappear, obviously). Well, the THIRD EPISODE OF THIS SHOW involves a SEA CREATURE that GETS INTO A PUBLIC SWIMMING POOL. Yes, people get chomped by sea creature (the great grand-daddy of sharks) IN A POOL. THANKS FOR THE FOREVER NIGHTMARES, SHOW.

1x3_Mosasaur_4Come swim with me and be my love!

  • More underwater creatures come in later, too:


Image via here.

  • Another terror I have is being taken over by a strange fungus/virus. I’ve haunted by this ever since learning about the Tree Man (DON’T CLICK ON THAT UNLESS YOU’RE MENTALLY PREPARED. SERIOUSLY, MAYBE JUST DON’T, EVER). Anyway, there’s one episode where people get taken over by a prehistoric fungus and get turned in MUSHROOM CREATURES. (Prompting one of the crueler and funnier lines from my favorite character: “Well this could be tricky to explain to the next of kin. Good news, he’s not technically dead…bad news, he’s turned into a mushroom.”) Anyway, TURNING INTO A MUSHROOM CREATURE <shudders> Newest, biggest fear. 

 3x5creature2I was a man…like five minutes ago.

  • Characters can actually die. The show really sold me with the fourth episode: it took a few plot twists I didn’t quite see coming. For awhile it seemed like it was going to be a lighthearted episode, and then it took a dark turn, actually allowing a secondary character to die. The result was surprisingly moving, and let the “nerd” characters be more than cardboard cut-outs for a moment. Primeval isn’t on the skillful angst level of Dr. Who or Torchwood, but they’re clearly influenced by those shows, and darned if the occasional Primeval episode doesn’t get to you. Plus, eventually even main characters die. No one is really safe.
  • The time-travel element gives things deeper implications without the show ever getting too involved. I didn’t really expect the show to make me think about the Big Questions, and it doesn’t, mostly. But it does raise some interesting ideas. For example, because they can go to the future, there’s a question of what animals will eventually take over from humans on the planet, just as we did with the dinosaurs. So there’s a whole “could you/should you change the apocalyptic future” element and a “could you/should you interfere with human evolution,” element. Things that make you go “hmmm”.
  • It’s an excellent show to watch while you’re doing something else. This may seem like faint praise, but the creature action sequences make it an ideal show to watch while multi-tasking. I’ve been packing, and it’s a great “watching while packing” show. You can only half-pay-attention and still get the major points.
  • Cute people! Naturally, it’s television, so the people are cute. In season three, there’s a lady who looks like an older, more intelligent Kim Kardashian. Seriously, removed from Kim Kardashian’s personality, I finally got her appeal. She’s cute! When she’s not Kim Kardashian.


Laila Rouass as Sara. Plus, bonus for being the only character of color (the show does not do well in the diversity regard, in any sense).

Strikes against

  • You’ll notice I didn’t mention “really engaging characters!” as pro. Some of the characters grow on you over time, but it’s hard to say that there are any favorites.  The show went right to the cliche bank for these guys:

For instance, Connor. He’s a nerd! Which is painfully and humorouslessly established from the beginning (HE LIKES STAR WARS YOU GUYS!) Despite being played by an actor who’s arguably better-looking and definitely more charming than anyone else in the cast, we’re meant to pretend that Connor is repulsive, especially to the opposite sex.


How can you bear to look upon Andrew Lee Potts? He’s DISGUSTING!


Thus he can only befriend and pine for punk-y Abby…


Abby being…Abby.

Whose main qualities are that…erm…she has a punky hair cut? Oh, and she wears t-shirts with punk bands on them sometimes! And…she likes lizards! That’s all I got.

At first, Abby prefers Stephen to Connor…Because Stephen is apparently broodingly good looking, even though his hair is strangely spiky and he wears leather jackets that are too big for him. 


He also has terrible taste in sweaters:


 This really doesn’t convey the full horror of this sweater. Image via here. 

Then there’s Cutter, who runs the team. But he doesn’t listen to authority very well! ‘Cause he’s a MAVERICK! We know this because he is described as a “maverick.”

Cutter spends a lot of time disobeying the orders of and bossing around his oestisble superior, this lady, who works for the government:


Claudia Brown, boss lady who gets bossed. Image via here. 

The show would like you to know that a man bossing around a lady who is supposedly in charge of him is very attractive.  Cutter spends a great deal of the first season bossing Boss-lady around, which is apparently very swoon-worthy. MAYBE SHE’S A BUREAUCRAT, BUT HE’S TRYING TO SAVE LIVES HERE ETC! Even, though, technically speaking at the beginning of the show they’re all kind of learning about this dinosaur-hunting thing at the same time…so there’s really no particular reason he should be in charge…BUT HE JUST KNOWS IN HIS GUT HE’S RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING AND HE ALWAYS IS.

nickcutter1 It says something about how annoying I find this character that even his dreamy Scottish accent and bright blue eyes can’t make me like him. The accent’s pretty dreamy and the eyes are pretty blue, though. Image via tv boyfriends, though Cutter would NEVER be mine, accent or no. Plus, the other, British actors are always shouting his name, making every episode full of people shouting “CUTT-AH! CUTT-AH!” Even his name is somehow annoying. 


When another maverick-y male, Danny, is introduced, he does exactly the same thing. Even though Danny knows nothing about dinosaur hunting (like, literally, he’s just learned that dinosaurs were a thing), he tries to take control of a mission because HE JUST KNOWS IN HIS GUT HE’S RIGHT OKAY?

Danny Quinn 1

I can’t even with this picture. Image via here. 

At first Boss-lady nominally protests, then she almost gets killed and he saves her, then she cedes control of the team to him. Maverick-y Alpha Males for the win!

In one early episode, Cutter demands that Boss-lady take off her shirt — for the mission, you see — and she runs around in her slip. I wouldn’t mind this, but in the very same episode, Stephen has to take off his shirt, but we don’t actually see him shirtless. If you’re going to go with partial nudity, at least make it equal-opportunity! 


Image via this rather obnoxious review, which notes, “Has Daddy found some new Sci-Fi TV eye candy? You bet Jurassic!”


Look, I have no objection to hot ladies in a state of undress. Quite the reverse.  It’s just that a) severe lack of equal opportunity objectification and b) most of the “partial undress” scenes above are incredibly stupid and contrived and not nearly as funny as the show seems to think they are. For instance, Abby in her underwear? She opens her front door in her underwear, which no lady would actually do, ever. “Repulsive” Connor is at the door and asks her to kiss him so that his mates who are ogling from a distance will think they’re sleeping together. HILARIOUS AND BELIEVABLE, AMIRITE? 

The show does finally offer some equal opportunity objectification in Season Four, when they seem to have figured out that Connor isn’t repulsive:


Ugh, what a nerd. Seriously, I can’t bear to look. Image via here, one of the very-unattractive actor’s many fan sites.

In fact, I often find the main cast so annoying that the character I root for is their bureaucratic governmental overlord, Lester. Lester wears sweet suits, is always unflappable, and generally bemoans everything. In most other shows, he’d be the villain, but it says something about this show that he’s my favorite character.



I’m generally Team Lester-Fires-Everyone.



The show does figure out Lester’s appeal as it goes on, and gives him more to do.  

  • Also, yes, it’s great that characters can die, but it can also be a bit much. In season three the cast changes up so much I wondered how they kept up with the changing credits. In season four they gave up and just put monsters in the credits. There is such as a thing as TOO much character death. 
  • The characters that don’t die do evolve a little, but in a painstakingly slow way.  Connor and Abby do develop and change, but it’s slooooooooooow. And for the most part, characters are who they seem to be from first introduction. 
  •    Romance progresses at a glacial pace or not at all.  This can be a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it, but all flirtations/romances that occur on this show  move at a crawlingly slow pace and due to all the deaths may never progress beyond, like, one kiss or a little “witty” banter. . .So if romance is your deal when watching shows, be warned. Luckily I don’t like any of the characters enough to worry too much about their romantic lives.
  • OKAY, OKAY, OKAY! Maybe the show has made me care about Conner and Conner/Abby a little bit. They eventually do get quite sympathetic and sweet.
  • connor_and_abbyImage via here.

Carebear STARE!

Binge-watching verdict: Solid B. Perfect for background binging!

Any uncredited images via the Primeval Wiki.