Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles – 1st look

TV Squad – One of the better benefits of this job is that I can sometimes see television shows in advance of their premiere. This time around I was given an advance DVD of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles which contained the first two episodes (“Pilot” and “Gnothi Seauton”). I’m a fan of the franchise, although admittedly I wasn’t that big a fan of Terminator 3.This show is done by the same company that was behind Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and the upcoming Terminator 4. It was originally to be titled The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I guess the creators were concerned that nobody would recognize the franchise without the word “Terminator”. Such title ambiguity did not hurt Smallville, but I digress.

TV Squad already did a script review of the pilot, but what follows is a review of the finished product.

Major spoilers after the jump…

The show begins in 1999 between the second and third movies. Sarah Connor (played by Brit actress Lena Heady) is on the run with her son John (played by Thomas Decker). They have to be very careful about not revealing their true identities to anyone or anything because if they leave any sort of clue as to their location in history, Sky net will send back Terminators from the future to kill them. This exact same premise has been used in the Terminator comic books.

Sarah is trying to live a quiet life in order to keep her son John safe so he can eventually save the world while avoiding their heavy, metal stalkers from the future. Sadly, they’re not careful enough and the bad Terminators find them. But, as we learned in T2, not all Terminators are bad. A good Terminator (played by Serenity‘s Summer Glau) finds and protects them. She even finds them by pretending to be a student at John’s school, thus achieving a level of subtlety and humanity that Arnold’s Terminator could never hope to achieve. Hell, Arnold’s character was never even given a name beyond “Terminator” or “T-101”. Summer’s Terminator is named Cameron (get the reference?). She’s quite the combination of grace and ass-kicking.

Near the end of the first episode, our intrepid crew of heroes (Sarah, John and Cameron) time travel forward to 2007 thanks to some equipment left to them in a bank vault by resistance fighters of the future. The reason for this is to attempt to destroy Sky net, which was supposedly destroyed in T2. Of course, the Connors travel ling forward in time entirely contradicts T3. Truthfully, since the second movie the franchise has been built on chronological inconsistencies, self-contradictions and the idea that history can be changed. This happens with most time-travel shows. If such things bother you then this series is probably not your bag.

The second episode deals with the Terminator from 1999 recovering from supposed destruction and continuing pursuit in 2007. To get new identities, Sarah has to deal with some shady characters from her past while John goes out to a mall, defying his mother’s orders to stay in the house. Cameron joins Sarah and learns about humanity as she goes.

The show is built around two science-fiction cliche’s. The first is time-travel. The second is the robot (or alien or outsider-type) that is trying to become human. Both are more attempts to teach us about ourselves than true science. Both were used in T2 and afterwards.

The special effects of the show seem decent, but they’re not up to its motion-picture predecessors. That would make sense considering the bigger budgets of movies. The show, while having some action scenes, concentrates less on them and more on character development which also makes sense given the serial nature of television. It wouldn’t surprise me if Cameron and John fall in love in future episodes. Never would there have been such a union of natural enemies since Buffy and Angel.

The show also leads to the question of canon. The time travel rules are bent and broken a lot in the first two episodes of the show. In the new continuity, I question if the third movie even happened (and that may not be a bad thing).

I do feel the franchise suffers without the hand of James Cameron in it, however he pretty much told the story he wanted to tell in the first two movie and doesn’t want or need future involvement. I say let him stay uninvolved. He created two classic Hollywood movies and let him reap the rewards of such.

Despite my somewhat negative commentary, I did enjoy the two episodes. I think the performances by Lena Headey and Summer Glau make the show not just watchable, but good. I would give the show more of a chance with future episodes. While I’ve read that the first four seasons have been plotted out, I don’t see how the show could be sustained for more than one season. I don’t think it could be kept interesting for that long. It’s a good thing it’s on the Fox Network, then; they tend to pull the plug on sci-fi shows after a season, anyway.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles premieres on Fox on Sunday, January 13, at 8 PM ET, before settling into its normal timeslot on Monday, January 14, at 9 PM ET.

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