Early in the developmental life of this show, Fox decided to expand its title, adding the preceding “Terminator” to “The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” So if you’re still unsure, yes my dear, this show is part of the Terminator world. Kinda sorta (more on the qualification in a bit). Without having seen the first episode, I was a bit skeptical about the show’s possibility of success. I mean, yes, Terminator 3 pulled in $150 million and there’s been a touch of subdued hype over the impending Terminator 4 (seriously, Christian Bale, what are you doing getting involved with this?). But are folks really chomping at the bit for T-TV? After having seen the first episode, I still don’t know if folks will by crying out “I want my T-TV,” but if they are, they just may get it.
The premise of the show is pretty straightforward. We pick up with Sarah Connor (Lena Heady takes over the role made famous by Linda Hamilton) and her son John (Thomas Dekker ) in 1999. That is, it’s two years after the original judgment day was supposed to happen, the one that was stopped by the events of T2. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Sarah and John are still living on the run, worried about terminators coming to cap the young Connor boy (I say the reasons for their fear aren’t clear because, as far as they know, melting Arnie in T2 was the last straw to ensure no Computer Uprising). Over the course of the episode, we meet two terminators — a baddie robot trying to kill John, and another one sent from the future to help protect the lad. That protective terminator, Cameron, comes in the form of Summer Glau (“Firefly” and “The Unit”). Both she and the baddie terminator appear to be upgrades of Arnie’s Model 101 terminator, although they’re certainly not as advanced as Robert Patrick’s T-1000 (the melty/morphy terminator of the second flick). We know this is for budgetary reasons, of course, but the show explains it by having Cameron say she comes from 2027. This doesn’t really explain it, until you do a little research and learn that this means she probably predates the T-1000’s, since Robert Patrick’s model came from 2029.
Now to some extent, it may seem like I’m getting excessively nerdy about this but, of course, that’s half the point of any SciFi-based show with its own mythology. However, it doesn’t appear that one needs to know much about the films to get into the show. In fact, it turns out you don’t need to know a damn thing about Terminator 3, as the show’s creators have said that the flick has no bearing on the show, and they consider it to take place in an alternate timeline. So while Judgment Day in that flick took place in 2004, we learn in the first episode that our TV version of Judgment Day comes in 2011. Now it may just be that they wanted to, wisely, disassociate themselves from the cruddy third flick, but there’s another reason for this divergence which becomes clear by the end of the episode. And while that reason is likely a good move from the sense of the show’s budget, it could also lead to some interesting things in the show as well.
The question, as always, is whether it’s worth our time to stick around and find out if they are, in fact, going to do any interesting things. And for now, I’m on board. The show’s not great, but it came off as entirely competent. While the writing isn’t “Battlestar Galactica” or “Firefly,” it’s not bad, and certainly above what many have come to expect from SciFi. And they’ve wisely decided, at least initially, to pinch the tone and tenor of the second flick (the whole opening tease is so stolen from the flick, in fact, that it loses a little of its power to those who are still familiar with T2). Meanwhile, the acting, like the writing, is right down the middle. I’ll never say anything truly bad about Summer Glau, but the verdict is still out on whether she can pull off the tough side of her terminator character. Ditto that for Heady, who has the added burden of taking over a pretty iconic movie role. She’s not bad, but I just found myself comparing her performance to Linda Hamilton’s, and they’re not quite at the same level. But in both instances, I found myself less distracted by the end of the premiere, so maybe it’s just a matter of getting used to them. I’m still a bit more unsure about Dekkar’s performance as John Connor, but hell — if I could put up with Edward Furlong in T2, I can certainly live with Dekkar.
Of course, many folks will be tuning in for some hot robot-on-Connor killing action, and the first episode doesn’t disappoint on that front. But one shouldn’t expect this every week — the creators have said that we won’t see a terminator-of-the-week setup, which is probably a wise decision, as shows that get too formulaic also tend to get rather boring. So while I expect we’ll still get some terminator-of-the-week bits, we’ll also be following Sarah and John trying to put the kibosh on the development of the newest version of Skynet, the computer network which is gonna blow all us human-types up to kingdom come. And we’ll also be following the FBI as it tries to track Sarah down (recall she’s wanted for a litany of crimes, and the Feds attribute all her crazed “robots want to kill my son talk” to a bit of the ol’ instable mind). With some good writing, these plotlines should sustain the show, with the added occasional terminator business providing some nice punctuation.
Now some of you might be saying: “Mr. Whore, this is SciFi on Fox. SciFi doesn’t usually do so good on the TV, and Fox doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of faith when you look at its record of botched rollouts, so should I really invest my precious time?” Fair question, reader. And despite my own misgivings about Fox, I think this show will at least see a full run of its shortened first season, for two reasons. First, Fox has actually been promoting the hell out of it, and it’ll be paired up with “Prison Break” on Monday nights, which is a pretty good fit. But more importantly, I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this in any of my recent columns, but there’s this writers strike going on. So folks hungry from some non-reality TV may tune in when, in years past, they wouldn’t. Plus, Fox doesn’t exactly have much else on its plate to put up in place of “Connor” so, unless the numbers are abysmal, it doesn’t have much choice but to stick with the show.
To be fair, I’m not sure I’d be willing to stick with this show in a non-strike situation — sure, it’s not bad, but it’s also not very compelling. But at this point, I’ll take a little action/drama, even if it’s only second-rate action/drama. Plus, as I’ve said, there was just enough potential in the premiere that they could surprise me by putting together a decent show. Although I will say this — Summer’s terminator has already used the “come with me if you want to live” line. If she says “hasta la vista, baby,” honest to frakking gods, I will quit this show on the spot.
(“Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” airs Monday nights on Fox at 9 p.m., although its two-day premiere will kick off this Sunday, January 13.)
Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television editor. He’s usually up on casting news, but he was quite surprised to see that a role had been recast from last April’s pilot, with Dean Winters taking over. You can never go wrong with some Ryan O’Reily.
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"Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" / The TV Whore
Jan. 3, 2008
TV | January 10, 2008 | Comments ()