Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles- A Review

January 14th, 2008 | Posted in General

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Okay this is a little creepy…

Writer’s strike or not, it looks like NBC’s The Bionic Woman is in total system failure. I wrote about the show after it’s premiere, basically saying there might be promise but I would have to wait and see.

Who knew the mediocre first episode would be the best one, and it would be all downhill from there?

I wanted to like the show, but between horrible miscasting and even worse writing it needs to get it’s bionic plug pulled. Rumors have been flying about it’s cancellation while it is on hiatus during the writer’s strike, but unless they can do a bionic personality/acting transplant on star Michelle Ryan, or find the writers a clue, there is no point on bringing it back. NBC says it has committed to more episodes so it will return, but… why?

Last night another sci-fi show based on a previous series premiered, this time on Fox, and maybe this is the program that will what The Bionic Woman should have been.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is a new show on Fox based on, you guessed it, the Terminator movies starring Ah-nuld Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton and others. The premise of the show is focused on Hamilton’s Sarah Connor character and her son John. Briefly, for the six people out there who aren’t familiar with the story, Sarah Connor was an ordinary waitress in 1984 who suddenly found herself the target of a cyborg assassin from the future bent on her death at all costs. Protected by a man from the same future, she learns that in the future an artificially intelligent US defense network declares war on humanity, and machines take over the world while nearly eradicating the human race. Connor is to be the mother of a son who grows up to lead the remaining humans to victory against the machines. Near defeat, they send back in time a “Terminator” to kill Connor before she can give birth to this son, John Connor, thereby preventing that future. The original Terminator fails but another turns up years later, then another years after that. In these cases Future John sends back a Terminator programed to protect his younger self and his mother. Death and many large explosions ensue.

SPOILERS AHEAD-

The TV show is set after the second film’s events (when John was 10) and before the third film, when John is an adult. In the show, a teenage John (Thomas Dekker) and his mother (Lena Headey) are living in hiding in 1999, and are discovered by a Terminator (Owain Yeoman) after a relocation. John is attacked at school and saved by a female classmate (Summer Glau) who turns out to also be a Terminator, but the good kind. Much of the episode is spent setting up the premise for the rest of the series, that being the renewed pursuit of a way to stop the machine apocalypse and prevent that future from occurring. Along the way they are pursued by the Terminator, and they have no weapons that can do him serious damage. In the end they visit a bank deposit box room which turns out to be a plant from the future, built in 1963, that hides both an anti-Terminator weapon and a time machine for them to make their escape. They jump forward in time to 2007, where the female Terminator says they must go to stop the destruction of mankind.

The show was better than I expected in some respects, but misses the boat in a few others… mainly those where inevitable comparisons to the original movies are unavoidable. The writers keep fairly tightly to the Terminator mythos from the films, and where there is departure it is foreshadowed that there will be reasons later divulged.

What I liked-

  • Summer Glau- at first she seemed to be acting a little too human and was not convincing in the classic Terminator sense. The movie Terminators passed as humans easily enough, but were always a little “off” in a sort of soulless way. Summer Glau, best known for her role as River Tam in the TV show “Firefly” and the film “Serenity” seemed a little too quick to smile and show subtle emotion as Cameron Phillips, and her little girly voice was just too teenybopper when she was in “Terminator mode”. However what first seemed a glaring flaw to me quickly turned into a strength. As the story progressed, there were hints that this was no ordinary Terminator, and she was not going to turn out to be what she seemed. A brief interaction with John while on the run shows that there is something more than programming with her, and she’s going to prove more than just a newer Terminator with better human traits. Under that pretext, the casting of Glau is perfect and I am totally sold on her. She has a certain creepiness to her look… giving her the Terminator feel but under a lot more layers. I hope the story-line really goes somewhere with that. Great potential there.
  • John Conner- Another nice piece of casting. Heroes Thomas Dekker doesn’t have a lot to work with in the pilot but he pulls off the character well. He’s angry and resentful of his life on the run, but he’s seen enough to know there is no getting around it. Dekker show some vulnerability but also some hints of steel that maybe we’ll see emerge in his character. He doesn’t play Connor as a whiny brat, but gives him some complexity, likability and some sympathy.
  • Special FX- Nicely done without being overdone. The final scene in the bank in particular was well executed. Hopefully the series will not spare the FX eye candy like The Bionic Woman was guilty of, and like Heroes sometimes is.

What I didn’t Like-

  • The Terminator- It’s tough to fill Ah-nuld’s shoes, but the movie casting of Robert Patrick as the T-1000 proved you don’t need to be a hulking bodybuilder to pull off a menacing Terminator. While the action was pretty good and the actions of the character were written correctly, Owain Yeoman just didn’t come off as a Terminator. He looks more like Jethro from “The Beverly Hillbillies” than a killing machine from the future. They should have gone less massive and more menacing. I thought one of the guys from the last two Matrix movies that played any of the Agents would have made great Terminators. Oh well, he’s been destroyed. I can only hope subsequent terminators are of a different model.
  • The FBI Storyline- Sarah Connor is an escaped mental patient linked to the murders of dozens of police officers and others in 1985, destroyed a massive computer research facility and killed at least one guy (Miles Dyson, although she didn’t really kill him) and caused catastrophic property destruction in 1999… and the FBI has ONE guy (Richard T. Jones) looking for her. A guy with almost no pulse, no less. If he was a more intense, hard-line kind of customer it might seem like more of a threat, but right now it’s around the “Jack Magee/Dr. David Banner” part of the menace scale… i.e. no threat at all. The FBI storyline either needs to get beefed up or dropped.

What the jury is out on-

  • Sarah Connor- Linda Hamilton’s transformation from a soft, round-faced, doe-eyed 80’s girl in the original Terminator to the hardcore, totally ripped, driven and partially insane bad ass in T2 was one of the most amazing in Sci-Fi history. There is no way anyone was going to duplicate that, so perhaps they chose not to try. Her total dedication to military prowess and knowledge and her unbalanced mind were key points to her character in T2… I am just not sure this new Sarah Connor is going to work. I know we can’t have her be the whackjob she was in the movie… it would be a short lived series if we did. Headey does play it tough in places but with a lot more vulnerability than Hamilton ever did. We’ll see if this TV Sarah retains enough of the movie Sarah to drive the show while still giving us reasons to care about her.
  • The Plot- If all we get here is a quest to stop Armageddon while Terminators pop up and try and kill Sarah and Co., we might as well turn off the Tivo and pop in T2. Been there, done that. I don’t think that is in store for us, at least not entirely. Like The Bionic Woman’s pilot, there was plenty of foreshadowing here that things are not as they seem, and there are plots within plots brewing. The Bionic Woman never followed through on those teasers, so I hope this show does. Certainly there is a lot that can be done with time travel, and shows like Battlestar Galactica have shown that a little thinking outside the box can turn totally boring characters like robots with moving digital scanners for eyes into something much more imaginative. I hope we’ll see some very Abrams/Kring-like twists as the series progresses.

Tonight is the second half of the premiere… we’ll see if they can take this teasingly promising start and build on it.

Comments

  1. JWB1 says:

    I agree with most of your thoughts on the show. Hopefully this show and the return of Lost will get me thru Heroes withdrawl caused by that pesky writers’ strike. I’ve already given it a Tivo season pass.

  2. ManlyArt says:

    It was much better than I was expecting. I agree with you on Summer Glau. She’s pretty, but in kind of an unsettling way and I think that helps sell her as a terminatrix.

    There was one small thing I wish they had done to tie this to the movies in a nice subtle way. In the FBI photo of Sarah in the institution, they should have dyed her hair blonde. It would have tied the new Sarah to the old Sarah physically and also would have made it look like she was making some kind of attempt to change her apperance and avoid being spotted as easily.

  3. btvs says:

    My husband has a theory on Cameron. He thinks she is quite possibly a human/terminator hybrid. Quite possibly has a human brain significantly enhanced by machines (sort of like RoboCop but without the crazy flashbacks). Of course that doesn’t explain her eating.

    I am still out on Sarah’s character. Two things… 1. To me she looks too young to have a 15 year old son. Sorry but it is hard for me to get around. 2. She is not as militarily smart as she should be after two years of being on the run from the feds and the machines. She should NEVER have used the alias Reese. Every terminator would know that Kyle Reese was the human originally sent to protect Sarah. I just don’t buy it that she is smart enough to put kevlar in a recliner but stupid enough to use the last name Reese.

  4. Tom says:

    I am of the same mind as your husband on the human/terminator hybrid theory. In fact, I think we’ll find human Cameron to have had some connection to John in the future… perhaps his daughter? Too young to be his wife, and that’s supposed to be Claire Danes anyway.

    I noticed both of those giant logic gaffes there are well. Using “Reese” was dumb… she’s supposed to be smart. Remember this is a post T2 Sarah Connor, so she’s meant to be Linda Hamilton plus a few more years of experience. When the Terminator started blasting up her house with an automatic weapon and she hid behind the flimsy armchair I thought “What the &^& are they thinking???” Then I decided she must have armored the chair. Um… why the chair? Why not rig up a boobytrap of the front door instead?

    Maybe the writers will get the hang of it. Thanks for the comments, everybody.

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