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"Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles": Fight the Future

The true test of any new television series, I find, isn't the pilot itself (which typically has a much bigger budget and purview than the rest of the series), but the second episode. So I was intrigued to see what the sophomore episode of FOX's new midseason drama Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles would look like.

Full disclosure: I am not a huge Terminator fan. I loved the original but it's been more years since I can recall that I've seen T2... and I've never watched any of the subsequent sequels. So while I'm coming to this series with some backstory, it's not of the intricate, obsessive kind that may help inform some of the storytelling here.

I do have to say that there are elements of this series that I do like and others that... just plain don't work for me. In its favor: the choreographed fight scenes, Lena Headey's intensity (dialed down just the right amount in the second episode), Summer Glau (channeling River Tam somewhat here; more on that in a bit). There are some neat elements, like Sarah and Cameron's flight from the Terminator unit in last night's episode that just rocked, such as when Sarah went into a controlled dive on a motorcycle, leapt off, and said motorcycle knocked over the Terminator unit. Or how Sarah callously pushed Cameron's deactivated body out of the window and onto the roof of a car.

So what doesn't work for me? First, it's Thomas Dekker, who plays John Connor with a sort of whiny insouciance, greasy hair and all. I just don't buy him as the future hero of mankind and, while it's evident that the character has a lot of growing up to do, I just find him not all that sympathetic. Second, if I found myself suddenly several years in the future, I probably would react to my new circumstances with a modicum of curiosity, while Sarah and John barely bat an eyelash about their new surroundings. Yes, John heads to the mall to surf the internet, but where is the culture shock, the curiosity, the eerie realization that there is no going back? Hmmm.

I do like the cancer storyline for Sarah. It adds a layer of immediacy to the story that it desperately needs. Yes, they are on the run and are unsure of who to trust, but the characters seem--in this early stage, anyway--largely reactive rather than proactive. With the threat of a very real death hanging over mama bear Sarah's head, it does mean that she will have to become much more active, if she and John are to accomplish their goals before her, er, termination. Additionally, the series relies a little too heavily on Cameron's constant exposition to lead the characters (and the audience) from one plot point to the next.

As for Cameron, as much as I love Summer Glau, there is something slightly off about her performance here. While she nails the fight scenes with aplomb (recalling that bar room brawl in Firefly/Serenity) and her "soft" teenage girl is convincingly, well, soft (especially to hormonal John), I'm not totally sold on the unintentional humor that her fish-out-of-water robot needs to exude. The scene in which she's run over by a car and then tells the freaked out passengers to "remain clam" needed a little more oomph.

And that's perhaps my problem with the series itself. While it's a intriguing concept, I don't feel fully connected to these characters or their plight, not enough to feel compelled to tune in each week. However, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles may be one of the few new series to actually benefit from the current writers strike. It's clear that that viewing public does have a taste for original fare, even of the scripted kind, and Terminator, while only nine episodes, is fulfilling that need.

Bottom line: while I am not as sucked in as I should be to this story (especially given that there are only seven episodes left at this point), I'll give Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles another shot next week. But I'm curious: what do you think of this new series? What works for you and what doesn't? And who wants to force John Connor to wash his hair?

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles airs Monday evenings at 9 pm on FOX.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: NCIS (CBS); Biggest Loser (NBC; 8-10 pm); Reaper (CW); Just for Laughs/Just for Laughs (ABC); American Idol (FOX; 8-10 pm)

9 pm: Comanche Moon (CBS; 9-11 pm); One Tree Hill (CW); According to Jim/Carpoolers (ABC)

10 pm: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC); Boston Legal (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

9 pm: Life on Mars on BBC America.

Season Two of the brilliant UK import Life on Mars continues tonight with a brand-new episode. On tonight's installment, a drunken Gene Hunt turns up at Sam's flat in the middle of the night to make a shocking confession...

Comments

Bill said…
Not only do they need to force him to wash his hair, someone needs to show him that educational film from Futurama about not dating robots, cause they more than hinted at some robosexual tension, which is just kinda weird.
Aaron Weber said…
I'm really liking the way that Summer Glau is trying to be more human and emotional, while the humans are trying to be tougher and more robotic. The bits where Glau tells the mom about how much John liked her childhood stories were heartbreaking: She didn't know she was delivering an important emotional message, but she was.

I'm huge on this show over at blog.meevee.com.
The CineManiac said…
1. I thought Sarah learning about 9/11 was really well done, especially when she said, had she been there she would have thought they lost and that the apocalypse had begun.
2. Weren't there 9 episodes produced? which would mean there are 7 episodes left?
Good but not great. It has some fun moments (I also loved Sarah's controlled motorcycle slide and when she throws Cameron out the window) but it still lacks energy. I think a lot of that has to do with the non-entity that is John Connor. He is completely eclipses by these two strong female performances.

I was skeptical about both Lena Headey and Summer Glau in these roles but they do a pretty good job pulling them off. They could do a better job casting the bad Terminator dudes, though. I love Owain Yeoman but that other guy was just a meat head and not scary at all.
Anonymous said…
I really enjoyed it, but I'm a big fan of David Nutter's direction from back when he did the X-Files, so that could be part of it.

I totally agree with you and Danielle that John Connor/Thomas Dekker is being left in the dust by the two strong females. If they can get his character to a more likeable point (and yeah, wash his freaking hair), the show would greatly benefit.
Vance said…
I liked Lena better in the second ep but still not totally sold on her (which is too bad cause i like the actress) but maybe it's because of Thomas Dekker as well. I didn't really care for him.

I kinda like the unintentional humour around Glau's cyborg though it seemed a bit Small Wonder to me too.
I liked it. I didn't think I was going too, but I did. And I thought Glau was brilliant as an Arnold replacement. I write more at

therandomavenger.blogspot.com
Unknown said…
I thought they'd have to spend more time learning about the seven years they missed, but that's too much like a passport scene, so I'm not surprised they didn't bother showing that. Still, you'd think they'd do enough research to learn about 9/11.

I like the action sequences. Sarah does need to dial it down a bit because no one can maintain that level of intensity for 18 years.

I also liked the ending proving that they need to be more paranoid than even Sarah believes. But does this mean Cameron will never hurt/kill an innocent? That would make it a bit predictable.

I also liked the end of the pilot where Sarah and John harmonized "No one is ever safe." But then he proves teenagers have short memories by leaving the house in the second ep and getting in trouble. (Stay home, John! Wash your hair and read the newspaper.) Ah well.

Unfortunately, I think it's another series destined for the trash heap due to the writers strike. Say hello to reality shows 24x7. Bleah. No wonder television viewing is down, what, 18%? Do the studios really think they'll "win" the strike and recoup the $1.5 billion they've lost (so far)? A sea-change is a'comin', Ma!

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