Dec 18, 2008 11:53 PM EST

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Fall 2008 Review

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Fall 2008 Review
Terminator:  The Sarah Connor Chronicles gives us an interesting piece of potential that we do not have with a lot of other shows -- it begs us to compare it to not just its competition, but to what may be, or what could be. This may not seem fair (and, indeed, if anyone believes they can state authoritatively what it 'should be,' they are wrong) -- but it is what is almost guaranteed to happen if you liked the first two movies and at least watched the third.

Terminator, as a series, has collected the same kind of canon that Star Trek and the Aliens franchise have; it has its own internal structure that the show is inexorably wrapped around.  At the same time, it adds lots of new stuff.  It has to!  The movies were all "chase movies", and it is hard to get a season out of that!

If I were making a Terminator TV show, I doubt I would have had the brilliance to add the female love-interest terminator and sort of make it work.  On the other hand, I think the show has done a lot of things right in terms of getting the way "terminators" talk, walk, and act correctly -- and that is no small thing.  They sent actors to a special "terminator camp" to learn the moves.  It has paid off!

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Season 2
At least we were able to get a half season, and it is coming back next year -- paired with Joss Wheedon's. The Doll House.  This will be a good mix even in the Friday night death slot.  I will start by saying I think Terminator is a credible show; it seems to have the right mission statement: to expand on the world of the movies and try to simply get us from Point A (the end of the Terminator 2 movie) to either Judgment Day or lack thereof.  If Sarah, Cameron, and John win their four-dimensional war against the machines, maybe J-Day won't happen at all (or the humans will win quickly, as they had in the first movie).  If they lose, then what?  The world burns up, but thanks to the nature of time travel, they get to try again?  The relevant front moves to the future?  Who knows -- Time Travel Is Hard.

The first season gave us terminators that can do a decent show of human emotions for a little while and can really "infiltrate"; the terminator in the relationship with the woman was one of the freakiest things it asked us to swallow.  It gave us Cameron, the geek dream girl Summer Glau, the fem-fatal terminator and a game if not electric, John Connor (Thomas Dekker).  It gave us Lena Headey and Brian Austin Green as the two "grownups" (Sarah Connor and Derek Reese, older brother of the first movie's Kyle).  It is a strong cast.  Lena, especially, plays a strong if appropriately damaged Sarah.

What the second half-season adds is a little more "run room." We get a T-1000 with designs of its own; but it is not clear what those are.  We have a mysterious set of messages written in blood that the characters decipher over time to drive various episodes.  We get a relationship for John and a relationship for Reese that both might not be what they seem.

In the second half season none of this resolves and we are left with a simply deepening mystery. What does that mean? Well, as a half-season it's not fair to expect it all to wrap and give us the requisite cliffhanger. On the other hand, if the show isn't done too well there's not much reason for us to tune in next year.

The good news is that I think the show is well done: the good episodes out number the bad. The tension is not at a "fever pitch" but T:TSCC kept me watching and a few of the shows had breathtaking bits. I think that being part of the Terminator canon there are a few things that have to be there. Let's see if they are.

Terminator Is Smart
What stood out mostly from the original movie was that it was not just an action flick.  It was a tightly-plotted, sensible movie with attention to detail. The Terminator model that was revealed at the end might not "actually work", but it sure looked good! The way the machine (Schwarzenegger) moved and talked seemed interestingly robotic. The way it methodically went through the phone book made sense.

T:TSCC is decently smart. It gets the lingo mostly right.  It has the whole time-travel thing in its mind.  The code the characters use on the phone (which they then dropped--why?) was a good touch, and so on.  John ducking a termination by realizing that metal-skeletons probably don't float worked pretty well for me.

Terminator Has Heart
We have to care about these normal people whose lives are destroyed by cyborg assassins from the future.  If we don't, it doesn't work.  Cameron, James, that is, built sympathy for Linda Hamilton in the first movie by introducing her to us in an archetypal bad day at work.  Here we have the angst of being John Connor, Sarah trying to raise a family where her daughter is a kill-bot, her son is a future savior, and the man is the brother of her dead husband.  It has a certain appeal to it, and they do a decent job.  I was disappointed not to see more of Dean Winters as Charley Dixon the likable, and more importantly, believable,  former love interest of Sarah and father figure for John.

Terminator Has A Certain Look
This, T:TSCC nails.  Everything from the flying machines to the new terminator models looks perfect.  Their future scenes utilize the original's low-budget apocalypse look to appear worthwhile on a TV budget.  Some people don't like the CGI terminator skeletons, but the design is smart (see number one), and the look is, to my mind, dead on.  Go back and look at the original; it isn't perfect by any means.

On the whole, the series is sufficiently water tight to keep me watching.  At the half-season mark, it isn't mind blowing; but it shouldn't have to be - it is definitely worthy of a second chance in 2009, and I'm hoping it pulls out all the stops to give us a good, fulfilling second-season arc.
-- Marco Chacon
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