Episode 1.1: "Pilot"
Episode 1.2: "Gnothi Seauton"
Monday, January 14, 2008
Sunday, January 13, 2008)
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The producers of T3 weren't done with the whole Skynet thing, even if Arnold himself was. Enter The Sarah Connor Chronicles a TV Series (on FOX, no less) that picks up just a short while after the events of T2 and, ironically, forgets forever the events of T3... which is the producers' only claim to the name Terminator. But I digress! What we have here is another cash cow series created and maintained to keep the franchise alive and kicking as one big, mechanical advertisement for the T4 film-to-be!
Given these conceits, the show isn't that bad.
To FOX's credit they have done a decent enough ad campaign for the rollout of the show's "Two Night Premiere". But seeing how FOX has treated shows with an alternative edge like this one, we'll just have to see if they give this one a chance.
Why do I care? Curiosity? No. The answer is simple and only two words long: Summer Glau. In a cast of fine actors, Glau has consistently proven that she can stand out and she's always amazing to watch. Glau's proven fighting skills and Ballet experience make her perfect for the role she's given. Who else could make believable the character of a petite, attractive... TERMINATOR?
Well, nobody I'd enjoy watching as much, anyway.
The show kicks off as the future leader of the resistance faces yet another of his early, torturous trials: High School. John Connor (Thomas Dekker) is safe from Judgment day, but not from Math Class, it seems. Luckily he's met a beautiful young student at his new school who takes a liking to him. Her name is Cameron Phillips and she looks an awful lot like River Tam from Serenity... which is a good thing. Sure it's a little odd that someone as pretty as she is shows such an interest, but I guess he figures, hell, this is Texas, so anything goes. (I was born in Texas, I can say that.)
One character who doesn't take a liking to John is his new substitute teacher Cromartie (Owain Yeoman), but this is understandable, seeing as how Cromartie is a tin-skulled Terminator sent back in time to assassinate ol' Johnny C. for the whole... you know... human uprising/ Terminator killing thing. Lucky for John, Cameron herself is more than meets the eye! It turns out that part of the reason she's such a hard body is that her skeleton is adamantium... or... well, she's a Terminator, okay? She has, of course, been sent back in time to protect John from his assailants. Hmmm... okay... we haven't seen that one before, have we? Except in The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Hell, the concept of the reprogrammed good-guy Terminator was the dominant force in T2 and the source of retread in T3. Of course, this is mighty convenient for Cameron because the fact that Sarah and John Connor of the Clan Connor have been through this already causes them not to even bother worrying about the fact that she's really a futuristic murder machine. It's like "Oh, I sent you back here from the future? Yeeeeeeeeeeeah, that sounds like something I'd do! That me! Ha Ha Ha! I do that, don't I?"
I'm sure it has nothing to do with the fact that she's cute. This fact, of course, adds an air of sexual tension to the mixxx, hopefully unrequited as John's a bit of a dork, whom I'd hate to see Summer Glau with. (I met Summer Glau once back when I was a big, fat hunk of hog... if you check out the picture of that meeting you'll agree that you wouldn't want to see me with Summer Glau either... in short, I can say that!)
But speaking of cute, the producers handled the unenviable task of re-casting Linda Hamilton with a new Sarah Connor rather well. Lena Headey is, and has been, a very fine actress who steps into the title role here with a new take and style. She's no Hamilton look-alike, nor is she simply aping the way her predecessor handled the character. She's tough and still has that almost crazy edge that the believing Sarah sported by the time of T2, especially when it comes to protecting her son. Still, she works toward making the character her own. She might succeed if the show makes it past the initial order of 12 episodes.
Sarah has almost settled down with a new dude (the always watchable Dean Winters), but naturally freaks out and stays on the run when things get too serious. After all, even if Judgment Day has been prevented (and who knows? She's still having nightmares about it!), she still has to evade the authorities who believe that she is responsible for the death of Miles Bennett Dyson. For all her paranoia she still doesn't put up much of a reasonable question about Cameron's motives. It's like "Reprogrammed Killing Machine? Been there, done that! Where's the smelting pool, so we can finish this crap and get some Ice Cream?" (To be fair, Cameron did start with the line "Come with me if you want to live!" which is apparently THE LYRIC OF GOLD for the Connor Family!) It won't be that easy, however, as there are apparently threats to John's person everywhere. Yes, Skynet, too, is apparently still running with the exact same plot.
This new quest takes them first to Dyson's family and then to the future itself... well, the not-too-distant future anyway... or, as we might call it... the present! This is where The Sarah Connor Chronicles might manage to be interesting and might actually work for itself. The basis for the strife in the Terminator Series is all surrounding Time Travel and temporal paradoxes. In Terminator a cyborg from the future travels back in time to kill Sarah so that his robot brethren can rule the future. In T2 we discover that in stopping this Terminator (and leaving his polished skeleton just lying around instead of recycling it) Sarah and her temporary beau Kyle Reese have assured that this future will still happen, seeing as how the technology that led to Skynet was engineered from this Endoskeleton's remains. In T3 we discover that Sarah has been killed after all, leaving John to fend for himself off the grid. Hence Writer/ Executive Producer Josh Friedman sends us back to 1997 when John is still a teenager and Sarah is still alive. To bring us back to the present, and successfully circumvent (at least for now) the inevitable canonicity loop concerning T3, Cameron brings Sarah and John to 2007 via the only means she knows how... NAKED TIME TRAVEL!
Seeing Sarah, Cameron and John appear au natural on an LA freeway was a nice twist. I turned to my wife and said "Ah, yes, yet another scene with two naked women ruined by the presence of a dude!"
Luckily, Cromartie died in the resulting electricity orb we see Terminators travel through. Or... did he? Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, in the second episode (entitled "Gnothi Seauton"), we discover that Cromartie's head was sucked into the future, but his lame ass naked Terminator body just lied around for about ten years, probably collecting unemployment. That sort of reminds me of an expression of threat often used in the South... "I'm gonna knock your face into the middle of next week and you're gonna have to wait around to get it back." I wonder if that was the germination for that moment. Perhaps Cameron spent a good while in Texas waiting for John and Cro-Mag Terminator to show up and picked up the idea... I don't know. Maybe her version is "I'm gonna knock your head into the next decade and you're gonna have to lie around and corrode in a junk yard somewhere to get the damned thing back, fool!"
But this brings us to another new talent we didn't realize Terminators had... Remote Control! Yep, once some highway worker puts Cromartie McFly's head trophy on his desk at home (I'm not kidding... this is LA, though, and they actually sell Terminator Heads at TFAW!!!), the eyes light up and the body starts moving again. Must be in "the mood". But, hey... at least he's going to be played by a new actor (David Kilde) once he buys himself a whole case of NU-SKIN! In the mean time, though, Crommy just stuffs his body into the rotting skin of the first dude he finds! Zombie Terminators! That Cromartie! What a card!
He needn't have bothered, really, because apparently 2007 is just jam packed with people from the future, stealing our jobs and coercing our writers to go on strike. Skynet has sent a butt load of Terminators and Future Johnner has sent a geek squad of resistance fighters too. They also had the forethought to go and start bank accounts in the 1960s to make sure that Sarah and John had some money. Now... with this much success in time travel (let's face it, these guys are WAY more accurate than the TARDIS, but they wear less), what's really the problem here? It seems like all KINDS of possibilities are opening up. Well, I guess the idea of a Terminator Gordon Gekko hasn't occurred to Skynet yet. With this new Economic angle, Skynet should just insert itself into the Republican Party and just make economic and social conditions for single mothers in the 1980s way too difficult for Sarah to really take care of John and... oh, maybe that actually did happen.
The episode continues in an adequately interesting way that explores some of the less reputable connections that Sarah was famous for having in the 1990s and how different they may have become in the post-9/11 world (Sarah, of course, has to ask what "nine eleven" even means). This will probably get an extra shot in the arm by the fact that Sarah and John have been trailed by FBI Agent James Ellison (Richard T. Jones), who is sure to be jazzed that his quarry has suddenly shown back up after a decade of nada.
The relationships between these three principal characters is also tested here. Sarah may have a too-soon trust of Cameron, but she doesn't necessarily like her very much, nor does she like what she is. Cameron, meanwhile, is fiercely protective of both the Connors, but won't take any orders from "this" John, as future John's orders didn't include that idea (this time). Further, the concept of a lovely female Terminator who doesn't "appear" to be much older than John certainly has an effect on her control over John. After all, he is still a teenage boy... a teenage boy whose search for normalcy causes him to seek out his almost-stepfather (Winters) against his mother's orders. Further, Cameron is shown to be not-quite perfect, either. The fact that Friedman and David Nutter (who directed both episodes) used the same sight gag of a Terminator being hit point blank by a car is a point in and of itself. However, the fact that Cameron intentionally smacks Cromartie McFly with a Pickup Truck the first time, but is hit herself in the second time by a passing motorist switching to the XM LED station sort of makes me wonder what sort of logic and perception circuits went into her design.
However, there is a lot that we don't yet know about Cameron, which could turn out to be a really good thing. Could there be more mystery to her than we realize? Is the fact that the Connors have taken her at her word going to bite them in the shiny metal ass later on? How many surprises can we expect? Well there have to be some if the show is going to continue to be watched. Summer Glau, however, is always worth watching. Although there are stunt people doubling for her occasionally, Glau's moves in fight scenes are fantastic. Again, she is a great fit for this role. Very few actresses can come off as quite so petite and cute, yet be completely believable in fighting an Arnold-sized Cyborg. Headey holds her own as well, managing to kick some ass and keep up with her protector when it counts. Even Dekker is given some early chances to shine at action. We'll see how he progresses.
However, this isn't completely a Sci-Fi/ Action thriller (though the heroine in this case is, literally, a "bionic woman"). The show lives up to its name in providing a Drama centered (mostly) around Sarah Connor and her Chronicles. The monologues that appeared at the end of Terminator and sporadically throughout T2 are the basis for the "chronicles" themselves, and they're almost overused. Each of the two episodes end with her soliloquy on their situation up to this point and, while they do work, they don't have the impact that they had years ago. Further, in this age of ubiquitous voice-overs in comedies, they might have the opposite affect of their intent.
Though the main issues with this show are the fact that it has been done and it probably shouldn't have been done this time, there are still problems that the show may, or may not, have time to work out. The first is the episodic set-up here. We're given the framework of the trio on the Lam and the army that wants to kill them all laced together with Sarah's voiceovers. The addition of Jones as the chasing FBI guy makes this all feel a lot like The Fugitive. Also, the show already feels familiar with the recurring bad guys popping up in strange places, potentially making this a "monster of the week" type show. And all this while the characters are forced to avoid tracking and cameras like the plague. Seen it.
All this is fine for a new, mid-season replacement show. This show, however, is the continuation of a 25 year old Franchise that increasingly steps all over itself. Josh Friedman seems to be working hard to close the logic gaps, move on with new continuity and still not completely wreck the events of T3 (the leap through time puts them literally in a different timeline than T3).
Will it work?
At the time of this writing there are 12 episodes in the can. FOX has a long history of cancelling shows like this long before their episodes run out (see: Wonder Falls... and Firefly for that matter). This basically makes the two night premiere a decent enough advertisement for the DVD release of all 12. However, this is January of 2008, and we're still in the middle of a writer's strike. The Networks still have new episodes, but they won't for long. In favor of Sarah, it's possible that no matter what, FOX will show all the episodes, because they need to fill their slate with something worth watching. On the other hand, FOX still has their unscripted powerhouse American Idol, putting them in a position to scarcely need to air every episode unless the ratings are high enough. With enough iconoclastic surprises, good action and quality scenes that play to the strengths of each actor, the fan base could grow. Who knows, if FOX does air all twelve and the writer's strike makes for very few competing shows of this kind, the ratings could warrant more. Has it worked in the past? See Buffy the Vampire Slayer's successes after its initial short run on The WB.
In short, for a show that never should have happened, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is certainly worth a shot at watching. They've certainly chosen the right cast and have a few good spring-boards that could yield quality results. They've also still got some work to do. To make this one succeed, the premise has to evolve, the same old plot has to be not only expanded, but probably shattered and re-structured and the stories have to be fresh, not derivative. If it all happens, we could be saying "The Future's So Bright... I gotta wear a Radiation Suit!" As it stands, thus far, I'm crossing my fingers for twelve good episodes, maybe more, crossing my fingers and giving Three Stars out of Five. Luckily for the viewers, and for me, I don't have to go lower than that. I may be in vastly better shape now, but I'm still quite sure that Summer could kick my ass, should I ever meet her again. Lessons learned, folks: if you're ever going to hit on a girl named "Connor", use the line "Come with ME if you want to Live!" That one works every time, man! If you're lucky, you might be able to follow it up with "Your clothes, give them to me!" Yeah, yeah, yeah, you know my mind... "Nothing Clean, Right?" See you in the Nudist Time Traveling Cyborg Reel!
I've seen the future...
You will lead a ragtag team of...
Freedom Fighters in their quest to...
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