Did the new Fox show "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" crap all over the franchise (and its fans?) Or is this a potential diamond in the rough that is the Writer's Strike? And is Summer Glau hot enough to melt a T-1000? Read on to find out!
"Let's face it--the Fox network and science-fiction shows don't exactly have the greatest of track records together. Ever since Chris Carter ran "X-Files" deep into a masturbatory circle, and the quick and nasty cancellation of "Firefly", there hasn't been much for sci-fi fans to celebrate when it comes to the Fox Network.
It wasn't surprising then that when word leaked of a show based on The Terminator that would be airing on Fox, scepticism was rampant. Just how bad would the show suck? And more importantly, if it was any good how long would it take Fox to cancel it?
There's good news on both fronts...it doesn't outright suck, and given the dearth of available options on network television right now, I suspect the show will be given more of a chance to develop and shine than it would be otherwise.
I can't really talk about the show much without going into SPOILERS, so if you haven't seen it yet, you might want to hold off reading the rest of the review until then.
"Sorry I keep checking out your boobs, mom. You're kind of hot."
Alright, now I can talk about what I liked and disliked about the two episodes so far. The first episode begins with a bang--literally, as John Connor is gunned down by a T-800 at school. And as is the case when anything so dramatic happens, it's a dream sequence. Not a positive way to begin the show as the "dream sequence" is a really tired item. Too, it makes the viewer feel as though they've just wasted the first five-minutes of the show.
It becomes quickly apparent that T:TSCC is completely disregarding Terminator 3, as Sarah Connor (Lena "Leonidas Rides Me Like a Steed" Heady) is alive and well in 1999. Still on the run and fugitives from justice, Sarah and John can't seem to stay put for very long. Sarah has a man in her life, but paranoia from her dream takes over and soon she's pulling a Kate from Lost and is on the run again. John had really bonded with the new guy and takes the loss pretty hard, which becomes an important plot point later.
The Connors have another problem beyond the imminent arrival of another T-800...a determined FBI agent is trying to track down the murderers of Miles Dyson, believed to be the Connor mother/son duo.
All of this leads to the very predictable arrival of another Terminator from the future...and equally as predictable, a new Terminator (played by Serenity's Summer Glau) is there to protect him. From there, the chase is on. And it certainly leads in a very unexptected direction.....
One thing I'll say at this point is that the guy they got to play the T-800...y'know, Arnold takes a lot of criticism for his "acting", but it quickly becomes apparent that Ah-nuld has nothing to worry about. TV's T-800 smirks and glares his way through his scenes, makes unconvincing wisecracks, and just isn't terribly menacing as a villain. Where Robert Patrick would send a glare that had you wishing you were somewhere else, this guy reminds you more of someone's smart-ass uncle.
The show does take a very unexpected twist by the end of 1.1 as pigeonholed in a bank vault, Cameron (a witty creator-inspired name for Summer Glau's cyborg character) manages to put together both some sort of Terminator-zapping super weapon AND a time machine out of what appears to be old typewriters, some random car engine parts, and duct tape. The A-Team themselves couldn't have done better. Suddenly, bang-zoom, they're eight years in the future--conveniently, approximately our time--and naked standing on a highway.
As they find their bearings, an important plot point is dropped--there have been multiple Terminators and resistance fighters leaping all over the place for years. This explains why all those parts were conveniently locked away in a bank vault. Sarah and Cameron try to hook up with a pocket of resistance fighters but find them all slaughtered...each bearing their "Human UPC" barcodes...EXCEPT FOR ONE! Yep, it's an evil Terminator lying in wait for the fifth member. After a brief struggle, the bad Terminator can't make out what sort of cyborg Cameron is and opts to flee.
John meanwhile is instructed to stay home, but since he's now cut of the 'whiny, annoying, screw you I won't do what you tell me' mold ' (see Anakin Skywalker, Episode 2) of course he gets out and about and finds out about Google. If John gets wise, he should leap back in time and gobble up all the Google IPOs, then he could single-handedly bankroll the entire war on evil machinery.
Sarah meanwhile is in the pursuit of new IDs, and her old contact Enrique is out of the business but directs him toward his nephew instead. Much hilarity ensues as Cameron tries to mimic the gang member's sassy girlfriend. Much violence almost ensues as a cop wants to ID their vehicle but Sarah shows up just in time to stop Cameron from punching a hole through the cop's head. Sarah does catch some Spanish that bugs her as she hears Enrique referred to as a "Rat" or "snitch". She goes to confront Enrique about this and as she has her doubts, Cameron shoots him in cold blood. (Guess John hasn't gotten around to teaching her to only shoot people in the kneecaps yet).
Running parallel to all of this, a construction worker had found the T-800s head in the rubble of the bank and took it home as some sort of Metalocalypse-inspired trophy. Maybe he wanted it to match his Halo 3 Master Chief that he got when he pre-ordered, who knows. Anyway, the cat licks the Terminator noggin, which reboots it (I've tried this, it does not work with my home computer). The EVIL Terminator's body--through the power of Bluetooth or something, the whole thing isn't quite clear-- digs itself from the rubble, pulls an Edgar from Men in Black and finds itself a human head to wear for a bit until it can be reunited with its skull. Much to the chagrin of the dude who found it, who tries to interfere in the reunion but receives the holiday gift of DEATH for his troubles.
The show ends with a mysterious figure looking on at John and Sarah...and that someone has a UPC code on their arm! Dum-dum-DUM!
And...that's a wrap.
So...what did I think? To be honest, it's better than I anticipated, but that's not saying much given the dire expectations of the show. It needs a lot of work and probably time to develop its narrative voice, but it does show a lot of promise. The CGI is definitely of the "affordable" kind but is still good for network television.
It's smart enough to not overexplain everything, meaning that those who have seen T2 will be able to follow right along without being pandered to. There are the obvious nods to fans, including Sarah's alias of "Reese", references to plot points from T2 (including Dyson), Cameron as a name for a Terminator, and despite the disregard for T3's events, does dovetail with much of what happened there, or could have happened, as Cameron tells Sarah blankly that "you died. Cancer." This seems to indicate that T3 was just a potential future and when Cameron and the T-800 were sent back, things changed again.
That's not to say that there isn't a lot of room for improvement. There's the "lazy writing" syndrome at work sometimes...things happen because they're supposed to happen. Also, the show seems to ignore how the movies took time-travel as a very non-trivial affair (that's why only one T-800 was sent back to kill Sarah in the first movie rather than an army of them.) Here, we're lead to believe that people and cyborgs have been time-hopping like crazy, and that a time machine can be assembled from pieces of junk locked away in a bank vault.
John still hasn't progressed as far as you would expect from someone who is expected to be the "savior of mankind". The show seems to run with the plotline of a self-doubting John Connor. He's got a looooong way to go, and the "rebel teen" and "bored and whiny" stuff is going to have to disappear, and fast. You'd think with what he's been through coupled with Sarah's paranoia and training, he'd have progressed much farther. Time is short, and he's going to have to man-up and quickly since they've skipped eight years in the future. My bet? Glau nookie will turn him into a man before series end ("it felt....oily. And I think I caught one of my testicles in a gear or something.")
All in all, a fairly promising beginning to the show, and worth watching for genre fans. I think I've read that nine shows are in the can, and unless there's some miracle in the Writer's Strike I'm guessing Fox will air them all, even if ratings sink. So far the ratings are pretty solid--normally a good sign, but again, you just never know with Fox.
Rating: (both episodes together) 3.5 out of 5.