Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Season One

Redundant. That’s the word I keep coming back to when I consider the Terminator franchise. To be sure, each of the three films in the series are very good when considered individually, but watching them back to back it becomes pretty noticeable how rigidly they stick to the same formula over and over. The details are shuffled but at the heart of it is the same plot: Skynet sends a terminator from the future to stop John Connor from ever becoming the leader of the human resistance by killing him/his mother. Sarah and/or John flee for their lives aided by some good guy representative also sent back in time by future-John. Much chasing, fighting and carnage ensue. The terminator is eventually destroyed, but the good guy traveler is killed/destroyed as well. Rinse and repeat.

Despite the absence of James Cameron, Terminator 3 didn’t turn out to be a horrible movie; in fact it’s perfectly good if taken on its own terms and you ignore the fact that it’s the same damn story regurgitated for yet another go-around. What really redeemed the film for me, what made me sit up and take notice and feel that it really did have a reason to exist, is that it finally shut the door on the prospect of any future films returning to the formula yet again. Everything changes by the end of movie 3.

So naturally the first thing the creators of the TV series Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles decided to do it throw the third film right out the window. Sarah is still alive, and the apocalypse is still on the horizon. The pieces have been reset to start the chasing all over again. Only this time around, the R-rated violence and language are toned down, the chases are more modest to accommodate a TV-sized budget, and everything is slowed way down to stretch two hours worth of story into-- well, an unlimited amount of episodes. Yes, kids, it’s everything you loved about the films, only slower, safer and less intense. Oh, and no Arnold.

Summer Glau substitutes for Arnold on the show, and it’s actually an inspired idea. If you just stuck some other Austrian roid-head in the part, he would‘ve compared unfavorably to Schwarzenegger. Instead, they went the completely opposite way and cast a willowy young woman as Cameron, the new protector Terminator. Good move. Of course, on the show’s limited budget, most of the terminator-on-terminator fighting in this series boils down to the combatants grabbing each other's shoulders and hurling each other back and forth into drywall. Glau is mostly called on to stare unblinkingly and look puzzled, but isn’t that pretty much what she did on Firefly as well?

Early in the series, Sarah, John and Cameron flash forward in time several years, in order to explain how it could be that it’s 2008 and John is still a whiny teenager. More than one terminator is running around, and one wonders why Skynet didn’t just send 1,000 terminators back at once to really overwhelm the Connors and take them out once and for all. One misstep the show takes is focusing on some of John’s classmates’ dilemmas at his new school. Here’s a tip for you, executive producer Josh Friedman: we don’t watch Terminator for high school dramatics. Give us a break!

The Connors in the show pale in comparison to the actors who originated the roles. Lena Headley tries her best to look tough, but she lacks the manic intensity, paranoia and berserker strength of Linda Hamilton. She’s too pretty and too soft. Edward Furlong’s John Connor might have been an annoying punk, but at least he had a personality and was interesting to watch. Thomas Dekker’s version is very dull and ineffective, spending most of his time petulant and melancholy, and often with his eyes brimming with tears. This is the savior of humanity?

I tried watching this week’s premiere of the second season, in hopes that a better direction has been found now that the writer’s strike is behind us. Also, I am a huge Shirely Manson devotee and was interested in seeing how she worked out on the show. Unfortuntely, “Samson & Delilah” is one of the worst episodes yet, a complete time waster in which Cameron reverts to her original programming and starts trying to kill John again. Since it’s obvious she will be back on the side of the angels by the end of the episode, the whole thing is simply an excuse for John to shave his head and possibly finally grow a set. As for Shirley, I still love her to death, but she’s completely over her head as a T-1000 corporate CEO. I’ve stood ten feet from the woman when she was onstage totally captivating an audience, and I know she can take me out with just the flick of her wrist, but she looks out of her comfort zone here. Hopefully she’ll adjust, since her character seems likes she’s going to be pretty important.

Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles is not a horrible show, it’s just a completely pointless one, in my eyes. By far my favorite episode of the first season was “Dungeons and Dragons”, but that’s because it partially takes place in the future timeline of Skynet. I’ve always been more intrigued by that post-apocalyptic setting and wanted to see it explored more. Which is why I’ve pretty much written off this show as “been there, done that” and am psyched as hell to see Terminator: Salvation, which unfortunately is not due to his theaters for another nine months! As for the series, I already watch too much TV to keep up with a show I’m not even enjoying, and I would only rate it about a 6.5. But be sure to let me know if anything interesting happens…

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