Monday, January 14, 2008

TV Review: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

TV Review: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
airdate: Sunday, January 13, 2008

Last night's premiere of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles may have been a blockbuster broadcast event, certainly offering no viable connection to the comics industry, but Fox's apocalyptic pilot episode undeniably kicked off an exciting year for geeks and revisited franchises, which requires some analysis from the A Comic A Day front. Indeed, with a fourth Indiana Jones flick, a rebooted film incarnation of the Hulk, and a Star Trek prequel all in the works for 2008 (not to mention highly anticipated flicks like Cloverfield, Iron Man, and The Dark Knight), I see many midnight movie premieres in my immediate future. Fortunately, I didn't have to venture farther than my recliner for The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which suited me just fine. I want to be comfortable for the end of the world.

I should offer the quick disclaimer that, while I'm a huge fan of both Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Universal Studios Hollywood's Terminator: 3-D show, both of which I've experienced countless times, I'm by no means as invested in the franchise as, say, the guy that reviewed last night's premiere at Entertainment Weekly. Yes, I actually read a few other reviews before solidifying my opinion, because of my relative disconnection with the Terminator mythos. Now, I was thrilled by some of the pilot's recognizable moments of continuity with T2, namely the inclusion of Miles Dyson's death and the subsequent destruction of Cyberdine. Even casual viewers will promptly recognize that the very existence of this series reveals how inconclusive rewriting the future can be, so, obviously, his gory, gaspy sacrifice wasn't as permanent as we all thought. Enter this series' apparent premise: discover the new origins of Cyberdine and Skynet and destroy them . . . again. Pretty heavy, Doc.

I should also mention that I never saw Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Perhaps I knew then that its story would be futile, obliterated by some obscene use of time travel, and if only I'd shared my predilections on-line, I'd be hailed geekdom's cyber prophet. More likely, I didn't want a hasty "three-quel" to ruin my cherished memories of its high octane predecessor. Thankfully, The Sarah Connor Chronicles feels the same way, actually going to great lengths to preserve the Connors as we knew and loved them years ago yet dropping them in the present, shrouding them in a blessed electric bubble of flannel-wearing sanctity. I wonder how much like our world their 2007 is; I wonder how Sarah would react to September 11th, or who she would vote for in '08. Though she doesn't strike me as the registered-to-vote type.

The most notable distinction in this new series, and the easiest to critique, is the inclusion of a female protector for John, and more pointedly, a young, hot one. (Are we sure Cyberdine was founded in Los Angeles, and not Orange County? Plus, her name, Cameron, is a clever enough tip o' the hat.) Actress Summer Glau has big shoes (literally) to fill as our newest terminatin' hero, and based solely on the pilot episode, she's willing to rise to the challenge (though this latest series could be dubbed Terminator 3: The Rise in John's Pants). Of course, one can assume that her looks will inevitably indicate her origins, that perhaps she's a replication of John's future wife or something, but in the meantime I insist she forsake the pouty glare for a grimace more snarlish. Arnold was the ultimate tough guy, and Robert Patrick's villainous liquid terminator was the unavoidable slime ball (again, in some scenes, literally), so Glau's protector should be the proverbial psycho chick, willing to cross any line to protect her man. Sure, John's gone from a paternal to an emasculating relationship with his robotic guardian angel, but, really, which would you rather have?

Glau isn't the only actor facing incredibly high expectations. As the series' namesake, Lena Heady isn't Linda Hamilton's husky-voiced, sinewy-undersexed Sarah Connor, but she's close. Considering that the pilot's opening act shows Connor happy and engaged, a little meat on Sarah's bones is appropriate anyway, though her jilted fiancee is sure to show his handsome mug again sooner than later -- one less thing the mother of mankind's resistance needs to worry about, eh? Thomas Dekker could easily play a pretty boy anywhere between the Dawson's Creek/Gossip Girl range of teenybopper television, but coat him in a layer of desert dust-flaked sweat and he's enough of a John Conner for me. In fact, his acting prowess may surpass that of predecessor Edward Furlong (Nick Stahl has been wiped from history, remember?), proven by my favorite explosion-free moment of the first episode, in which John denounces his potential as humanity's Messiah. Anyone that has needed a ride to the mall has evoked the heartfelt, "Please, Mom," but Dekker's carried the weight of the world behind it. I only hope he can keep it up.

Really, that's the only way Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles will achieve success and that coveted place as canon among Terminator purists, is if it maintains its pilot’s momentum. As a fan but a novice to the mythos, I enjoyed that every segment was driven by gun-shootin’ or car-chasing’ action. Slow it down for even a moment with a subplot like that fiance's broken heart and those diehards will have time to ponder the series’ flaws -- like why the opening act takes place in 1999, a stated two years after Cyberdine’s destruction, even though T2 was released in 1994. I mean, if you’re going to use time travel in the story, why use it in the show’s premise, too? Argh, see what I mean? I need somebody to blow a truck up right now! (Though to ease EW blogger Whitney Pastorek's mind, anytime a terminator goes back in time, isn't future history effectively reset, so the recreation of Skynet and Cameron's pre-2029 creation an expedited new timeline? Also, recasting even dead characters that just appear in pictures like Dyson make pre-T2 flashbacks possible, eh?) Yes, such momentum will assure the attention of the comic book lot, from an inevitable spin-off series to a set of well-crafted action figures. The elephant in the room is that the Terminator brand has been viable in recent years because of such franchising, anyway.

What I'm saying is, blow up enough stuff, this series will blow up. If it doesn't, either as a result of the writer's strike, its propulsion, or its appeal, or even if The Sarah Connor Chronicles get buried under the rest of the year's fanfare, at least geeks can rest assured of its cult hit capacity. After all, its cancellation wouldn't be the end of the world . . . right?

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