Review: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Series Premiere

By Derek Russell of the SkyNext Podcast

Let me just go ahead and put this out there, if you know me, you know I love television pilots. I can’t get enough of them, they’re the bubble wrap of TV to me. That being said, I watch a lot of them, the good (Mercy Reef), the bad (The Catch), and the ugly (1997’s Justice League).

When I first heard the proposition of bringing the Terminator franchise to the small screen, I, like a lot of people, was skeptical at best. “How would they do this?” “Would the budget allow such a feat?” “Can you recast something we’re all so familiar with?” This past Sunday, all those questions were answered with a resounding yes. The Sarah Connor Chronicles breathes new life into the film franchise of robot wars, unwanted destinies, and mothers and their sons. If you were dropped into the story Sunday night not knowing your surroundings and feeling left behind in the fast-paced storyline and larger than life explosions, here’s the briefest of the brief: In the future, an artificially intelligent network of machine’s known as Skynet, wage a war against the forces of Tech-Com, a human resistance led by the courageous John Connor. Since time travel is a luxury in 2020’s cyborg assassins known as Terminators are sent back to kill John Connor in some form or another. In 1984, a model who looks a lot like California’s governor, is sent from the year 2029 to kill John’s mother, Sarah, before John is born. In the future, the Tech-Com fighters get wind of this and John sends back a human named Kyle Reese to protect his mother, which Kyle does, destroying the Terminator. Several years later, after John is born, 2 Terminators are sent back in time; one to kill, one to protect. Tech-Com sends back a reprogrammed model identical to the one that tried to kill his mother in the previous instance to save Sarah and the young John. But instead of running, Sarah decides to take down Skynet in its early conception by destroying the corporation that builds it, Cyberdyne. She is successful, the Terminators meet their demise so Skynet has no hope, and Sarah and John are safe, for the time being, as is the future of mankind.

Jump forward two years with some familiar names but unknown circumstances and you have FOX’s series; The Sarah Connor Chronicles. A lone stretch of highway is all we need to set the stage for old friends.

Lena Headey (300, Imagine Me & You) revitalizes the role of Sarah Connor, a mother with a love for her son so strong; she’ll kill for him or die trying. Thomas Dekker (Heroes, 7th Heaven) brings John Connor to the screen in a way we haven’t seen before, he’s no longer the kid without a clue, but not the man destined to lead yet either. He’s a teenager; aware of his surroundings, scared of his destiny, and desperately looking for answers. The mother and son duo are methodical, careful, and trying to stay under the radar after the events of Terminator 2. But life is seemingly content at the moment, Sarah is engaged to a man named Charley Dixon who loves her, and John, but Sarah knows that danger is never more than a gunshot away. They uproot yet again, with disastrous results. John befriends a young girl named Cameron in New Mexico, who becomes more than a friend, she becomes an ally; revealing herself as another protector for John, sent by his future-self in 2027 to thwart a slew of new enemies with various missions but all with one underlining goal, to kill John Connor.

I’ve never seen a television pilot that actually, physically, put me on the edge of my seat. We all use that term before but I can only think of a few times in my life that the entertainment industry has actually brought me to that position. Add this one to the very short list. I was literally blown away at not only the story, but the acting and effects that made this the trifecta I’ve been looking for in a world of unoriginal ideas, carbon copy programming, and writer strike fiascos (I support the WGA!). But I digress; this new twist to the Terminator story is like inviting an old friend into your home to catch up with…and they bring shotguns.

Let’s break it down: Lean Headey, A+ performance. I believed her, you know? It’s hard to believe in characters today and see past the actor/actress portraying them. I believed her love for her son, I believed that she believed in him. I believe I’ve said believed too much. Thomas Dekker. I’ll be honest, I’m a Heroes fan and never cared much for Dekker’s character on the show. At the time I didn’t know if it was his acting, or the character I didn’t like. It was his character. Dekker takes an established character like John Connor, and makes it his own. This is the John Connor we’ve always wanted to see, he’s not the kid that you almost get tired of hearing whine in T2, and not the bum that’s given up hope in T3. He’s surviving, he’s fighting, he’s giving us a reason to watch. And then we have Summer Glau (Firefly, Serenity) who is the most unlikely Terminator to date. When I first saw the pilot a few months ago, I went in not knowing what Glau’s role was going to be. Even though I pride myself on seeing stuff coming a mile away, I still didn’t quite make the connection when the Terminator Cromartie unloaded a clip into her chest while trying to murder John. When her character of Cameron opens the door to let John in and gives the famous, “Come with me if you want to live”, I was sold on this premise.

Now let’s be honest, most of you are reading this going, “Seriously? This guy had no problems with the pilot? I doubt that.” Okay, you want criticism; I’ll give it to you:

crickets chirping

All right, in all seriousness let’s discuss the bad with the good because nothing in life is ever perfect. If I had to choose the the difficulties I had going in, it’d start with timeline confusion. Now I know we’re supposed to forget Terminator 3 ever took place, because in all actuality, Cameron’s being sent back by John in the future really negates the events of T3. I’m a time-travel-buff, I love the details and paradoxes (paradoxi?) that surround the phenomenon and I never have been too thrilled with the Terminator theory of time travel. I’ll be honest when I say that the way it was described and handled in this premier did warm me up to their idea of it a bit. So get past the “no-T3” line of thinking, okay. Done. Things get better. Number 2, Cameron’s human like tendencies. At face value, you could have complaints about this undoubtedly. The way she acts to John before the robots hit the fan, the conversation she and John have at the gas station (my favorite scene of the episode) is even a little awry, and she doesn’t take near as long to get used to her surroundings, even though she’s been looking for the Connor’s for some 70-odd days. We’re not supposed to be familiar with this model, this machine. Cameron is different. There’s a story here, she was personally sent back by John for a reason, and we’re along for the ride of that story as it were. So if you want to get technical, the devil is not in the details, and the problems people will have with pilot at face value are ones that were written there for a reason. Don’t get me wrong, “at face value” I had the same questions, concerns. They fly out the window in episode 2.

Bottom line is (and I’m not afraid to say this) – best pilot I’ve seen in years. I’ve gotten some looks when I’ve said that to people, but I haven’t stopped giving that as my opinion. There’s been some great television pilots in the past 10 years; 24, Heroes, Smallville, and Lost to name a few. I was never really left wanting so much more at the end. That’s not to say I wasn’t a fan or didn’t love what I saw, but I never physically was just dying to know what was to follow in the coming episodes. Spoilers don’t really do this show justice, and that is one service I will ignore in doing these reviews that Craig has so graciously asked me to write. Don’t get me wrong, spoilers have their time and place but if you’re looking for them, click the link way back up the page because you won’t find them here. If you do want more speculation and spoilers on my behalf, check out my show SkyNext (insert shameless plug here). My good friend and co-host Steve and I take the show and put it in a perspective you might not have noticed the first time around. The Sarah Connor Chronicles is definitely a show that will always warrant and deserve a second viewing. Is it too early to start pining for the DVD’s?

Hear Derek Russell every week in the SkyNext Podcast!


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