Sep 7 2008 7:45pm

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles returns!

As much as I hate to admit it, I have a problem: I’m addicted to television. So, on that note, I hope this post will provide a place for people to talk about what’s happening on the idiot box. (A term I resent, actually, as television is home to some great storytelling that matches anything found in acclaimed books or award-winning films.)

Fall is upon us, which means it’s also time for a new season of returning favorites (Dexter, my love, I missed you; Heroes, not so much) and debut series (Fringe, True Blood). Last fall saw a number of new shows premiere, few of which were either good or long-lived. So many of my favorite shows get the axe, I’m afraid to try new ones. I’ve been hurt in the past. When Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles premiered last fall on Fox—the worst offender for killing that which I love—I made a promise to only watch it if I knew the show was actually getting renewed for another season. To my great surprise, Sarah Connor and her brooding brood lived to fight more killer robots. And the first season is available now on DVD. It was time for me to give this show a chance. And, due to the writers’ strike, only nine episodes were made, meaning there’s still time to catch up if you want to see the second season’s premiere.

I’m a big fan of the first two Terminator movies and Sarah Connor in particular. She’s right up there with Lt. Ellen Ripley when it comes to cinema’s toughest heroines. The Fox series begins in 1999, after the events of Terminator 2, with Sarah (Brit-import Lena Headey) and her teenage son John (Thomas Dekker), the fated savior of humanity after Judgment Day, still on the run from their many enemies both human and non. A new model of Terminator (the willowy Summer Glau) has been sent from the future to protect them in the coming fight against Skynet’s military defense system. Insert lots of CGI explosions, car crashes, and people getting flung through walls for a really fun action show. They don’t skimp on big-screen cinematography, either. The first three episodes are a little clunky with exposition and the voiceovers make me roll my eyes only slightly less than the ones on Heroes, but the show finds a clever voice in “Heavy Metal” and introduces new storylines and new characters that had me saying “Okay, just one more episode, then I’ll get up from the couch.” Also smart was some handy time travel that makes the series capable of existing entirely separate from the awful Terminator 3 film.

My favorite thing about The Sarah Connor Chronicles is the cast. Lena Headey infuses Sarah with a vulnerability that makes her desire to provide a normal life for her son constantly at odds with her mission to prevent apocalypse. Another standout is Richard T. Jones as James Ellison, an FBI agent who wants to terminators. The greatest additions to the cast came with guest stars Brian Austin Greene (David Silver from 90210, all grown up!) and Garret Dillahunt. Greene plays Derek Reese, brother of Kyle and therefore John Connor’s uncle, sent back in time to help John’s mission. He has a palpable chemistry with Lena Headey that I hope gets toyed with more in the next season, and a deep mistrust of Cameron that adds great tension to the family dynamics. Then there’s Garret Dillahunt as the evil terminator Cromartie. Dillahunt just has the face of a murderer, poor guy. He played two different psychopaths on HBO’s Deadwood and here he brings a chilling, blank-faced stare to his homicidal mission to destroy anyone standing between him and John Connor. His wicked shootout with the FBI, set to the tune of “The Man Comes Around“ was the highlight of an already-entertaining season finale for me. Any show that uses Johnny Cash as a soundtrack for ass-whipping gets some bonus points in my book. The reprise of the song in the episode’s last minutes was also inspired—as a sinister new figure in the Skynet conspiracy made his first appearance walking away from a bomb explosion that left the fate of Cameron up in the air. (Insert bad “She'll be back” line here. There’s no way this show would return without her.) Summer Glau, such a standout in Firefly and Serenity, portrays a damaged girl of a different sort as the killing machine Cameron. Because of her propensity towards playing weird, her performance is strangely flat to me, but there are little moments where Glau gives her cyborg a spark of humanity that is equal parts touching and terrifying. I suspect after the events of the finale, Cameron will have a lot of new personality quirks for Glau to play around with.

In short, The Sarah Connor Chronicles is a lot better than I thought it would be. It strikes a good balance between the philosophical musings on destiny and mindless popcorn entertainment. It’s not quite as good as genre heavy-hitters like Battlestar Galactica or Lost, but the potential is there. Well-written, moving moments are there. I’m hoping the show will continue to settle into its voice in the coming season. io9’s had a bunch of interesting articles about this that I only browse casually because I’m not into big spoilers, but go here to check some out. Summer Glau will have a chance to show more range as a terminator with a malfunctioning brain, John will step into to his heroic fate even more, and Sarah Connor will continue to fight with every shred of her humanity against the machines that would kill the only thing that makes her life worth living. Good stuff. Add to that Shirley Manson of Garbage as a corporate nutcase most likely connected to Skynet’s coming awakening and, for me, I don’t need a resistance fighter from the future to tell me where I’ll be Monday nights.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles returns with new episodes Monday, September 8th at 8 P.M. EST on Fox.

Tara Chang
1. tlchang
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed TV Terminator. And you're right, the Johny-Cash-track-over-carnage was such a perfect touch and eerie counterpoint. I'm looking forward to the next installments.
Shane Shock
2. shaneshock
Love the show, too. The Sara Connor Chronicles was very much a surpise to me last season, especially after expecting a lot of cheese and thinking "How can they possibly give this franchise justice on prime time television?"

Now The Sara Connor Chronicles is one of five shows I have on my Outlook so that I don't miss them. Must-see-T-V.

Robert Cruze Jr
3. rjcruzejr
I too was hesitant about this show; I absolutely love the first two Terminator movies, and I'm still shaking my head over the third. But, I figured I'd give it a chance since there have been several shows that have turned out as good, if not better, than the movie franchise that spawned them: MASH, Buffy, Highlander, and Stargate SG-1, just to name a few (the less said about Uncle Buck and Delta House, the better).

I watched, and I was won over.

There were two things that won me over to this show (besides Summer Glau, that is). First and foremost, as far as this show is concerned, Terminator 3 never existed (if only that were true in real life. Those 109 minutes are gone forever...). That alone endears this show to me.

And second, this show's got heart. It's one of those intangible qualities that's really hard to put my finger on -- kind of an "I'll know it when I see it" quality -- yet it's the "make or break" for me when it comes to a show. I guess the best way to explain it is that it's something about a show that grabs me by the scruff of the neck and forces me to Give A Crap about the characters.

So, yup, definitely giving a crap about these characters ;-)

Christine Evelyn Squires
4. ces
Hmm, I don't watch TV. I do turn it on about 2x/year to make sure it still works. I used to watch anderson cooper 360, but even it no longer holds my interest. So, I guess I have to say that I don't care about any of these characters - in fact, I don't even know who they are. Back to reading.
rick gregory
5. rickg
@4.. sigh. So glad we could help you feel superior...

I watched a few of these episodes and I'm with you - it's not amazing TV but it's good TV. I probably won't make it a point to catch each new episode (I don't do that for any show) but it's one I'll stop if I catch it.
6. di11ro
Great review of Sarah Conner Chronicles. I'm a fan of the show, too. Funny how good a show they made to hype the T4 movie. As it's directed by a music-video director, I'm not expecting much from that movie, in spite of Christian Bale.

Oh, another great tv show based on a movie (which was based on a book) is Friday Night Lights. And that was also renewed for another season!

- -
7. heresiarch
Yes--come for the Summer Glau, stay for the surprisingly engaging characters. Though you're dead on about the voice-overs: they're only slightly less insipid than Heroes'.

I love the moral quandries they're forced to tangle with: they're facing a true, unquestionable existential threat, but how far are they willing to go to stop it? Everyone has a slightly different answer, and it's fun to watch them duke it out.

Another recent show that's knocked me dead is The Middleman. Hilarious premise, witty writing, and again, suprisingly engaging characters. Sheer elegance in its simplicity!
Vanessa Paolantonio
8. vanessa_p
I'm so excited! Lena Headey is great and I am pleasantly surprised by 90210's performance last season. It's always interesting when a female plays the part of a villain, or in this case a machine. It's especially interesting seeing the main female characters fluctuate between villain and protagonist and how they justify each role, as Theresa mentioned. And who can deny the allure of fire, explosions, and rock and roll?

I'm also excited to see Shirley Manson joining the cast (hot). Wonder if she'll be singing "I think I'm paranoid" as a corporate nutcase. Ha!
Theresa DeLucci
9. theresa_delucci
I hear you, di11ro. I'm not sure what to make of McG's T4 movie. I love Christian Bale, but...McG movie. On the plus side, it doesn't have to aim high to be at least better than T3.
Vanessa Paolantonio
10. vanessa_p
Here's an interview with Lena Headley about Sarah Connor Chronicles:
11. Rashkae
I tried watching the premiere of this show last year. Maybe I just didn't give it enough time to pick up it's pace, but even before the first commercial break, I was subjected to more panty shots than a typical anime episode, and some of the worst acting possible. (Sadistic robots and emotionally dull humans, wtf?)
Samantha Brandt
12. Talia
Rashkae, it grows on you. It really does. Yes, its cheesy, but you do get drawn into it, and Summer Glau is just wonderful.

I am so excited. I cut my foot open this morning so I'm not much good today for doing anything besides watching tv, so this is convenient timing! :D

But no love for heroes?? That's suspect indeed. :p

Three hour season premiere, 9/22.. wheeeee.

Oh, and yeah. Shows that got the axe.. I am STILL pissed about Journeyman. I hate you, NBC.
Theresa DeLucci
13. theresa_delucci
Oh man - I edited out my line complaining about the cancellation of Journeyman! That was my favorite new show last fall, hands down. And it was after Journeyman got canned that I decided not to watch new shows until I knew they'd be returning. (But I will still give Fringe and True Blood a go this season.)

I *had* love for Heroes, but I hated the second season. I'll give it another shot though - Lost came back 10x better after the boring early third season. Sometimes creators listen to fan complaints.
14. jstewart
I only watch things after they come out on DVD, because I can't stand commercials and I'm too cheap for a Tivo. But you've definitely moved T:SCC right up my list. Any new opportunity to watch Summer Glau kick ass cannot be passed up.
Eugene Myers
15. ecmyers
All right, I think I'm going to have to buy the first season after all; far too many people are hyping this show for it to be disappointing. At the rate I watch things these days, I'll probably finish watching season 1 around the time the second season hits DVD...

It took a few episodes for me to warm to Journeyman but it had a lot of potential and I ended up liking it. I DVR'ed the whole season only to find out it was cancelled. I was going to finish watching it anyway, but decided there didn't seem to be much point.

Did you catch Pushing Daisies last season? That's top on my list of must-see-TV this season.

I liked the first episode of Fringe, but probably not enough to try shoehorning it into my weekly viewing. DVD, maybe...if it sticks around and gets good reviews.
16. Noumenon
To me the show earned its respect when it did the episode about the guy who saw Arnold in T-2 as a messiah figure. Reimagining continuity that way should get any comic fan's respect.
Ian Tregillis
17. ITregillis
Great analysis! I couldn't agree more with you on every point. This show has really earned my respect, by virtue of being a lot better than it had any right to be. Or, to put it another way, by not sucking nearly as much as it obviously should have.

My original reaction when I heard they were doing a Terminator TV series was... well, you know. Not enthusiastic. But then when I found out that the protector Terminator would be played by Summer Glau, I thought, "Hmm... Robot Summer Glau... This has possibilities."

Overall, the thing that impressed me the most about the first season of this show was how clearly the writers went out of their way to avoid showing me things that I as a viewer had already seen a million times. I felt like they tried, as much as possible, to circumvent overly-familiar scenes and scenarios (the Johnny Cash scene you reference is the best example). I posted about this on my blog a while back.

And ditto on Journeyman, too. I was sorry to see this one die the early, undignified death.

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