Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Sarah Connor Chronicles

So Fox came through in a big way yesterday, sending me the first two episodes of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" in time for this review after participating in a teleconference with star Lena Headey ("300") and producer James Middleton the day before.

Frankly, I was a bit worried about seeing the pilot after Middleton said on the call to ignore "Terminator 3."

"We create an entirely new timeline," he said. "In terms of the show, the premise it establishes with a new timeline is more informed wih 'Terminator 2' than 'Terminator 3.' "

Of course, in T3, it establishes that Sarah was dead and we see John Connor as a young man in his 20s. In "SCC" we see John as a 15-year-old played by Thomas Dekker ("Heroes"). The action is set a couple of years after the events of T2, where Sarah, John and the Terminator destroyed the lab that creates Skynet, the system that builds the Terminators and initiates Judgement Day.

John and Sarah are living off the grid, and Sarah is engaged to an EMT (Dean Winters, "Rescue Me"). But Sarah decides that she has been in one place too long and decides it's time to return to the road, trying to stay one step ahead of both the authorities and the Terminators.

At his new school, John meets a classmate named Cameron (Summer Glau, "Firefly") who turns out to be a Terminator sent by his future self to protect his young self. She gets put to work early, as an evil Terminator shows up immediately after. (BTW, nice move, future John, in sending a hot teenage woman to be your protector rather than an oversized Austrian.)

Not to give too much away, but future John hasn't just sent back Cameron for his protection, and the Hail Mary she pulls at the end of the pilot to allow the three of them to escape the assassin helps establish the new timeline.

Time travel in sci-fi shows is a bit of a mixed bag: On the one hand, alternate realities allow for some great storytelling, like on "Heroes" in Season 1; on the other hand, it brings out all sorts of logical inconsistencies in plots, plus allows writers a loophole to change storylines or hit the rewind button in order to say "it was only a possible future."

Despite my initial misgivings, the SCC writers use the time travel aspect of the Terminator franchise pretty well, I think. And there are some moments in Episode 2 that indicate that viewers may not want to ignore aspects of T3 so quickly.

Headey makes the role of Sarah her own, despite the almost iconic status of Linda Hamilton's portrayal. Headey said she tried to approach the part from her own perspective, and the bond between her and John is explored a lot more in SCC than it was in the movies.

"It's such an ongoing evolution," Headey said. "I think her relationship with John is reaching new depths. ... I took from the movies what was undeniable - a strength and instinct, and an absolute sense of right and wrong."

Middleton said that events from SCC would be tied into "Terminator 4," which has cast Christian Bale as the future John Connor. He added that while none of the actors from the movies, such as Robert Patrick, have been approached to reprise their roles, he didn't close the door on the possibility, either.

So, what's the final verdict on SCC? Definitely worth an hour of your time. The action sequences are very strong, and Headey brings a lot of depth to Sarah (though she looks a little young to have a teenage son.) Glau is terrific as the new good Terminator, while Dekker is solid as John, though the writers need to have the character whine so much.

"Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" debuts Sunday night at 8 p.m. on Fox before settling into its regular slot on Monday nights.

THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: Huzzah! A new episode of a show I actually watch! "Ugly Betty" is supposed to be all-new tonight (ABC, 8 p.m.) though I qualify it by saying read yesterday's posting. It's followed by a new "Grey's Anatomy" and "Big Shots."

CBS will supposedly run new episodes tonight for "CSI" at 9 p.m. and "Without A Trace" at 10 p.m. And NBC is all-new with "My Name Is Earl," "30 Rock" (Kenneth the page learns the joys of coffee), "Celebrity Apprentice" and "ER."

Finally, if you enjoy "Project Runway," Bravo is bringing viewers "Make Me A Supermodel" tonight at 9 p.m. The title is pretty self-explanatory and is hosted by models Niki Taylor and Tyson Beckford.


zodin2008 said...

Glad that you liked the "Sarah Connor" series. Hopefully, because "Terminator" is a built in brand name in pop culture, this show may have a shot to succeed where other new Fox shows like "Drive" have failed. (although, I didn't really like "Drive").

I am very pleased I get both a "30 Rock" and "Betty" tonight.

I just hope both sides listen to the pleas of Tom Hanks today to frakking sit down and hammer an agreement out already.

Then again, after going back to watching the now writing-free versions of Leno & "A Daily Show" (since he changed the name now), and laughing the same amount, I think it shows that a lot of these highly paid writers are obviously overpaid and over-judging their self worth.

Anonymous said...

How about the Midnight Train to Georgia effort in 30 Rock last night? Not close to as good as Hopelessly Devoted but a decent effort and everyone in the cast had at least one line.
Nice to see music where there used to be script.

Phillip Ramati said...

Maybe all series can have a musical sequence once a year, though I don't know how well it would work on either 24 or Lost!

As for the strike, the Weinstein Company is the latest to reach a deal with the WGA, a further sign that the producers' side may be crumbling.