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Saturday, September 23, 2023


T.V. Review: They’re back: Terminators make their television debut

Odds are when you hear "terminator" you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger. His name has been synonymous with the word for almost a quarter of a century, with his role as the unstoppable killing machine being what catapulted the Austrian bodybuilder-turned-actor into stardom.

Schwarzenegger has starred as the Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 in three films spanning three decades, and he has even appeared in a popular interactive thrill ride at Universal Studios. As The Terminator goes, so does "Ah-nold," so when I heard about a new television show based in the Terminator universe, not featuring Schwarzenegger, I was understandably skeptical.

The Sarah Connor Chronicles picks up the story a few years after the events of Terminator 2. Believing they have prevented Judgment Day – the holocaust of mankind at the hands of the artificial intelligence-based Skynet – Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) and her son John (Thomas Dekker) have settled down with medic Charlie Dixon. Sarah and Charlie are scheduled for marriage, and John has accepted him as a surrogate father.

But when Sarah has an apocalyptic nightmare about the death of John and destruction of mankind, she decides it’s time to go back on the run, and she and John skip town to start over in New Mexico. When Dixon reports their disappearance to the authorities, we are introduced to federal agent James Ellison. The Connors are wanted fugitives for the destruction of Cyberdyne Systems (in Terminator 2), and Ellison has been on their trail ever since.

Federal agents are the least of Sarah and John’s worries, however, as no sooner than John begins to settle in to his new school, there is an attempt on his life by a substitute teacher. This is of course no ordinary substitute; it is a Terminator.

Fortunately one of John’s classmates, the only one to have befriended him, turns out to be a Terminator as well, sent back in time to protect him (by his future self, no less). As you can see, the plot set up is quite similar to that of the Terminator films, with a few notable twists.

This time John’s protector comes in the form of Cameron Phillips (Summer Glau). Unlike her Terminator predecessors, Cameron’s exoskeleton is that of a teenage girl, which is sure to add some awkward boy/girl interaction between John and herself.

Genre fans will recognize actress Glau from her role on the short-lived, cult-favorite Fox series Firefly as the mentally disturbed River. One can see the similarities between the roles once Cameron goes into full terminator-mode, with her cryptic language and inquisitive nature.

Glau isn’t the only familiar face in the cast, as both Connors also have genre experience. Heady starred as Queen Gorgo in last year’s Spartan epic 300, and Dekker played indestructible cheerleader Claire’s confidant Zach in the first season of Heroes.

The principal cast of Heady, Dekker and Glau all turn in good performances, but the terminators sent to assassinate them leave something to be desired. Maybe it’s only Arnold withdrawals, but these robots are just not as menacing as Schwarzenegger or his T-1000 nemesis from Terminator 2. Playing an emotionless killer robot is not as simple as it may sound, and these new Terminator actors make one appreciate the nuanced performances of their big screen counterparts.

As far as storyline goes, The Sarah Connor Chronicles wisely ignores the events of Terminator 3 (the franchise’s weakest entry) and establishes a new continuity based off the superior first and second films. How the series will tie into the forthcoming Terminator 4 (rumored to star Christian Bale as John Connor) remains to be seen.

It already makes a drastic divergence from the established Terminator timeline when at the end of the pilot episode our three heroes time-jump from their present (1999) to ours (2007). Several other new plot elements are introduced, such as multiple Terminators and human resistance fighters battling it out in the past, but these are the kinds of ideas that will be necessary to keep the series fresh and out of the repetitive direction the films seemed to take after T2.

Despite the lack of the "Governator," the series has potential. The Sarah Connor Chronicles airs Monday nights at 8 p.m. on Fox.

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