by Curt Holman
Foxâs new TV series âTerminator: The Sarah Connor Chroniclesâ (airing 9 p.m. Mondays) may be one of the unlikely saviors of scripted television. For its Sunday debut, âTerminatorâsâ pilot episode was the highest-rated new show of the 2007-2008 season, beating even the popular relaunch of âAmerican Gladiatorsâ earlier in January. Reportedly itâs also the highest-rated debut of any scripted show in the past three years. As the writerâs strike drags on, âTerminatorâsâ early success suggests that TV audiences have an appetite for more than reality shows.
It doesnât hurt that âTerminatorâ derives from the popular film series, and the show shows a lot of respect for James Cameronâs two Terminator movies. The first shot of the pilot echoes the last shot of T2: Judgment Day and takes up where the film left off, with Sarah Connor (now played by Lena Headey, pictured) still a fugitive and protector of her son, John (Thomas Dekker), who is destined to lead mankind against an apocalyptic rebellion of computers and murderous androids. (But hey, no pressure.)
The pilot frequently paid homage to the filmsâ mythology, in the use of lines like âCome with me if you want to live,â and even the names of characters. The âgoodâ hottie terminator from the future (Serenityâs Summer Glau) is named âCameron,â after James Cameron, while the FBI agent (Richard T. Jones) on their trail is named Ellison, presumably a nod to author Harlan Ellison, who won on-screen credit after his lawsuit asserted that the plot of the original Terminator owed a debt to his episodes of âThe Outer Limitsâ (âSoldierâ and âDemon With a Glass Handâ).
Nevertheless, show creator Josh Friedman isnât straight-jacketed by the big-screen continuity. While the third film, T3: Rise of the Machines, took place after Sarahâs death, the new series features time travel to make an end-run around the events of that movie, so they may not have ever happened. Confusing? Sure! But by the end of âTerminatorâsâ second episode, Friedman opens up some intriguing possible storylines, which include people from 1999 marveling at cell phone advances in the year 2007 and asking questions like âWhatâs 9/11?â Mysteries include at least one other human resistance fighter from the future, in addition to a âskinlessâ Terminator on the loose like a walking metal skeleton.
Fast-paced and exciting, âTerminatorâ also suffers from clunky dialog, like Ellisonâs description of Sarah Connor (whom he believes to be an insane criminal) as a âGrade A whack-a-mole.â With its love of violence, hardware and seedy Los Angeles locations, âTerminator: The Sarah Connor Chroniclesâ looks quite a bit like Kiefer Sutherlandâs â24â in ways both good and bad. Fortunately, the show boasts two terrific actresses in Glau and Headey, and at its best it demonstrates some of the cleverness and girl power of âBuffy the Vampire Slayer.â âTerminator: The Sarah Connor Chroniclesâ shows the potential to be a thrilling sci-fi show or a convoluted mess, but so far, itâs worth the reboot.