Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sarah Connor Terminates the Writer’s Strike

FOX’s new sci-fi offering.

By Rebecca Cusey
January 12, 2008 1:00 PM

Just in time to distract us from reality — and from the torrent of “reality TV” that the writers’ guild strike has engendered — FOX is airing a new science-fiction series based on the popular Terminator movie franchise. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles premieres on Sunday, January 13 at 8 (EST), followed by a second episode Monday night at 9.

If you somehow missed the Terminator films, starring California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and a fluid supporting cast, here’s the backdrop to the new series: Cybernetic time travelers from a dystopian future — where machines have taken over the Earth and seek to exterminate the last human resistance — return to our own time. They come to hunt down — and in the latter two movies, also to help — the future leaders of the resistance. In the 1984 original, Schwarzenegger plays the seemingly invincible machine — a creepy metal skeleton encased in organic, human-like flesh — programmed to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who will become the mother of the organizer of the human resistance, John Connor. To protect his mother, the rebel leader sends Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) back in time — who then falls in love with her, becoming the father of his own boss. In the subsequent movies, a reprogrammed Arnold is sent back to protect the Connors, facing off with increasingly powerful, next-generation Terminators (who are capable of really great special effects).

The Sarah Connor Chronicles is set in the period between the second and third Terminator movies — before Judgment Day and the rise of the machines. John Connor (Thomas Dekker) is an insecure teenager who doesn’t seem at all like humanity’s last, best hope, and those pesky Terminators show up regularly to try to knock him off. Lena Headley plays his tigress mother, Sarah, who is willing to kick any amount of cyborg heinie to protect her son. Though she may look frail, she carries big guns and is not afraid to use them. She is a prickly blend of desperation, determination, and maternal love. Like mothers everywhere, Sarah will kill or die for her child.

The Terminators lurk, monitoring the Internet and government databases for news of John Connor, waiting for another chance. What they lack in social skills, they make up for in force and firepower. Summer Glau plays Cameron, a good Terminator sent to help them survive. She looks like a wisp of silk until she hurls a muscle-bound Terminator through a wall. Seeing her knock the bolts out of cyborgs three times her size never gets old. As in the movies, much of the show is devoted to close-call escapes from the pursuing Terminators. When they are not fleeing from soulless robots that can outrun a car, see through walls, and shrug off shotgun blasts to the chest, John longs to just slouch through high school like everyone else — and, unlike most mothers, Sarah wishes the same.

The pilot and first episode hint at plotlines to come. Sarah, John, and Cameron — when they can pause to catch their breath — make plans to stop Skynet, the network that will lead to the machine takeover. Sarah and John want to do less running and more attacking. FBI agent James Ellison (Richard T. Jones) is also hunting the fugitive Sarah, thinking that she is a criminally violent mental patient. The strange events that seem to follow her everywhere eventually begin to persuade him that her talk of homicidal cyborg machines from the future isn’t so crazy after all. These plot details, however, are mostly explored through terse, breathless conversations during lulls in gunfights. It’s all about the chase.

The formula works. Viewers will find themselves glued to the couch, unwilling to miss any action for a trip to the fridge. And with the ongoing writers’ guild strike leaving the TV landscape dominated by reruns, reality TV, and election coverage, this fresh, fun, and well-made series is a welcome gift. FOX has nine completed episodes in the can, so hopefully Sarah Connor will carry us through to the end of hostilities in Tinseltown — if not the ones on the campaign trail.

— Rebecca Cusey writes from Washington, D.C.

‘Sarah Connor Chronicles’ cranks up action

By Mark A. Perigard
Sunday, January 13, 2008 - Updated 10h ago

Mark Perigard is the TV critic for the Boston Herald.


The ’bots are back and there’s gonna be trouble.

Those unstoppable androids return to destroy mankind’s last savior in “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.”

In the dregs of the writers strike, with most dramas sputtering, the new Fox series (debuting tonight at 8 and moving into its regular time slot tomorrow at 9 p.m. on WFXT, Ch. 25) is a megawatt jolt to the heart, crackling with exhilarating stunts, plot swerves and, most unexpectedly, a touch of humanity. It’s everything “Bionic Woman” should have been.

The first two episodes continuing the big-budget “Terminator” blockbusters present a richly reimagined life for Sarah Connor and her teenaged son John, destined one day to lead humanity’s resistance fighters against relentless cybernetic enemies.

The series opens in 1999, approximately two years after the events depicted in the 1991 film “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” Hey, this is a story that hinges on time travel and if you can’t make allowances for that, you’ll fry your own circuits. (I can already hear purists grumbling about why they should bother investing in the series since we know from the 2003 film “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” that Sarah died of cancer some time before that film.)

The creators of this TV series aren’t asking you to forget the less-successful film - by the conclusion of tomorrow’s episode, they’ve found a way to cleverly address it and ensure you’ll be hooked by this adaptation.

Sarah (Lena Headey, “300”) has settled with her teenage son (Thomas Dekker, “Heroes”) in a small town. In a bit of black humor, Sarah’s fear of commitment prompts her latest attempt to duck for cover. When her boyfriend (Dean Winters, “Rescue Me”) proposes, she panics and tells John they have to hit the road again.

“Half an hour. One bag. Plus the gun. I’ll make pancakes,” says this determined mother.

Haven’t we learned by now that moms are right about everything?

In New Mexico, a substitute teacher (Owain Yeoman, a decent substitute for a certain California governor) yanks out a gun hidden inside his leg. Fortunately for John, his future self sent back another cybernetic protector in the form of a beautiful teenager named Cameron (Summer Glau, “Firefly”).

FBI agent James Ellison (Richard T. Jones) also is on Sarah’s trail. He starts out all Scully, but one suspects as the evidence mounts that he will move in Mulder’s direction.

Director David Nutter has a firm grasp on the electrifying action sequences but displays a deft touch in the smaller moments. John is stuck between his slightly unhinged mother and the ultimate hot girl. They don’t let him get away with anything. His longing for a father figure is palpable and creates complications tomorrow.

Headey won’t make anyone forget Linda Hamilton’s memorable turn in the second film and her voice-overs are unconvincing. Give her time to grow into the role.

I’d like to give her time - and some pasta - to help her grow into her jeans. Headey looks remarkably like actress Lara Flynn Boyle. She’s a twig of an action heroine.

When Cameron tells John, “Come with me if you want to live,” you can almost hear a generation of male viewers answering yes to that familiar call. “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” jumps to a great start.

Series premiere tonight at 8 on WFXT (Ch. 25).

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