Written by: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer
Fox's new sci-fi action series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles can only get so far on shout-outs.
After watching a few episodes of the new series, I'm underwhelmed. Lena Headey isn't a good fit for Sarah Connor. John Dekker is an acceptable John Connor, but he's been saddled with some thoughtless writing. Summer Glau gets points for her previous geek credits (Firefly, The 4400), but even her game work as a benevolent terminator can't save this series unless they make a few changes and take the show in some new directions.
First, let's talk about what the show is doing wrong. It's a great premise – following Sarah and John Connor during all those years between terminator assassination attempts and John's post-Judgment Day ascendence – but so far the show has relied too much on making nods to the first three movies. To be sure, there is some good writing, but a generally flat tone hasn't helped the writers when they've slipped up – and believe me, they've slipped up.
As far as the nods to the movies go, don't get me wrong – I got chills when Summer Glau ran over a malevolent terminator with a truck and said to John, "Come with me if you want to live," but that's not enough, and neither are other (admittedly clever) touches, such as one of the Connors' aliases (Reese), or the name of Glau's reprogrammed-for-good terminator (Cameron).
As for the bad writing, there's plenty to complain about, but the John Connor character really stinks so far. To wit:
• John leaves his house and exposes himself just because he's stir crazy. Listen, I get it. You want to get John out of the house and into trouble. Fine, no problem, but come up with something better than this old chestnut.
• John falls for the old "terminator mimics a loved one's voice over the phone" trick. Not only had John already encountered this ruse in the second movie, but the regimented, militaristic Sarah we met in part 2 would have established distress and clear codes to use when talking with her son over the phone. Lame.
That said, the show hasn't fucked everything up. In fact, they've made some pretty decent writing choices, such as:
• One of the malevolent terminators got so badly damaged that it had to get rid of its organic skin-suit and build another. At this point, I was expecting the terminator to have simply come equipped with the knowledge and the hardware to grow a new disguise, but instead, it had to find a scientist and teach him how to grow new skin.
• Richard T. Jones' cop character has the potential to become the Samuel Girard of this series, and I'd love it if he slowly uncovered the truth about Judgment Day and became a resistance soldier in the pre-Judgment Day era.
• To be sure, for this show to have any conflict, we would have to see more of Skynet and its progenitors, but I love how this show continues the terminally bleak tone of the movies. I mean, it's not sad enough that the world as we know it will end in a nuclear holocaust, but in order to avert it, we have to stop the inevitable march of Moore's Law. Innocent innovators are the enemy in the Terminator world. That breaks my heart.
• We got a glimpse of a cell of resistance soldiers from the post-Judgment Day era. They were all dead, but I'm looking forward to seeing more soldiers from the future.
• I have to admit: It was an inspired choice to make Sarah, John and Cameron travel forward in time so Sarah could skip the date of her own death, alluded to in the third movie. I love how they're respecting the mythology laid down in part three, and there's nothing like a good old cancer clock to put pressure on an extended TV narrative.
But I'm still not entirely pleased with the show, and I have a few ideas of what they could do to fix it.
• Fire Lena Headey. She's a fine actor, but not even the mighty queen from 300 can compete with Linda Hamilton. Headey is too tall, too slight and too damn good-looking for the role. (Not that Hamilton isn't attractive, but she cut a fearsome figure in Terminator 2 that Headey has yet to match or invoke in any way.)
Who would I cast instead? Well, I know she's not an actress, but what about Jillian Michaels, the uber-buff, uber-intense trainer from The Biggest Loser? She bears a decent resemblance to Hamilton, and she certainly has the physical presence for the role. Just get that woman some acting lessons and suit her up like a militia member!
• Expand the mythology. Remember when I said that this show can't survive on shout-outs alone? Well, if cheap shout-outs are the empty calories of storytelling, then expanding the mythology is the balanced, high-protein meal. We have a brand new trilogy of Terminator movies coming, all of which presumably take place after Judgment Day. I would love it if this show could help to explain some tantalizing questions raised by the first three movies, such as:
• How do John Connor and Kyle Reese meet?
• How do they infiltrate the compound where the time-travel equipment is held?
• How do they capture a T-101 unit undamaged?
I'm sure the future trilogy of movies will address these questions, and let me say that I would love it if the sixth (and final) movie ended with the destruction of Skynet and the birth of a new, Judgment-Day-free timeline.
• Explore the timeline. How cool would it be if Sarah, John and Cameron got involved in a storyline that required them to travel into the post-Judgment Day era and back?
• Reese, Reese, Reese. I don't care what they have to do to make this happen, but bring Reese into the show somehow. Maybe Sarah will be in disguise and she'll meet Reese in the post-Judgment Day future before he travels back to save her. Hell, maybe she'll meet him as a child or young man, but this is a great character. He deserves to live again.
• Future John Connor. By Crom, if Hiro can meet his badass future self on Heroes, why can't John Connor have the same experience?
That's about all I got for now. I plan to keep watching this show whenever I can, but my DVR only has so much room for high-definition programming. The Sarah Connor Chronicles better start earning it.
Author: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer
Robert J. Peterson is a writer and web developer living in Los Angeles. A Tennessee native, he graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He’s written for newspapers and websites all over the country, including the Marin Independent Journal, the Telluride Daily Planet, CC2KOnline.com, Offscreen, and Geekscape.net. He co-hosts the podcasts Make It So and Hiram’s Lodge. He’s appeared as a pop-culture guru on the web talk shows Comics on Comics, The Fanbase Press Week In Review, Collider Heroes, ScreenJunkies TV Fights, and Fandom Planet. He’s the founder of California Coldblood Books.