When a review copy of "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" arrived at my door, I was ecstatic and dove right in, getting so hooked that I often watched more than one episode at a time. (None of those pesky week-long waits to find out what happens!) Now that I've absorbed the first season, I'll make all necessary precautions to ensure that I don't miss the new season when it begins this fall. The show is just that good.
The series is set between the second and third movies. Sarah Connor (now played by 300's Lena Headey) and her son John (Thomas Dekker), long hunted by robots from the future, pack up in the middle of the night and run off, leaving Sarah's boyfriend Charley (Dean Winters) behind. This is their life now, constantly on the run, never settling down anywhere for too long. They move to California, where John enrolls in high school and tries to maintain a low profile. However, a Terminator finds him in his classroom and opens fire. Unbeknownst to John, a good Terminator (Summer Glau) is already there to protect him. Sarah and John take her in, giving her the appropriate name of Cameron (presumably a nod to the franchise creator, James Cameron).
That's just the first episode. The rest of the season - which is nine episodes long - finds the group hiding from a particularly relentless Terminator named Cromartie (Garret Dillahunt), trying to get their hands on a seemingly-innocent computer program that eventually morphs into the dreaded SkyNet, and learning more about the future, courtesy of the time-traveling Derek (Brian Austin Green). I know - I rolled my eyes too when I realized Brian Austin Green was in this show but, to his credit, he does a decent job playing a character whose function I won't reveal here in case you haven't seen it yet. Also on board is Richard T. Jones as FBI agent James Ellison who has long been looking for Sarah (again: no spoilers) and slowly comes to realize that something otherworldly might be going on.
"Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" fits nicely into the mythology of the popular sci-fi franchise. Any fears that it might somehow tinker with the formula too much are unfounded. In fact, I think the quality level of the show is certainly on par with the first and third Terminator movies, and very close to that of the second (and best) film.
There is a lot of action packed into each episode. The school rampage that opens the series is a real nail-biter. In a later episode, there's a harrowing chase involving a UPS-type delivery truck. Sarah, behind the wheel, tries to outrun her pursuers while Cameron kicks the ass of a villain in the back. As they tussle and throw one another into the truck's walls, the vehicle veers wildly, making it difficult for Sarah to keep on course. Each episode contains at least one high-quality action sequence such as these. The production values are first-rate; it's clear the network had a dedication to making the show every bit as exciting as the movies on which it is based.
No matter how much action occurs, this is fundamentally a character-driven show, and that's its best quality. A lot of emphasis is placed on showing the toll these adventures have on Sarah and John. As played with excellence by Lena Headey, Sarah is a fierce warrior, determined to protect her son at any cost. And the cost is high. Charley is the love of her life, so leaving him creates an emotional toll for her. (Hint: he's gone but not forgotten.) John, on the other hand, is at some level tired of running and fighting. He longs for stability and a chance to lead a normal life. When his mother reminds him that this will never be possible, he becomes defiant and angry. The mother/son dynamic here is a real selling point.
Perhaps the most entertaining performance comes from Summer Glau (Serenity). On the surface, she appears to be just another California teen girl, but inside she's a machine. The show mines a lot of humor from her attempts to assimilate into John's world. Her classmates are befuddled by her odd behavior and flat affect, and her awkward attempts to use popular lingo prove fruitless. ("That's a tight gift," she tells John on his birthday.) Glau is really, really good at playing this robotic quality without ever tipping over into camp. When she opens a can of whoop-ass, you believe it, even if she's just accidentally said or done something incongruent. She does some terrific work here.
I was riveted to my TV screen every time I popped in one of the DVDs. "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" is smart entertainment, full of interesting 3-dimensional characters, and packed with action, excitement, and humor. Terminator fans can rejoice in the fact that they got this show fundamentally right.
"Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: The Complete First Season" comes in a 3-disc set that features all nine episodes from Season One. There is also a nice assortment of special features, starting with "Creating the Chronicles," a three-part documentary on the show that focuses on how the popular movie series was adapted for television. Also covered are the show's special effects and overall design. It's quite clear that the creative forces behind the program have a fondness for the movies and intend to do them justice.
There are deleted (or "terminated") scenes for a number of episodes, many of them unusually strong. Cast and crew commentaries are available for selected episodes, and there's also a longer cut of the "Demon Hand" episode. Also included is a gag reel, a storyboard animatic, and rehearsal footage from a sequence in which Summer Glau's character learns a ballet move. Finally, there are cast audition tapes featuring Headey, Dekker, and Jones trying out for their roles.
"Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: The Complete First Season" has nine episodes of a great show, as well as strong supplementary material that will add to your appreciation. All in all, this is fantastic DVD set.
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