December 1st, 2008
After catching up with last week’s episode of Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles, I posted on twitter that anyone who was actually interested in science fiction television should be watching this show instead of Heroes (Five episodes behind and feelin’ fine). There are a lot of reasons for this, from the show’s willingness to engage with the human implications of its events to its simultaneous interest in building its characters individually as opposed to en masse as part of broader story arcs. While at times one wishes the show would be less vague in terms of the grand scheme of things, it manages to take that vague setting and find a foundation in the characters and their plight.
At its core, “Self-Made Man” is a procedural mystery: spotting a Terminator model in a photograph from New Year’s Eve 1920, Cameron goes on a journey through the archives in search of a clue to why a Terminator would be sent back to that particular date. But what the Josh Friedman and his staff have been demonstrating all season is that they have a command of this series: even those elements which feel quite simple (in this case, largely inconsequential and without detailed reasoning beyond an episodic context) are executed with such a precise sense of both character and theme that it doesn’t matter when we don’t get the “Why?”
While other shows spend so much time focused on building suspense for that particular question and forget to build characters, Terminator is carving out a niche for itself as the kind of show that uses its characters for more than acting out plots – while it’s still not to the level of some of Lost or BSG, it is nonetheless quality science fiction television at this stage of the game.
“Mr. Ferguson is Ill Today”
November 10th, 2008
At the end of “Mr. Ferguson is Ill Today,” Sarah Connor says that nothing ever changes: that it is the same thing that drives her every day, and that all of her decisions will continue to revolve around that concern. While I don’t doubt this mother’s dedication to her son’s safety, I feel like this statement paints a picture of this show as something repetitive, something that boils down to an action-packed joy ride of destruction at its best and an elaborate holding pattern at its most languid.
And there have been moments when Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles has felt like both of those things, especially in the early parts of its first season. However, like the first season finale before it, this week’s episode (the eighth of the show’s twenty-two episode season) is an example of the ways in which the show has resisted becoming a pure action series, and how those potentially slow-moving sections have given the show a chance to build characters who believe in things, who have complex emotions, and who can fire off some guns while remaining grounded in some kind of reality.
As this week’s episode weaves in and out of everyone’s stories, there was never once where I questioned whether that character had something to contribute to this story (even if the device seemed unnecessary, gimmicky), and each of them reached an apex of sorts in this episode as it relates to their characters. For a season that has spent considerable time tracing the origins of Skynet through the introduction of Shirley Manson’s Terminator model, it is telling that the most action-packed episode so far is all about people (as sucky as they might be, Riley) – it’s also the best episode of the season so far.
September 22nd, 2008
It is clear that my Monday evenings are officially going to become way too busy – here it is Wednesday, and I’m just getting to the week’s episode of Sarah Connor. This is only going to get worse when Chuck returns next week (Although I already downloaded that premiere [available on iTunes, Hulu and Amazon] and will have a review ready ahead of time), so I don’t know if I’ll be blogging Sarah Connor except maybe to drop in some thoughts later in the week about a particularly solid episode.
Which, really, brings me to “The Mousetrap,” an episode that feels (much more than last week’s) like something closer to where the show was at towards the end of last season. This is both good and bad: on the one hand, the show can’t constantly be this action-driven, placing characters in mortal danger and having Garrett Delahunt ever so close to finally killing John Connor, but on the other it results in an episode that moves along at a strong pace. Yes, I still have some issues with Shirley Manson’s inability to act, and I think that they do need to get a bit more natural pace going along, but there’s enough positives here that I have no intentions of stopping watching the show altogether as we dig deeper into the fall season.
“Automatic for the People”
September 15th, 2008
“That was dangerous. It could upset people.”
This is what Cameron tells John the morning after their season premiere ordeal, a statement that he thinks is about the people he placed into danger directly (Derek and his mother). Cameron corrects him, though, noting that the issue is in the future rather than the present: in other words, John’s future reliance on or relationship with Cameron is clearly a concern for the future.
And this is an episode all about the future, about turning back to a show that is your standard mission-driven action series that uses the various qualities of your main characters. While this is good, as there’s some decent setup for the season ahead here (including a wonderfully contrived plot device), it does seem like a bit of a let down after last week.
When it looked like John was finally going to grow a pair, somehow I didn’t expect him to go all out and…invite a girl over to his house and refuse to make her leave. Oooh, what a badass. In all seriousness, though, it’s a bit of a momentum killer, even if the show still has a good trajectory.
“Samson and Delilah”
September 8th, 2008
The last time I took a look at Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles, you’d think that I wouldn’t be here blogging a second season premiere. Not only was I fairly harsh on the show’s third episode, but the ratings were declining and the buzz was slowly dying. In a strike-damaged season, there was no question that a show like Sarah Connor would just get lost in the wind, a failed attempt to capture a franchise audience with a show that wasn’t living up to its potential.
Well, I had more or less written it off in this fashion, but in the slow summer months I revisited the series and finished off its nine episode run. And while I wasn’t quite driven to blog about my experience, I was quite simply pleasantly surprised: it wasn’t poetry, but the season finale in particular demonstrated a willingness to embrace a larger dramatic perspective, and the episodes leading into it did a strong job of furthering the show’s connection to the broader franchise storyline. As some have taken to saying: it might indicate that we’re living in an opposite world, but Brian Austin Green’s arrival in the series actually coincided with a strong improvement in quality.
So with this new perspective, the show’s surprise second season renewal seems more than justified: it’s a show that was on a definite upward swing heading into the its final episodes, and with the strike limiting pilot development this is one of many shows that deserve a chance to recapture audiences’ attention. So while the momentum is in its favour, and the cheaply priced DVD set likely sold quite a few people on trying the show for the first time, it does need to prove that it can sustain itself in its sophomore season.
The verdict on that front, though, remains iffy: with a rather tepid introduction of the new corporate conspiracy and a chip malfunction that creates a particularly volatile rollercoaster ride of a premiere, “Samson and Delilah” is a heavily action-oriented episode that feels like an organic, but frantic, followup to last season’s cliffhanger explosion. And while I could have done with more set pieces that didn’t feel like one long chase scene, there are moments here that remind us that this show is in better hands than I thought eight months ago.
January 21st, 2008
Last week, I had relatively positive things to say about Sarah Connor Chronicles, which was a surprise to Dave at The Watchers. Over the weekend, he checked out the series for himself, and their third episode has all sorts of not so nice things to say about the series. And while I’m not quite to the point where I am about to agree with the pessimism he brings to the table, I will say that “The Turk” was really, really boring.
Now, it wasn’t “I’m never watching this series again” boring or anything of this nature, but it got mired down in technology and domesticity too greatly. There were some elements that represent intriguing developments for the series, but they were either glossed over or presented almost too literally for the sake of moving the story along. This would be fine if the story actually moved along, or if we saw anything worthwhile within these settings. Perhaps it was my multi-tasking while watching the episode this morning, but did any of this really make any sense?
January 14th, 2007
Last night, I was (attempting) to take part in a podcast which I will have more on sometime today or tomorrow. Due to some microphone issues, chances are that my contributions will be limited – plus, to play the excuse game before it even releases, I’m sure my current cold did nothing to help me in this account. But, regardless, one of the topics I was meant to discuss was Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles.
With eighteen million viewers, the highest demo premiere in three years, and a viewer consensus of “Well, that was less wretched than I predicted!”, last night’s second episode had a lot to live up to. In terms of ratings, the series held onto better numbers than expected, dropping considerably but not dramatically from its inflated premiere numbers (PIFeedback). But the real question is on a creative front: could the breakneck pace of the pilot develop into a sustainable drama series?
After last night’s episode, and despite my reservations, I think it will. At the very least, it’s preferable to the glut of reality (Or the proposed season of 24), and is a breath of air that seems more fresh than it may actually be.