In 1984, Arnold Schwarzenegger starred as the title character in a movie that would turn into a massive Hollywood franchise, Terminator. Schwarzenegger's character is a cyborg covered in human skin, a killing machine. The film went on to have two sequels over the next 20 years, and now is about to start a new chapter on television as a series titled Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
As the name indicates, the series will not focus on Arnold's model of cyborg, who in the first movie is sent back in time to assassinate Sarah Connor, but rather on Sarah herself. In the original film, Sarah was informed that she was destined to give birth to the savior of mankind, John Connor (something Arnold was sent back to stop from happening). Sarah, understandably, struggled greatly with that knowledge and with learning that machines were going to wipe all but a small percentage of humanity off the face of the Earth.
By the second film Sarah had changed significantly. She had given birth to John but had also been committed to a mental institution. Her attempt to tell authorities about Judgment Day, the day on which the machines would take over, led them to believe she was less than stable. Sure, it sounds crazy, but in the Terminator universe it was accurate. This new series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, takes place after the events of Terminator 2, but before those of Terminator 3 (actually, the producers stated at the press tour that they are operating in a world in which Terminator 3 does not exist).
The series stars Lena Headey in the title role, which was played by Linda Hamilton in the films. Chronicles finds Sarah on the run with John (Thomas Dekker), attempting to live off the grid, teaching John everything that he will need to know in order to save humanity, and keeping a watchful eye out for Terminators. Terminators do of course arrive, and just like in Terminator 2 and Terminator 3, they come as a set, one good, one evil. Sarah and John's protector is Cameron (Summer Glau) and their would be assassin is Cromartie (David Kilde). Thus, the relative calm that Sarah and John had known for years is broken, and their fight for survival ramps up.
The new series boasts some good looking effects and a fun cast, most notably Summer Glau from the sci-fi cult hit Firefly. Glau's resume also includes a recurring role on the recently canceled USA show The 4400. Headey starred in The Cave and more recently in 300, while Dekker is most known for his recurring role on the first season of Heroes.
The plotting of the pilot is fast-paced, leaving the viewer little time to think. Sadly though, the few lulls it does have allow the gaps in logic to seep through. Despite supposedly being an expert at hiding herself, after running away from her new fiancé Sarah moves with John to a new town and yet fails to change identities. Cameron calls her on this in the show, but Sarah never provides a suitable explanation. The mistake may have been necessary for the producers to allow Sarah and John to be tracked by Cromartie, but that still doesn't explain Sarah's action, or lack thereof.
Additionally, without giving away too much about what happens at the end of the episode, the manner in which the good guys momentarily escape Cromartie is wholly unsatisfying. Even in a universe that follows its own sort of logic, their escape route is hugely unbelievable.
All time travel stories have their own quirks and idiosyncrasies; they all seem to have plot holes and issues with circular logic. The Terminator mythology is no different. Yet, between changing model numbers, flaws in its own rules for time travel, and a drastically changing message through the years, the franchise has still been hugely successful. In no small part this is due to Arnold Schwarzenegger's star power.
It will be possible for The Sarah Connor Chronicles to succeed, but first the audience must accept a Terminator universe without the most famous Terminator of them all. The pilot makes a good case for the construction of such a universe. The two main questions now are whether the audience will give it a chance and whether the storyline will be compelling.
Some of the plot in the pilot makes it feel very much like Sarah is determined to keep reliving moments from Terminator 2 over and over again. Doing so will inevitably only lead to frustration on the part of the audience and unfavorable comparisons to the big screen version. However, if the series moves on and stays compelling, I not only think it has a chance, I hope it succeeds.