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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.
And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES (FOX)
(Sundays at 9:00/8:00c this January)
The network's description: "Executive producers Josh Friedman ("War of the Worlds"), David Nutter ("Supernatural," "Smallville") and C-2 Pictures ("Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines") bring to television an intense new drama based on the celebrated heroine of the "Terminator" movies: Sarah Connor. At the end of "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," Sarah vanquished the liquid metal Terminator sent from the future to kill her teenage son, John. Sarah and John now find themselves alone in a very dangerous, complicated world. Fugitives from the law, they are confronted with the reality that still more enemies from the future, and the present, could attack at any moment. THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES reveals what happens when SARAH (Lena Headey, "The Brothers Grimm," "300") stops running and goes on the offensive against an ever-evolving technological enemy bent on destroying her life, and perhaps the world. Her son, 15-year-old JOHN CONNOR (Thomas Dekker, "Heroes"), knows that he may be the future savior of mankind, but is not yet ready to take on the mantle of leadership that he's told is his destiny. John finds himself inextricably drawn to CAMERON (Summer Glau, "Serenity," "The Unit"), an enigmatic and otherworldly student at his high school, who soon proves to be much more than his confidante she assumes the role of Sarah and John's fearless protector. On their trail are not only threats from the future, but an intelligent and tough FBI agent, JAMES ELLISON (Richard T. Jones, "Judging Amy"), who soon becomes a powerful ally. Directed by David Nutter and produced by Warner Bros. Television and C-2 Pictures, THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES represents an exciting reinvention of the "Terminator" franchise, in which the strong and intrepid Sarah discovers that protecting her son and stopping the rise of the machines is more difficult than she had ever imagined."
What did they leave out: It's actually far more ingrained into the "Terminator" mythology than you'd expect.
The plot in a nutshell: August 24, 1999. It's been two years since the events of "Terminator 2." Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) and her son John (a likeable Thomas Dekker) have finally found some sort of peace in the small town of West Fork, Nebraska. Sarah has even got herself a new last name (Reese) and a nice guy fiance (Tim Guinee) but her continued dreams of the world ending still keep her restless. Convinced something is coming, Sarah and a reluctant John make a run for it - this time to the self-described hick town of Red Valley, New Mexico. Daniels, her broken hearted husband, goes to the police where an FBI agent (Richard T. Jones) tell him the truth about Sarah - she's an escaped mental patient who's convinced robots from the future are traveling back in time to kill her son. Furthermore, she's responsible for the death of scientist/family man Miles Dyson and the destruction of Cyberdine Systems. Unbeknownst to both of them however, Daniels' missing persons report has triggered a certain red eyed machine that's been lying in wait for Sarah. Back in New Mexico, John befriends a local girl named Cameron Phillips (Summer Glau) and the arrival of a substitute teacher named Cromartie (Owain Yeoman) will once again change his life forever. He reveals himself as a Terminator - opening fire on John's classroom, apparently killing Cameron in the process. As luck (or fate) would have it - Cameron is also a Terminator, sent back in time to protect John. The two, in the first of several outstanding stunt sequences, make a break for it with Cromartie still hot on their trail. It's not long before he stumbles across Sarah, hoping to lay a trap for John with the old voice faking trick from the films. Another outstanding stunt sequence later, John, Cameron and Sarah are on the open road together, the relentless (albeit damaged) Cromartie still in pursuit (as is Jones' Agent Ellison). It's here we get the info dump we've been waiting for - despite their efforts in "T2," Skynet somehow still becomes operational on April 19, 2011, destroying most of humanity in a nuclear blast two years later. Cameron herself is from 2027 but unlike her Arnold Schwarzenegger counterpart from the films, has no idea who created Skynet. They opt to track down Miles Dyson's widow but that proves to be a dead end. Their only option - visit a bank where Cameron's counterparts have left them something that can not only stop Cromartie but send John to a safe place where they can hide from the Terminators. It would be cruel to reveal any more but suffice it to say, the "something" is a giant MacGuffin device that sets up the show.
What works: To the show's credit, the producers have found a very clever way to bottle up the events of the third "Terminator" film (in which Sarah has died of leukemia) and - once the show is finished - reopen said bottle so the series doesn't conflict with the films. And while it takes a little bit of technobabble gobbledygook to get there, the feeling established at the end of the pilot is one that's fresh, new and (thankfully) unteathered by future continuity. In terms of the actors, you probably couldn't do better than Headey and Dekker. Both do a yeoman's job of easing into their iconic roles, but still obviously take some getting used to. The real prize here though is director David Nutter, who continues to prove why he has the "magic touch" on the pilots he works on. Everything just looks and plays like a feature film and there's nothing here that says this couldn't have worked on the big screen. Previous fans of the franchise will also find plenty to squeal in excitement about - whether it be the closing moments set to Brad Fidel's score, Sarah's narration over a tracking shot of the open road (a la the end of "T2"), more eye rolling Terminator "one liners," POV shots from the Terminator's HUD or just the general feeling of respect for the previous films. I must confess this was way better than I was expecting.
What doesn't: At the same time, this installment feels less like a "pilot" and more like an excuse to rearrange the deck chairs on the "Terminator" franchise to potentially have a TV show. In other words, we're given zero sense on how the show will work week to week. While obviously some housekeeping is to be expected, a little taste of what's to come would have been nice. But that's probably more of a preference than a criticism. My only real nitpicks are a few brain farts on the part of the characters - Cromartie, Cameron and Ellison find our heroes in New Mexico only because Sarah forgets to change her "Reese" alias - something you'd think (considering her Nazi-esque rules about staying hidden) she'd have done as soon as they arrived in a new town. (Cameron even points it out after the fact.) It just betrays her intelligence. It's also a little weird to watch Cameron go from sweet townie girl to personality-less machine as soon as Cromartie arrives. I mean, if "it" knows how to make John open up as the new guy in school why does it need to be reminded that pulling bullets out of itself topless might be construed as socially awkward? Again, it just sort of betrays the character's intelligence.
The bottom line: The bottom line is, nitpicks aside, I'll be there with bells on when this premieres.