Taking a brief break from Deep Space Nine, but continuing with this month's TV theme, a few observations about the Terminator spin-off series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Two episodes in, I'm cautiously optimistic--not in love yet, but willing to see more. I'm not yet sold on any of the leads, and though I can imagine reasons internal to the story for the slight but noticeable softening of Sarah Connor's personality, I can't help but suspect that the real reason is that a character as scary and uncompromising as Linda Hamilton's Sarah still can't make it onto a TV screen. (Lending credence to this theory is new SF blog io9, which compares Sunday's pilot to the unaired one that made the rounds online several months ago and argues that in the original version Sarah was a great deal more kickass.) There's also no denying that the show is getting an artificial boost both from the absence of other original, scripted television (though next week sees two new Chuck episodes! Hurrah!) and from the requisite comparison to the abysmal failure that was Bionic Woman. Though it hardly blew me away, thus far The Sarah Connor Chronicles has avoided the dreariness, emotional numbness, and backhanded sexism of that series, which is good, but hardly a ringing endorsement. Still and all, there's some promise here, and I'm going to keep watching to see if it's fulfilled. The voiceovers, though, have got to go.
A few more observations:
Right now, the show's greatest impediment seems to be John. This is not a criticism of the actor or even the character as it's been written--John is an impossible character. Make him a hero, and there's no tension. Make him ordinary, and the audience starts to wonder just how this guy becomes a messianic figure. One of Terminator 3's (many) flaws is that it failed to portray John convincingly as either a hero or a person becoming a hero. Terminator 2 got around this problem because, as a child, John's precociousness was allowed to stand as a substitute for any heroic characteristics without making him too perfect (that said, T2 does establish that John isn't an ordinary kid. He bonds with the terminator and helps him discover his humanity, and has a deep respect for human life). Sarah Connor's John falls somewhere in between. By the standards of TV teenagers, he's remarkably non-whiny and well-behaved, but we really ought to be able to say more about the future savior of humanity than that he's a good kid. Clearly, part of the show's mandate is to chart John's growth into his leadership role (and just as clearly, that process is going to involve overcoming Sarah's complete dominance in his life, which is largely responsible for his being such a non-entity), but we've all known kids who were natural leaders and, even at a young age, they possess a certain quality that John doesn't seem to have, and that I, for one, would have found interesting to watch. On the other hand, the show is called The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and its thrust seems to be that Sarah, not John, is going to prevent the apocalypse, so maybe John's blankness is intentional.
Something that screamed out at me in the pilot was that Sarah and John's life in Nebraska was middle-class, and even after running off their clothing and personal grooming indicate a certain level of affluence. The house they settle in in the second episode is empty and clearly abandoned, but it's also spacious and not at all dilapidated, and Sarah stocks the (fully functional) refrigerator with more than just staples and cheap junk food. It's not uncommon for television to depict working class (and even middle class) lifestyles in an unrealistically luxurious and photogenic manner, but it's disappointing to see this attitude from a Terminator spin-off because the films were actually very good about avoiding it. In The Terminator, Sarah was a working class girl. Being forced to flee for her life at the end of that film drove her further downwards into an itinerant lifestyle. In Terminator 2, the people she knows and hangs out with in live in trailer parks, and there's every indication that before her incarceration these were the sorts of places she and John lived in as well. Even John's foster parents were clearly lower-middle class, and almost every item of clothing, possession, home or vehicle we see in that film looks shabby and cheap (with the exception of Miles Dyson's home). I'm disappointed to see that the series has reverted to the television default of unthinking affluence, even if the diamond cache Sarah and John discover in the second episode explains it away.