It shouldn’t have worked in any way at all. Appearing just a shameless cash grab, a Terminator TV show was a terrible idea on the surface. That it was going to be on network TV was even worse, as it meant the creators wouldn’t have the freedom to replicate the two classic film’s levels of action.
Despite all of this though, when the first episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles aired, fans were left speechless. It also helped that the show took the brave step of completely removing the third film from the franchise’s history.
This was a risky step that played straight to the fan’s dismay at the third film’s handling of Connor, in one fell swoop endearing itself to the doubters. That the show’s pilot was a rip-snorter of an intro. Filled with action, twists and with some great character introductions, it’s a real lesson as to how to set up a series.
It was the show’s second series though that really knocked it out of the park though. With the plots allowed more time to breath and get increasingly complex, the show became an absolutely web of intrigue, whilst constantly surprising and delivering a surprising amount of blunt trauma for a network TV show. Its love of killing off characters in cold ways was also a pleasant surprise.
Another pleasant surprise was that the entire cast pulled their weight. Lena Heady showed all the grit and guile of Linda Hamilton in the role of Sarah Connor, only she was about to give Sarah a deeper emotional side that Hamilton never really could. Thomas Dekker, playing John Connor, was also able to improve upon Nick Stahl’s efforts in Terminator 3, playing John as a far more complicated character than seen before.
It was Summer Glau and Garret Dillahunt who stole the limelight though, with their turns as the titular machines being the absolute centrepiece of the drama. Far deeper, more complex and with far more layers than were ever explored before, their Terminators were a different breed. True characters, not just plot devices on legs. That the show also took the time to explore their ‘personalities’ helped tremendously.
The show may have been a critical success; the downside was a distinct lack of commercial success.
While the show opened with 18 million viewers, it slumped down to 10 for episode two and then stuck at about eight for the rest of the fledgling season. Having gotten an expanded second series, up from 9 to 22 episodes, the hope was that it could keep those viewers for longer. This wasn’t to be.
Unfortunately, despite its continued quality, Sarah Connor Chronicles started and then continued to lose viewers at an aggressive rate. At the end of the series, the figures showed that there were only about 3.6 million tuning in each week. The executives had seen enough, and didn’t deem the show worthy of bringing back for the third series despite the show’s quality.
That its cliff hanger ending left the entire franchise in such a more interesting place than either the third or fourth films did was just insult to injury for fans that’d just had a collective rug pulled out from under them.
It may lead to frustration, but for those yearning for more man vs machine action will find themselves all the better for ditching the last two films, and grabbing a hold of this tragically temporary TV show.