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139 of 166 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb series that is crying out for renewal, April 11, 2009
This review is from: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Season 2 (DVD)
Warning! Multiple spoilers!

As I write this review, just after the end of TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES, the future of the show is very uncertain. The ratings after the show's move to Friday night in February 2009 were never strong, although it persistently ranked #1 among shows having the largest percentage of their viewers watching via DVR. The brute fact is that TSCC did not lack for viewers; it lacked for live viewers during broadcast.

I hope very much for a Season Three of TSCC. This was easily one of my favorite shows for the 2008-2009 season. When it was on Monday nights, I watched it live rather than either CHUCK or GOSSIP GIRL, two shows that I enjoy. When it moved to Fridays I intentionally stayed home to watch it (and then for six glorious weeks DOLLHOUSE and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, for what was perhaps the finest nights of TV I've ever experienced). Although the show lagged a bit just after its midway point (unfortunately right when it moved to Fridays), it remained persistently fascinating for the entire year. If I had access to a button that would allow me to choose between either having the upcoming film TERMINATOR SALVATION or TSCC vanishing, then we would never have the movie but would get a Season Three of the TV series. My preference is based on a love of character development and a richly articulated story, neither of which is possible in a 120-minute movie. Besides, most movies quickly degenerate into a special effects extravaganza, and the previews of TERMINATOR SALVATION definitely leads one to fear that that is precisely what we will get this summer.

I do have a couple of complaints with the TV series. I think that the writers sometimes allowed it to drag a bit in Season Two. And while I'll grant that "Sarah Connor" was in the title and that John Connor is ultimately the crucial character in the Terminator saga, far and away the most interesting character on TSCC was Cameron. Most of the weaker episodes were notable for having little or no Cameron. Most of the truly great moments on the show had Cameron front and center.

Let me interrupt myself to insist that if you DON'T WANT TO BE SPOILED, to not read any futher!

Season One focused primarily on tracking down the possessors of a computer with an advanced AI named "The Turk" (the name alluding to a famous 18th century chess playing machine in the shape of a Turkish male that vanquished many opponents before it was revealed that it was a hoax, a chess master actually hiding inside the machine). That apparently accomplished, Sarah, John, and Cameron embarked on a series of clues that led them to the ZeiraCorp, headed by a shape shifting terminator played by Garbage lead singer turned actress Shirley Manson. One of my favorite things about Season Two is that for nearly the whole season we are led to believe that Catherine Weaver (Manson) is an evil Cyborg. After all, she kills numerous individuals and resurrects deceased evil Cyborg Cromartie to serve as the body for John Henry, the super computer that her company is building. But in the season (series?) finale she is revealed to be on the side of the angels. Or is she? Given an easy opportunity to kill John and Sarah, she not only does not do so, but saves their lives. And both John and Sarah seem to take her at her word. All season long viewers had been looking forward to a Weaver/Cameron encounter, but instead we see Weaver insisting that she is fighting SkyNet, just as they are. The whole plot is further complicated by Cameron apparently refusing Weaver's offer to join her cause. The fact is that at the end of the season Cameron and her agenda remains a total mystery.

For the past year I've been engaged in a detailed study of robots in the history of myth, literature, film and television. TV robots and Cyborgs have been widely prevalent but also not terribly complex. I deeply love a character like Sharon Agathon on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, but Sharon is so clearly human - even if a Cyborg - that she doesn't really challenge our understanding of human/robotic relationships. She looks like us, acts like us, and feels like us. It is difficult to say in what significant sense that she isn't as much as a person as any human. Cameron is perhaps the most complex, challenging robot/Cyborg we've ever seen on TV. Summer Glau brilliantly portrays her as something both more than and less than human, something undeniably strange and "other." She apparently lacks feelings, yet definitely has her own motivations. She is a machine, yet at times seems eerily human, such as taking pains over her toe nail polish or practicing ballet. She even tries, in one Season Two episode, to make a friend of her own. Seeing her make her very odd overtures to a wheelchair bound guy is one of the strangest things on the show, including her telling him that the cancer that he previously suffered from has returned. Though she intends it kindly, she doesn't grasp why her telling him something that she shouldn't be able to know and that he finds so emotionally devastating effectively ends their friendship. Even odder is that the sudden ending of their relationship seems to have no impact on her. There is absolutely no question that within the next half-century robots will begin to play an increasingly important social role in human life. In Japan especially scientists are working hard on companion robots for children and for the elderly. It is impossible to imagine that they will not also play a role with many other humans as friends (most people consider their dogs to be friends and they can't talk like robots are on the verge of being able to) and even romantic companions. Cameron is the only robot on TV that I know of that raises many of the questions about robot/human relations that will be increasingly pertinent in the coming decades. If TSCC is not renewed for a third season, ending Cameron's story will be one of the great losses on the show. At the end of Season Two she remains a complete mystery. I personally want that mystery resolved.

Though we didn't need additional proof of it, TSCC is yet another example of the fact that there is absolutely no connection between quality, viewership, and renewal in American television. It is further proof of just how broken commercial TV is. The brute fact is that TV series are, from the corporate point of view, vehicles for commercials. If they provide a platform for a large number of people to see the commercials that are the economic heart of the shows, they are in the eyes of the networks great shows. Absolutely dreadful shows like TWO AND A HALF MEN or the endless police procedurals on CBS illustrate this. I've never seen a respected TV critic with a kind word for TWO AND A HALF MEN, yet it remains the most watched half hour comedy on television. Thus, it is the best platform for advertising. PUSHING DAISIES was cancelled at midseason despite more critical acclaim than any other series on the four major networks. Perhaps for fans of television the major networks have outlived their usefulness. If they can't find a place for a show as fine as TSCC on their schedules, it is proof that TV is broken. FOX eats up huge gobs of its schedule with the unceasingly awful AMERICAN IDLE while NBC has eliminated five hours of scripted TV in the 2009-2010 schedule so that they can hand it over to the untalented and uninteresting Jay Leno.

But it isn't the networks that are to blame. It is the American TV viewer. As long as we tune in to AMERICAN IDLE, various reality dancing shows, TWO AND A HALF MEN, and police procedurals, they are going to keep giving us crap. I am a radical on this. I actually think that there is an ethics of TV viewing. I honestly believe it is immoral to watch 20/20 or TWO AND A HALF MEN and that it will be unconscionable to watch Jay Leno's new series. Or if you must watch these horrible shows, at least DVR them. As long as they are the best vehicles for commercials, we are going to continue to lament the cancellation of the better shows and the unceasingly continuation of critically unacclaimed and artistically empty series.

The one reason for hope for TSCC is the film TERMINATOR SALVATION, which is likely to be the biggest box office hit this summer. This past year Warner Brothers negotiated a smaller licensing fee with FOX, which was a factor in its renewal. Perhaps the film in combination with a similar deal from Warner Brothers could lead to another season. We can hope.
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Showing 11-13 of 13 posts in this discussion
Posted on Oct 19, 2009 10:53:31 AM PDT
You should warn about the spoilers, buddy...

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 24, 2009 10:55:14 PM PDT
Robert Moore says:
Do you mean like how I inserted the spoiler warning at the beginning of my review?

What else should I have done to create spoiler warnings? I think it is pretty clearly marked.

Posted on Jan 27, 2010 1:22:16 PM PST
Robert Moore, that was an absolutely fantastic review. LOL at your nicknaming that show "American Idle". I totally share your fond memory of 3 hours on Friday nights, for about 2 months, watching TSCC, Dollhouse, and then Battlestar Galactica. I can't recall a better nightly block, and within that block TSCC was the fine wine in my opinion.

I disagree with you on Cameron. I don't think she was the most interesting in the series, never mind the most interesting by a wide margin as you imply. There were three absolutely excellent episodes in the second season that were Sarah Connor focused. I'd say the "back 9" of season 2 may be the best contiguous 9 episodes of any TV show in history. The entire submarine plot, with some resistance fighters meeting a third faction, of terminators, and picking up Catherine Weaver, culminating in her saying "tell John Connor the answer is no"... that was simply phenomenal. I just couldn't believe they pulled that off a TV budget.

I think the development of John Henry, and the ulterior motives of Catherine Weaver are just as interesting, philosophically and psychologically, as those of Cameron.

Agent Ellison, Catherine Weaver, John Henry, John Connor, Sarah Connor were all interesting enough that I can't say any one character was more interesting than the others. Derek Reese, Jesse, even Cromartie were also rich, Riley, not as much.
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Robert Moore

Location: Chicago, IL USA

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