Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – The Complete First Season (2008) (DVD)

Thank goodness for the writer’s strike, because let’s be honest here: Were it not for 80 percent of the series on primetime television going off the air thanks to a bunch of out of work writers, “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” wouldn’t have stood a chance in the ratings. I mean, come on, let’s look at the ingredients: It’s a serialized version of two very popular movies, the third of which has been lambasted by fans worldwide. It stars a barely memorable actor from “Heroes” as young John Connor, a cult actress from a cancelled television series as a cyborg sent to protect him, and an ad campaign that revolves around Lena Headey, a woman who is only popular with fan boys. Not to mention “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” completely forgets the horrific third installment of “The Terminator” series while also leaving a trail of continuity problems and plot holes in its wake.

This series had a ninety-nine percent chance of bombing big time and barely make it past three episodes. Lo and behold, in spite of all of its problems “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” is a big surprise as a dark, engaging, and entertaining series that follows Sarah Connor and John Connor as they try to beat the impending robot apocalypse and trace its roots to cut it off at Skynet. Meanwhile, it further induces that notion on television that all women have to be gun toting warriors while the men are nurtured babies who always get in to trouble. But who cares? “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” is a rather good television series with a strong cast of actors who keep Terminator buffs watching in spite of the inherent problems. “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” follows Sarah and John on the run from their cyborg hunters who keep them coasting from town to town evading the law and immediate death with painfully close calls.

Lena Headey is (in my minority opinion) the perfect replacement to the powerful Linda Hamilton as the strong and conflicted Sarah Connor who must do everything in her will to go in the future to stop Skynet before it becomes the powerful defense system whose robots eventually take control of the world. They’re aided by the subservient Cyborg Cameron, a sexy and nearly invincible partner in their travels who takes on other Cyborg soldiers while learning to imitate human beings. Summer Glau doesn’t lose a beat from “Firefly” obviously channeling River Tam with her own unique sex appeal providing a wonderful supporting performance to Headey’s intensity. John Connor is watered down and emasculated to a degree as the almost useless counterpart to Sarah who can barely wield a gun and relies on the women to do his job.

I was never sure if we’re supposed to be convinced this John Connor becomes a war hero because while Thomas Dekker’s performance is better than Eddie Furlong, the character is reduced to an often mumbling, whiny protagonist with no hint of that future soldier who is born from the apocalypse. Sadly, the series is never quite as excellent as it has the chance to be what with a softer version of Sarah Connor onscreen as well as drastic changes in characters that made no sense. Nevertheless, “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” makes good on its epic potential in the first season with excellent action set pieces, and robot battles that are almost as exciting as what we witness in the films. I’m glad it’s coming back in spite of the flaws Terminator fans will surely groan at.

As for the DVD, the packaging looks excellent. Among many extras, there’s the episode recaps for reasons I’m not yet aware of, as well as the options for “Terminated Scenes” and Commentary for key episodes which you can watch separately or integrate in to episode that apply. There’s a three and a half minute Gag Reel that’s really funny but why do they bleep out the swears? It’s a DVD for Pete sake! There’s also the sixteen minute featurettes “Creating the Chronicles” Reboot, Future War, and Demon Hand. The Three part look at the production and development of the series really pinpoints how difficult the task of bringing to life the “Terminator” mythos was. Wait until you see the interview with Thomas Dekker who literally looks like a cancer patient with shaved head and eyebrows (he doesn’t have cancer, by the way). There are also a slew of deleted (or “Terminated”) scenes that attempt to bring more cogency to the pilot episode and “The Demon Hand” episode with more emphasis on relationships and patching plot holes.

There’s also commentary with Josh Friedman, Lena Headey, and Thomas Dekker respectively who have a blast with their time behind the scenes discussing their hectic shooting schedules, and Dekker admits he pouted too much in the early episodes of season one. Hilarious. Though the Making-Of three parter draws barely any notice to it, the four on mic do pay lip service to the writer’s strike. Thomas Dekker has more fun than anyone in this feature talking a lot and cracking jokes adding a more relaxed atmosphere. There’s also the “Cast Audition Tapes” with Headey, Dekker, and Richard T. Jones. If you see the extras, you’ll understand why Glau’s audition isn’t included. However, there is Glau’s Dance Audition tape!

Glau performs ballet for the camera and my, is she ever the elegant being to watch. There’s also the three and a half minute “Storyboard Animatic” acting as a play by play of the key action scene in the pilot. Disc Three features Commentary on the episode “What He Beheld” with Josh Friedberg, Tim Goldberg, Brian Austin Green, and Summer Glau. There’s also the Extended Cut of “The Demon Hand” and more “Terminated Scenes.” Worth your buck? Oh yes. It’s a flawed series with continuity problems, mythos departures, and a restructured character mold that doesn’t always work on every episode, but “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” is still an entertaining science fiction spin off of the film series and it’s given a great treatment on DVD.