Ter­mi­na­tor TV

The Sarah Con­nor Chron­i­cles starts on TV3 tonight, a TV spin-off from the Ter­mi­na­tor films, that prom­ises to be bet­ter than the last movie. Joe Grif­fin ex­am­ines how telly can breathe new life into cin­ema

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

THE sur­pris­ingly fun first episode for Ter­mi­na­tor: The Sarah Con­nor Chron­i­cles (now show­ing on Vir­gin 1 and start­ing tonight on TV3) left many view­ers, in­clud­ing this one, pleas­antly be­wil­dered: Shouldn’t this be aw­ful? Af­ter all, the TV spin-off was once a laugh­ing stock – MASH was a cre­atively rich TV show based on Robert Alt­man’s film, but AfterMASH was a joke. And the small-screen Fame may have been a cred­itable fol­low-up to Alan Parker’s movie of the same name, but Fame LA took the TV spin-off to new depths.

How­ever, though many don’t yet re­alise it, we are in television’s golden age. It shouldn’t be sur­pris­ing that the TV in­stal­ment of the scifi saga is a damn site bet­ter than the last film, Ter­mi­na­tor 3: Rise of the Ma­chines.

De­spite a whop­ping bud­get and the pres­ence of Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger, Ter­mi­na­tor 3 was a bloated, ex­pen­sive rethread of the pre­vi­ous se­quel. The first episode of The Sarah Con­nor Chron­i­cles, on the other hand, makes up for its lower bud­get with a nim­ble, in­ven­tive new take on the story. Even the un­avoid­able re­cast­ing of some roles gives the char­ac­ters a shot in the arm: Lena Headey is well able to fill Linda Hamil­ton’s com­bat boots. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how this af­fects the new Ter­mi­na­tor film due next year.

Pre­vi­ously, the TV spin-off was where movies went to die, of­ten in an­i­mated form. Men in Black was an ob­vi­ous can­di­date for a car­toon, as was the spir­ited Beetle­juice se­ries. Th­ese were like­able car­toons, but one imag­ines that noth­ing was ex­pected of them be­yond de­cent kids’ TV rat­ings.

The Young In­di­ana Jones Chron­i­cles was a sim­i­lar deal. Many be­lieved that In­di­ana Jones and the Last Cru­sade was the fi­nal film, not least be­cause of the ti­tle. But the work­man­like TV se­ries was set so long be­fore the first film that there are few ref­er­ences in it to pop­u­lar char­ac­ters.

The re­nais­sance of television in the 1990s had a num­ber of rip­pling ef­fects, in­clud­ing the im­prove­ment of those spin-off shows. Lois & Clark: The New Ad­ven­tures of Su­per­man gave the brand an old-fash­ioned in­no­cence that was ab­sent from the aw­ful movie fran­chise. A few years af­ter Lois & Clark, Smal­lville qui­etly en­tered liv­ing rooms and be­came a run­away suc­cess (see panel).

Two ad­van­tages TV has over movies are greater artis­tic free­dom and low­ered ex­pec­ta­tions. The rat­ings for the first episode are un­de­ni­ably im­por­tant, but don’t have the make-or-break power of a movie’s open­ing week­end. An au­di­ence can grow with pos­i­tive word of mouth. Also, the struc­ture of a se­ries of one-hour shows means that the writ­ers can tell a long arc story and still main­tain a brisk pace with each episode. Pro­duc­ers can hire a stable of writ­ers to toy with the char­ac­ters, and even the genre – lead­ing to, for ex­am­ple, a clas­sic mu­si­cal episode of Buffy the Vam­pire Slayer.

It’s good news for au­di­ences. Al­though movie se­quels have got a tad out of hand, if they’re go­ing to keep serv­ing us up the same char­ac­ters they might as well do a de­cent job of it. The im­proved TV spin-off has in­di­rectly led to more in­ter­est­ing film fran­chises, and it sure beats Alien vs Preda­tor.

Ter­mi­na­tor: The Sarah Con­nor Chron­i­cles – starts on TV3 tonight at 10pm

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