Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: why it failed

News Stuart Turton 5/21/2009 at 12:16AM

Sarah Connor fan Stuart looks at the cancellation of the show, why it happened, and if the Terminator name proved to be a hindrance...

The news that Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has been axed is about as shocking as finding blood on a slaughterhouse floor. The ratings were poor, and only got worse and when fans finally get done bombarding the Fox offices with ball bearings, or whatever other doomed scheme they come up with to keep the series going, the finger pointing will undoubtedly begin.

I always look forward to this stage. The fans write letters, flood forums and march on studios, while the execs peer out of their windows and wonder where all these people were on Friday nights. In the case of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the apologists and accusers will both have a case.

I'd be interested in seeing how many hardcore fans the series picked up over the course of its run, because I suspect the majority caught the first episode, loved it and stuck around. If you caught it midway through and still managed to fall in love with it, then God bless you, because at that point the series really didn't give a damn about you. Three episodes in and it was immediately obvious that Terminator had lived up to its name by infiltrating a network on which it quite clearly didn't belong.

Sarah Connor was a non-populist, meditative, complex piece of television on a smash-bang, show-me-the-ratings kind of network. The two were never going to get on, but kudos to Fox for giving it two seasons to prove itself, especially when it was obvious after the first, unsuccessful season, that showrunner Josh Friedman had no intentions of changing the formula.

He and his writers set out to tell a terribly complex story with a clearly defined beginning, middle and end. That's commendable but it means anybody joining after the first episode would soon find themselves choking on loose plot threads and crushed beneath snowdrift-heavy relationships. This is something that needs to be managed. Terminator never bothered. Beyond a terse "last time on..." message there were no concessions made to ease in newbies, and absolutely no attempt to appease disgruntled existing viewers. Throughout, Friedman showed a ruthless, single-minded devotion to his story worthy of the show's gleaming antagonists. This works if, like Lost, you pick up 16 million viewers off the bat or, like Battlestar Galactica, you fool your audience for an entire series into believing it's actually a shooty, space opera, rather than a talky, submarine series that just happens to be set in space.

But surely the Terminator name alone should have been worth 16 million regular viewers? Possibly, but somehow, it always seemed more hindrance than aid. The name brought a budget, but it also brought expectation. The Terminator franchise suggests explosions, robot fights and balls-out, backs against the wall carnage. The series offered these things grudgingly, and quite often as the culmination of five episodes worth of navel gazing. God, Terminator loved a bit of navel gazing. This is not a criticism, though it was for those millions who stopped watching. Personally, I thought it was superb. Wrapped in a tight script full of brilliant lines and observation, top heavy with philosophical ponderings that were wonderfully acted by a group that will walk away from this train wreck with a great deal of pride.

The name also did it a disservice in that this was never Sarah Connor's story, at least not for me. The series shone brightest when a light was trained on John Connor's transformation from whiny teen to reluctant leader. It was in relation to John that the other characters made sense. Despite the title, Sarah Connor doesn't really deserve chronicling - she isn't that interesting a character. Obsessed people very rarely are, especially when the cause of that obsession has been explained. Sarah's obsessed with protecting her son, because he's going to save the world. This means that her attitude to everybody is always exactly the same: aggressive, surly and suspicious. She doesn't change. It's her moulding of her son that strikes a note. Her attempts to protect him increasingly push him away, turning him into the man he needs to become, even as she's trying to connect. It was this journey that was at the centre of the series - watching John grow into the role he didn't want. Watching how the other characters shaped him, and he them. Watching a mythology being spun.

This rule holds throughout the cast. Cameron was a wonderful character, creepy and cute, forever at odds with her own nature. It was, however, her knowledge of present and future John that made her special. When she observed that future John would not have done what present John just had, it was never entirely clear whether she was praising or rebuking. What was her relationship to her, why had he sent her back, what's between them, was John actually having sex with a robot?

These are among the dozens of question I still want answered, and yet I won't mourn the passing of The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It was brilliant, but wilfully impenetrable. Extremely clever, but remarkably dumb in its treatment of its audience. Terminator without all the bits that most people love Terminator for. Josh Friedman reckons it will still be remembered in ten years time. I don't doubt it, I'm just not sure what it will be remembered for.

See also:
Our review of the final episode;
10 badass movie gals;
Sarah Connor Chronicles axed, creator says farewell

Disqus - noscript

It's simple why it was canceled: IT SUCKED and viewers tuned out. Just because it has Terminator in its name doesn't mean it's terminator quality and this certainly wasn't. It had already lost 10 million viewers after its first eight episodes, which you could have guessed doom with another loss of just under 2 million for its season 2 premiere and lost just under half of those season 2 premiere viewers by the season 2 finale. Is Fox to blame for these numbers? Certainly not, but the writing and creative staff are certainly the people who made this show fail. If a show tanks blame the creative direction and the writing, not the network.

Dickwaddickus 

Yup, you're a dick alright. One of the best shows ever on television, but I guess it's not your fault if you're too dumb or too insensitive to understand it...I don't like to make assumptions, but it's quite clear you were one of those expecting action, bang bang and explosions instead of the smart, touching interactions and thought provoking questions the show presented us with. Don't worry, you have plenty to look forward to with Michael Bay and others of his "caliber". I'm just left with missing one great show that ended too soon

n Is works.Thank-You! I didn't get to see the second season fully Yet, but I am Loving it on Demand via Amazon Prime for Free! I don't have Cable so this works out Perfectly! I also have Hulu & Netflix too! =D

I dont care what anyone said I loved the show and wanted to see more

i personally like the show....some of ur points are valid some are facts but most of this is biased opinion

what I couldn't stand was she always sent him to school. OK you're on the run from the FBI and killer cyborgs. Yes stay on the grid and make yourself a target... plus lena Hadley is a crappy actress.. only thing she was ever good at was that drug lord from dredd. even then she sucked

The least SOMEONE could do is what they did for Buffy: continue the story in comic books. Isn't that the venue for such epics anyway? lol

"only thing she was ever good at was that drug lord from dredd. even then she sucked" That makes no sense . Smh . Anyway , She's creepy ? Best look at 300 , she was anything but creepy . As I remember , she was looking mighty nice . And she isn't a "crappy actress" either . I'm glad you aren't in charge of casting for any show . Because I'm sure that would be real "crappy" .

I'm rewatching it. It's miles better than Breaking Bad, another show that didn't do so well. It's miles better than the franchise's films also. The world lost something here. Fox should have the balls to stand behind something that's brilliant.

I thought Terminator TSCC was good during the first episode until they jumped to 2007 after the bombs fell. But it didn't run well with the movies. In fact it didn't fit at all. The time line was messed up and it went back and forth.....and it seemed like they were trying to go beyond the events of the 3rd film and completely cancel it out and acted as if it never was going to happen.T-3's judgement day was 2003, which went with T-4 storyline as with Terminator Genesis. TSCC put judgement day in 2012. Which was stupid. I was disappointed with the second season, even disgusted because it went far away from the movies even more, and I see why it flopped. Some of the episodes left more and more unanswered questions. John was too smart for school to begin with, which made him a smart and tactical leader to begin with. It should have never been Sarah's chronicles.

Terminator 3 pretty much said that nothing really happened before the events of T-3. John and his mom stayed in Mexico until she died. Which was when T-3 started. So the series in general ; Terminator TSCC was a complete waste of time and money. It got dropped because they were making Terminator Salvation and WB and Fox decided that Salvation would cancel out the show,considering it followed the original story.

Had TSCC followed up to T-3 somehow with a better storyline to hook people instead of throwing in wasted dialogue and making things up as they went. I don't know why people like this show. There's hardly any violence, no action. The characters were not performed well by the actors. Sarah was more domesticated and didn't act like a paranoid crazy mom screaming violently at people. Cameron never did anything. John hardly acted on his own, he relied on his mom or Cameron to do things for him. In T-2, he had a lot of ideas. So how can TSCC's John Connor be less intelligent and more feminine acting?

Since when did Kyle Reece ever have a brother? The movies never said he did. Salvation showed him and a little girl to be hiding out in the city. Kyle said he had a dad and wanted to join John Connor's resistance. Most people say if they have siblings.

All in all, I hated the show. It had little to do if not nothing to do with the movies. If you like it, good...watch the movies and you'll find you're way off track.

I loved the show. It was a true extension to the movies. Every time some one would come back in time, something would change in the timeline. I loved it. The movies barely touched on time line changes. SCC took it all to a new level. Every resistance fighter that came back, came from a different version of the future. It's a crying shame that it got cancelled. I guess some people just couldn't follow it. God help them if they try to watch Dr Who.

T-3 is just one of the possible futures in the Terminator universe. Salvation is another one. There's even one where Judgement Day never happens and John becomes a Senator - it's in the T2 book. Time travel story's are like that. Every time someones messes with the time line, the future changes.

That's how Paramount did the Star Trek reboot. Romulans traveled back in tine and destroyed Vulcan. Presto... a new Star Trek time line where all the previous movies never happened. How can they. We now have 2 Spock's, Pike is dead, Khan is incarcerated, and Kirk became Captain right out of the Academy.

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