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TV Series Review

As the effects of the Hollywood writers strike continue to be felt, the networks fill time with unscripted reality shows featuring dancing "stars," weight-loss challenges and American gladiators. Fox, however, has broken through the filler with a new sci-fi drama, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which was seen its first week by 18.4 million viewers.

Fleshing out the storyline of the R-rated Terminator films, the heroes of this hour-long series seek to prevent a nuclear holocaust set to occur when the world's computerized defense system, Skynet, becomes self-aware and decides to exterminate mankind. In that post-apocalyptic future, a band of beleaguered humans will stage a comeback, led by a champion named John Connor. But the menacing machines have a plan. Unable to defeat Connor the focused soldier, they attempt to kill Connor the angst-riddled teenager by sending cyborg hit men back in time to assassinate him in our present.

John Connor (Thomas Dekker) is an insecure 15-year-old under the care of roaring mama bear Sarah (Lena Headey). She's on a quest to stop the apocalypse before it can begin, all the while protecting her cub and pushing him to toughen up for the future's perils … just in case Skynet can't be thwarted.

John, however, only wants to go to school like a normal kid—at least when he and mom aren't running from homicidal, wall-crunching behemoths that can shrug off a shotgun blast to the face. The fugitive Connors (the government is after them too) are aided by Cameron (Summer Glau), a pretty young terminator sent back by the human alliance to protect them. She looks petite but mixes it up with the big bots in violent hand-to-hand combat. (Robots or not, it's unsettling to see men assault a young woman this way.)

Special effects are the real star of this fast-paced actioner. From cyborgs with gleaming endoskeletons penetrating human skin to dream sequences of nuclear annihilation, Chronicles has motion picture-style moxie. But it treads dangerously close to its R-rated origins, with cyborgs taking lots of abuse and gory violence befalling those who get in the machines' way (sprays of blood, a decapitation, eyes plucked out).

Furthermore, the show's creators have shown questionable judgment in this age of school shootings by having a killer robot disguised as John's teacher pull a gun from his leg and open fire in class. There has also been a graphic teen suicide.

Indeed, despite a challenge in one episode for humans to act on their capacity to show compassion, the show's redemptive value has been thin. It has instead exploited violence, immodest attire and nudity, littering scripts with profanities such as "h---," "d--n," "a--" and "b--ch." Come to think of it, if those striking writers can't do any better than this, maybe it's time for a changing of the guard. Hasta la vista, baby.

Episodes Reviewed: Jan. 13, 14, 21, 2008

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Bob Hoose Bob Smithouser

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