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New series review: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox)

Steely-eyed scene-stealer "Cameron" of Sarah Connor Chronicles

Premiering: Sunday, Jan. 13th at 7 p.m. (central) on Fox before moving to regular 8 p.m. Monday slot on Jan. 14th
Starring: Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker, Summer Glau, Richard T. Jones, Aaron Cash
Produced by: Josh Friedman, John Wirth, Mario Kassar, Andrew Vajna, Joel Michaels

Ex-Terminatorites re-unite and possibly even rejoice. The perplexing "mythology" and visceral wham-bam action are back in a choice slot following Fox's coverage of Sunday's Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants playoff game.

Scheduled at 7 p.m. (central) but subject to any football runover, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles quite possibly has more action than any series pilot in TV history. It's relentless and well-staged, even if The Terminator (Aaron Cash subbing for Arnold Schwarzenegger) just can't seem to shoot straight when it comes to knocking off potential Earth-saver John Connor (Thomas Dekker).

Monday's second episode, at 8 p.m. following the return of Prison Break, is notably calmer on the carnage front. This leaves more time for head-hurting mental gymnastics. In short, what the hell has been going on in the past, present and future?

As you can readily see from the title, this new incarnation resurrects the character of Sarah Connor, who was excised from the last big-screen movie, 2003's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. She otherwise was played by Linda Hamilton in both The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). Of that at least we're certain.

Fox's Sarah (Lena Headey) and teen son John are constantly on the move. Mom's not a calming influence. "No one is ever safe," she tells the kid after a heavy-duty action sequence in the opening few minutes.

There are smidgens of levity, though. John cringes at the thought of yet another relocation, but his marching orders are unequivocal: "Half an hour. One bag, plus the guns. I'll make pancakes."

Their next stop is Red Valley, New Mexico, circa 1999. John doesn't like being in a "hick town," but is intrigued by a high school classmate named Cameron (Summer Glau). But wouldn't you know it, the latest substitute teacher turns out to be The Terminator, who unleashes a volley of automatic weapons fire in the classroom. Fox has shortened and "toned down" this scene from the original pilot, but it would have been far better to eliminate it all together. We already get it. No one is ever safe.

The Cameron character, an obvious salute to Terminator franchise creator James Cameron, turns out to be a robot sent from 2027 to protect John and also track down and thwart whoever built a Sky Net computer system that blows up the world at some point down the road.

"In the future you have many friends," Cameron tells John. She/It may in fact turn out to be the savior of the series itself. Cameron is a very intriguing and arresting character capable of knocking The Terminator out of commission (for a couple of minutes at least) and also hitting a deadpan wisecrack out of the park.

In Monday's Episode 2, Cameron finds herself crashing through the front windshield of a traumatized passing motorist during the course of another battle royal.

"Please remain calm," she says with programmed sincerity. OK then, gotta go.

Sarah Connor Chronicles is earmarked for a two-hour, March 3rd season finale. That's a relatively short shelf-life, but certainly time enough to create a tangled web of confusion as to what might happen, what has happened and what could be prevented.

The Sunday night opener is still a rouser, though, with few respites from full-blown crash-bang. Only those addicted to the most violent of video games might deem it somewhat slow-paced. The rest of us are in for a taut, rapid-fire hour of mayhem followed by Monday's comparative but still violence-prone cool-down.

Otherwise there's somethin' happenin' here. What it is ain't exactly clear. There's a man with a gun over there. Tellin' me I got to beware."

Thanks, Buffalo Springfield. You're still right on target.

Grade: B