Striking a tone halfway between 24 and the syndicated Saturday-afternoon action shows of the ’90s, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles does a solid job of expanding on the future history introduced in James Cameron’s 1984 breakthrough film. Still, viewers who aren’t up to speed on the tangled chronology of the franchise may be thrown off by the heavy use of genre tropes that will probably make the series all the more endearing to geeks. The pilot begins in 1999, two years after the events of Terminator 2. Due to the havoc she wreaked while preventing a nuclear war, the eponymous waitress-turned–Virgin Mary stand-in (300’s Lena Headey, taking over from Linda Hamilton) and her son, John (Thomas Dekker), are now being chased from town to town by FBI agent James Ellison (Richard T. Jones). Predictably, they’re also dogged by a constant stream of robot assassins who want to prevent John from eventually saving humanity. Equally predictably, the future John has sent back another reprogrammed Terminator (Firefly’s Summer Glau), who whisks John and Sarah forward to 2008 in order to help John fulfill his destiny.
All that time travel creates plenty of potential for continuity errors, and the series’s opening episodes work hard to avoid contradicting the movies (Sarah can’t meet herself, since she died of leukemia between T2 and T3). In addition to saving a fortune on period props, the jump forward sets up a promising story line in which Rescue Me’s Dean Winters plays Charley, Sarah’s now-married ex-fiancé, who is thrown for a loop when John turns up unaged after eight years. Character and emotion had as much to do with the success of the Terminator movies as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s one-liners did, and the bond between John and Charley offers the series’s strongest evidence that the producers know how to channel Cameron.