“Terminator”: Kind of a Small Wonder

Partway into the third and probably final episode I’ll watch of “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” the memory of another show – some would argue the worst show of all time – wormed its way into my head.  And it’s not that “Terminator” is that bad, not nearly, but the fact that I was thinking of this other show was not a good sign.

That classically awful program was “Small Wonder,” a syndicated half-hour series from the 1980s. (Note the look of concern on the face of “Terminator” actress Lena Headey as she is forced to travel back in time to watch the show.)

“Small Wonder” featured a family whose young daughter Vicki was actually a robot. She walked like a robot. She talked like a robot.  And she was about as entertaining as a robot. The entire enterprise was like a bad “Saturday Night Live” parody come to life.

Well, Vicki has a descendant on “Terminator” – in fact, she has two.  There’s Cameron (Summer Glau), who despite seeming completely normal and charming when we first meet her in the pilot (before we are supposed to know she’s a machine) now speaks without any inflection or personality. And there’s Sarah herself, who despite being human also speaks without any inflection or personality.

And so even though there was a theme in tonight’s episode that was worth exploring (whether or not to destroy something potentially evil before it becomes evil), and even though there’s a serialized arc that could possibly be of interest, “Terminator” remains mostly such a joyless experience that it just doesn’t seem worth pursuing. 

Just to cite one of many examples: In a voiceover at one point, Sarah recalls the tale of Moe Berg.  Berg offers one of the more colorful stories of the 20th century – an actual major league baseball player who became an actual U.S. government spy. But the writers have made Sarah so plain, so deadly serious in telling the story that all the life is drained out. Yes, these are serious times because the fate of the world is at stake.  But if we’re supposed to care about saving the world, shouldn’t it be a world we’d enjoy living in?

As I suggested earlier, the episode did have some saving graces. But when a guest appearance (Brendan Hines as Andy) offers not just an enjoyable performance, but the only enjoyable performance, then there’s trouble in Terminator Town.

I mean, it’s not as if I kept watching “Small Wonder” either, but at least it had kitsch value.

– Jon Weisman