Returning from its strike-truncated maiden season with a bang, Fox’s “Terminator” series provides a surprisingly steady dose of action in its fall premiere. Although the time-bending shenanigans can grow headache-inducing — like, hey, could I go back in time and become my own grandpa? — the first-rate cast and save-the-world stakes have kept this series consistently interesting, despite obvious budgetary limitations that have seemed to exercise their own vise-like grip on the action quotient.
In a way, this opener feels a bit more like last season’s finale than this one’s kickoff. Nevertheless, the show gets considerable mileage out of the constant peril facing the teenage John Connor (Thomas Dekker), the future savior of the world; and his mom Sarah (Lena Headey), a self-taught survivalist determined to ensure he lives long enough to fulfill that destiny.
Of course, Future John has lent his younger self a hand by sending back a waif-like Terminator, Cameron (Summer Glau), to protect him — a plan that backfired at the end of season one. Meanwhile, the older brother of John’s time-traveling dad, Derek (Brian Austin Green), has also journeyed back in time to join the fight; an FBI agent (Richard T. Jones) remains in hot pursuit; and a second Terminator (Garret Dillahunt) has assumed a human’s identity — after routing an entire FBI assault team.
Other new wrinkles are introduced during this latest hour, and the layers upon layers at times become confounding. Admittedly, the puzzler of people and robots winging into the past to change the future has always been a part of the franchise, but to serve the show’s dramatic needs, it seems that more people are passing through those portals than LAX’s international terminal. Seriously, is anybody left in the future to star in that upcoming “Terminator” sequel?
Still, this is one of those series where too much thought only gets in the way; instead, this episodic jaunt is meant to be embraced for its simpler pleasures, such as Glau’s pouty, indestructible-sex-kitten routine (which is doubtless harder than she makes it look) and Headey’s gritty performance as Sarah — managing to be smart, resourceful and tough, yet melancholy and vulnerable as well.
Just a half-season into its lifespan, it’s hard to fathom how the show can sustain its high-wire balancing act — avoiding the missteps and ill-conceived twists that finally conspired to remove “Prison Break” from my TiVo “season pass” menu.
So far, though, “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” continue to deliver, on a program where surviving in the here and now, finally, is the principal measure of success.