For my New Year's resolution in '07, I vowed to trash every adaptation from one medium to another. I gave thumbs down to TV series turned into movies and movies turned into TV series. But that can't be my New Year's resolution for '08, because Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Sunday, 7 p.m., Fox) rocks! Adapting any movie to TV is hard, but Fox gets extra credit for doing justice to classics like The Terminator and Terminator 2. The action is exciting, the plot is poignant and the cast is strong. The pilot's Terminator lacks the hulking inhumanity that came so naturally to Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it's nothing the special-effects department can't fix with glowing red eyes and menacing metallic choppers.
As the series opens, Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) and her teenage son, John (Thomas Dekker), are on the run. They're targeted by killer robots from the future who have declared war on the human race. The robots know that John will grow up to be a brave resistance leader, so they send a Terminator back in time to nip the hero in the bud.
John doesn't seem much like a hero when we meet him. He's a confused high school kid moved from town to town by his harried mom. In a new school, he meets a cute girl named Cameron (Summer Glau) who turns out to be a robot herself, but a good one, ready to help him fight the Terminator.
It must be admitted that Cameron is, um, well built. She has pouty lips, a curvy figure and a face whose lack of expression only highlights her otherworldly beauty. She's sexy even when ripping open her metallic shell to remove a bullet lodged in her wiring.
I think I've got my New Year's resolution for '08: Don't fall in love with a machine.
Sunday, Tuesday & Wednesday, 8 pm (CBS)
Is it possible to make a modern TV western that works? I know it is, because AMC's Broken Trail turned the trick in 2006. So I'm not inclined to let Comanche Moon off the hook for its gracelessness with cowboys, Indians and all the other old-fashioned western tropes. They're not the problem; the filmmakers are.
Comanche Moon is part of the Lonesome Dove series, adapted from the novel by Larry McMurtry and featuring a script co-written by McMurtry himself. In 1858, Texas Rangers pursue evil Indians and Mexicans (talk about old-fashioned). The posse includes a lover (Steve Zahn), a fighter (Karl Urban) and a Yankee aristocrat (Val Kilmer). Each of them has a woman back home in Austin: one a decent lady in a bonnet (Linda Cardellini), one a prostitute with a heart of gold (Elizabeth Banks) and one a sex-starved matron (Rachel Griffiths).
Yes, we're dealing with stock characters here, and many good actors are made to look like fools. Kilmer, for one, affects a stagy accent that would have gotten him laughed off the set of Bonanza.
Then there are all the bad actors. The posse members stand around playing dumb with faux rustic dialogue. In one scene, they argue over the meaning of "a genius."
"A genius is someone with six toes on one foot," one of them opines.
If that's so, I'm pretty sure the makers of Comanche Moon have only five toes on each foot.
Sunday, 8 pm (WHA)
The good news is: Masterpiece Theatre is devoting itself to Jane Austen over the next four months. The Complete Jane Austen includes adaptations of all six major novels and a drama based on Austen's own love life. Along with the Kate Beckinsale Emma of 1996 and the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice of 1995, there will be new productions of Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility.
The bad news is: The first entry stinks. After the Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice, the Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility and the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma, it's hard to accept a Persuasion this musty. The production confirms every old prejudice you had about Masterpiece Theatre: slow pace, stiff staging, dull lighting, fussy acting and heavy period costumes that stifle all spontaneity. Worst of all, this Persuasion turns Austen's story into an afternoon soap opera.
Anne Elliot (Sally Hawkins) quivers with trepidation when Capt. Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones) reenters her life. She had been talked into breaking off their engagement eight years earlier, when his prospects looked dim. Now he's rich and handsome and eyeing other pretty women. The actors telegraph every overheated emotion, and the camera zooms in on Anne's tears plopping onto her diary pages.
To quote Austen herself: "Gag me with a spoon."