When bad things does happen on TV, it is merely to give the protagonistic the occasion to triumph over an antagonist. In this case, bad things exist only so that good things may flourish.
This means TV can't ever entertain tragic knowledge. TV can't ever entertain the possibility that some part of the human condition as flawed beyond the possibility of redemption or amieloration. TV Land is benign.
But on the The Sarah Conner Chronicles, life's a nightmare, then you die. There is something fantastically dour about this show. The characters know they are doomed in the short term or the long. Even if good wins out over evil, the world will still be reduced to rubble. But the hope of triumph is slender at the best of times, and incredible all the rest of the time.
I don't remember this tone in the original Terminator films. And this might be proof of Robert Thompson's argument that TV, once the bastard child of film, is able to take on bigger question. It would also be an interesting study in Henry Jenkins' notion of transmedia.
In a recent episode of House, Dr. Eric Foreman (Omar Epps) kills a patient in his effort to save her. There is a horrible scene in which he begs her forgiveness and she refuses it. Normally, of course, this is an opportunity for the exercise of "human understanding and redemption." On TV, generally this means quite a lot of string work and tears as we all take a moment to reflect on how much fundamental goodness there is in the human spirit. Not this time. In this episode, the patient says something like "You fucked up. You killed me."
In general, this sort of thing says that not only is popular culture getting more complicated. (See the argument of Steven Johnson here.) But that it is now prepared to take up seriousness and even darkness that generally speaking never made it into any of the many episodes of Murder, She Wrote or those B movies that end with a monkey doing something comical while everyone laughs a rather too heartily.
This would argue for the argument that says that popular culture is getting more like culture.
Post script. In a recent Conner Chronicles there was a reference to a tortoise that sounds very like the reference to the tortoise that appears in Blade Runner. Can anyone confirm or elicidate?
Post post script: The Sarah Connor Chonicles is on today at 8:00. Please do check in out. It's numbers are down and, as I say, it's really just tremendously good fun.
Post post script: Anyone interested in what feminism means for popular culture must watch this show.
See the Wikipedia entry on the show: here.
For a clip from the Fox website: here .
Thanks to Fox TV for the image of Sarah Connor as played by Lena Headey.