My memories of childhood are extremely fuzzy, but I remember one thing—I wanted a Bionic Woman doll, and I wanted it badly. You could actually roll up her skin and take out her bionic components! Her bionic ear made bionic noises! Her feathered hair was possibly bionic in its bounciness and ability to hold a style! Waiting for Christmas or a birthday was clearly unreasonable. A deal was struck—I would receive a Bionic Woman doll in return for learning to tie my shoes by myself.
The pilot of NBC’s new remake of Bionic Woman makes me worried that we are creating an entire generation doomed to wear nothing but Velcro-closure sneakers.
It’s not entirely fair to compare a remake to the original source material, and it’s perhaps even less fair to compare the show on the screen to the show I was expecting in my head (Aaron Sorkin and I once broke up for a whole week over what he put on the screen about Title IX versus what I expected him to do). Still, it’s disheartening to the doll-loving little girl inside me to remember the old-school Jaime Sommers, college-educated skydiver and tennis pro, and then to be confronted with new-school Jaime, a bartender who petulantly reminds us that she was accepted to Ivy League schools (not that she went). And it may be asking too much to expect a pilot to engage glaring political questions, but the idea of who owns Jaime’s body now that there are bionics in it—or even the question of who gets to decide to put bionics in her in the first place—remains largely sidelined. That executive producer David Eick also shepherds the far superior Battlestar Galactica, a bristling bastion of strong female characters, makes the sting that much more pronounced. You’ve got a long way to go, baby.
It doesn’t help that Michelle Ryan’s portrayal of Jaime slides off the screen like worn-out nanobots in the presence of her bionic predecessor, Katee Sackhoff’s Sarah Corvus. Despite the fact that Corvus has lost her marbles and chewed through multiple nameless good guys in response to bad bionics—as one does—her drive, menace, and charisma wipe our putative heroine off the screen in their shared scenes. The imbalance is made worse by the fact that Sackhoff, riveting in pretty much everything she’s done, appears to be having a rip-roaring time squeezing every drop of pulpy goodness out of her role.
In addition, recent shifts in the television landscape create demands Bionic Woman may not be in a position to fulfill. Given the lack of originality in the concept—not necessarily a fatal flaw; again, Eick’s Battlestar proves an old idea in new clothes can shine when well-executed—the show needs something to help it stand out, perhaps scintillating dialogue, gorgeous cinematography, or intricately plotted mysteries. Bionic Woman’s execution in such matters is merely adequate, insufficient to raise an otherwise tepid game. With the glorious color schemes of Pushing Daisies or Damages, or the twisty, textured corridors explored by Lost, The Wire or Dexter, the bar has been raised in television—good enough just isn’t, well, good enough anymore. While interesting tidbits from supporting players in the Super Secret Bionic Society such as Molly Price (Third Watch) and Will Yun Lee (Thief) hold promise, it’s frustrating to see that promise drowned under pedestrian lines such as “the machine is nothing without the woman.” I don’t want to believe that bionic ears are made of tin.
Still, it’s early, and the doll-loving little girl in me who hasn’t yet learned to be disappointed by TV would be delighted to see the show improve. Increased focus on the Corvus character would help (perhaps Bionic Woman Flashback!: The Sarah Corvus Years?). Or perhaps they could dump the post-postmodern tendency for superheroes to be morose about being awesome and camp this sucker up—clue pseudo-rebellious-teen-sister-computer-hacker into the bionic revolution and let her use Jaime like a puppet. Tardy slips signed with extreme prejudice, please.