Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fall 2007 TV: Bionic Woman

Bionic Woman (NBC)

What a disappointment.

I know I built my expectations up pretty high, but even for those with more realistic expectations, or no expectations at all, the revamped Bionic Woman falls short.

Michelle Ryan, a Brit with a flawless American accent, plays Jaime Sommers, a bartender with a dead mother, a missing father, and custody of a troublesome teenage sister. Her professor boyfriend Will Anthros (Chris Bowers) works secretly for the government, developing high-tech surgical enhancements for humans. When Will and Jaime are in a car accident, the severe injuries to Jaime prompt Will to save her life by replacing her injured parts with bionic parts -- one ear, one eye, one arm, both legs. This is much to the displeasure of Will's superior, Jonas Bledsoe, played by a typically menacing Miguel Ferrer.

Jaime tries to return to her normal life, but she's confronted by Sarah Corvus (a lively Katee Sackhoff), the first bionic woman -- who appeared to have been killed at the top of the episode. Guess not! It was Sarah, by the way, who was responsible for Jaime's accident. Jaime also faces off with Bledsoe, who wants to force her into becoming a super soldier, of sorts. Meanwhile, a mysterious man (whom IMDb credits as "The Man," played by Thomas Kretschmann) has been using Sarah to try to assassinate Will, for some reason; at the end of the episode, Will's father, the inventor of the bionics technology, who was in prison, for some reason, is broken out of prison, for some reason, by "The Man."

There are an awful lot of unexplained plot threads here, and not a lot to get me to care about them. Why did Sarah kill a bunch of people at the bionics lab? Why was she "killed"? Why did she survive? Did "The Man" save her, and if so, why? And who is he, anyway? And why do they want to kill Will? And so on and so forth. The problem is, none of these mysteries are engaging me so far.

Start with Ryan. She's pretty, and a decent enough actress, but she's not tremendously charismatic. I didn't really find any reason to care about her, aside from the cool bionics. Her home life is deadly dull at best, actively annoying at worst. Jaime's sister Becca, played by Lucy Hale (who was deaf in the original version of the pilot -- and also played by someone else) is an obnoxious little shit, and apparently also some kind of superhacker (I'm sure that will be convenient in future episodes). Jaime's relationship with Will is bland and lifeless; when she announces she's pregnant (she loses the baby in the car crash), it barely even registers.

I dig Miguel Ferrer, and he brings a certain amount of cool darkness to his character, but he could do this role in his sleep (and possibly is). Not a lot to work with. Katee Sackhoff is the only person who brings any energy or humor to this show, and she's only a guest star.

Some excitement is generated when Jaime finally gets down to testing out the abilities her bionic upgrade has given her. There are some fun scenes with her racing through the woods at superhuman speeds, or leaping across the street from one rooftop to another. And I really like the idea that her bloodstream is filled with nanobots called Anthrosites (presumably named after Will or his father), which I guess perform maintenance on the bionics, as well as quickly healing any injury to Jaime. That's an interesting new touch.

But Jaime's adaptation to the changes the bionics have made to her body and to her life is so rapid and complete it defies belief. There is a suggestion at one point that the bionics almost have a life of their own, that when Jaime tangles with a mugger, she has to force herself not to kill him. So maybe that's the out the writers are using. The climactic battle between Jaime and Sarah, for example: sure, Jaime has super strength now, but where did she learn all those martial arts moves? I guess the writers can explain it away with, "It's the bionics taking over." Which is a bit of a cheat, especially if I, the audience, have to fill in the blanks for them.

As for that big battle: it's very satisfying, a vicious rush. But so much of it (and so much of the rest of the show) makes use of the MTV-trained director's bag of tricks that never fails to irk me. Quick cuts, whip pans, blurs and flashes -- all the usual suspects that do more to conceal the action than showcase it. Irritating.

And let me make note of the setting. While I'm disappointed that Jaime Sommers no longer lives in my hometown of Ojai, CA, I thought it was nifty that Jaime's new location, as established at the top of the show, was San Francisco. Until I saw that the unrelenting overcast and industrial greys of Vancouver would be playing the role of San Francisco. That is seriously weak. Why even bother to set your show in S.F. if you have no intention of taking advantage of the specialness and uniqueness of the actual city? (I could ask the same of Monk.) Another NBC show, Journeyman, actually films in the City, making Bionic Woman look even cheaper and more ridiculous by contrast.

Honestly, there's not a lot I liked about this pilot episode. Which is a damn shame. So much wasted potential. But the premise, inseparably linked to nostalgia for the TV of my youth, has got me hooked. It's in my DNA. I can only hope that the kinks have all gotten worked out in this first episode, and that future installments, unhindered with establishing the premise, will be more exciting. Despite my relatively low rating, there's no way I won't be watching this show. For a while, anyway.

Rating: 5 out of 10

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