One of the most buzzed about new series of the fall season is Bionic Woman, the stylish, sexy, sci-fi show from NBC, airing in Canada on E! Unfortunately, the buzz so far seems to be about its pedigree and behind-the-scenes problems rather than what's actually been seen.
There are high expectations given both the background of the title and of the series creator. David Eick is an executive producer of Battlestar Galactica, a thoughtful remake of a cheesy old science fiction classic. He was also a producer of the Kevin Sorbo-starring Hercules, but let's not quibble.
Since Battlestar Galactica has been reimagined as an allegory for modern times, the expectation seems to be that Bionic Woman would somehow use this woman who is both vulnerable and superhuman to make a comment on women's role in today's society. Instead, it seems like just another superwoman reimagined for men.
The problem with the nostalgia factor is that while I loved The Bionic Woman, original recipe, I was six when it started. My tastes have changed somewhat since then; I don't like wearing pink barrettes anymore, either.
The nostalgia factor quickly dissipated anyway, since what my six-year-old self loved about the original – that cheese factor, exemplified by the awesome fembots, plus Jaime as a butt-kicking woman who could save herself and save the world and still have time for love with a six million dollar man – does not seem to be part of the new show so far.
Deviating from the old isn't a bad thing, of course, especially since television and the world have changed considerably since 1976. The new series can't rely on nostalgia, but neither can it rely on the fans who have made Battlestar Galactica a modest ratings success. The last thing NBC needs is another show that gets great ratings … for a cable show.
The pilot I and many critics received was the original, with Mae Whitman as Jaime Sommers' deaf sister. Whitman has since been replaced by Lucy Hale, and the deafness by computer hacking. I was relieved to hear about that change, though Whitman is a fine actress and there could have been interesting metaphorical possibilities for the superhearing Jaime and her deaf sister. However, this was one element of the pilot that made me uncomfortable – seeing a recognizable, hearing actress mimicking the voice of a deaf person. I don't know why it should be any different for me from first seeing Blackadder's Hugh Laurie mimicking an American accent on House, or Al Pacino playing blind in Scent of a Woman. It just was, and it took me out of the story and into wondering whether I was justified in feeling that discomfort.
Since the pilot has been retooled, any misgivings I have now are tempered by the faith that it's likely to have gotten better since the work in progress I saw.
The most significant misgiving I have, however, is one I'm not sure will change quickly enough. Katee Sackhoff's Sarah, an out of control bionic woman who is both Jaime Sommers' nemesis and the only other person who knows what she's going through, has a more fascinating backstory and is a more compelling character than our heroine. That's not good news for Michelle Ryan or the show as a whole, especially since Sarah will be only an occasional presence.
Jaime's got enough emotional baggage to deal with to fuel about six characters, but that doesn't strike me as an embarrassment of riches. Instead, it feels like too much weight for one episode to bear, and the human element is dismissed. The bionics her lover imposes on her, for example, make losing a baby an afterthought.
However, assuming the audience sticks with it, the series should have enough meat to chew on for a long, rich run. But unless it ends up being about something other than a sombre and pretentious Alias wanting to be more important than it is, I won't be there beyond its first few episodes.
But given the retooling of the pilot and the behind the scenes shuffles, I still have hope, and it will remain in my PVR for a few more episodes.
Bionic Woman premieres Wednesday, September 26 at 9 p.m. on NBC, and E! in Canada.Powered by Sidelines