The title says Bionic Woman, but NBC’s remake of the original series from the 1970s, which was itself a spin-off of the Six Million Dollar Man, takes relatively little from its earlier namesake. The storyline still revolves around Jaime Sommers (now played by Michelle Ryan) as a woman who is given high-end replacement parts after a near-fatal accident. Now partially a cyborg of sorts, Jaime possesses superhuman strength, speed, vision.
In the new version of Bionic Woman, Jaime is a reluctant, unwilling superhero. She wants to carry on with her pre-upgrade life, but the super-secret government agency that operated on her without her consent wants repayment in the form of service. The deal is simple: She does their bidding; they let her live.
If the debut episode is any indication, much of the dramatic tension in the show will come from the tense working relationship between Jaime and the secret agency boss Jonas Bledsoe, played with understated finesse by veteran actor Miguel Ferrer. (Viewers may recognize Ferrer from his previous series Crossing Jordan, in which he played the boss of a sometimes uncooperative medical examiner. Bionic Woman’s producers have not exactly gone out on a limb casting him in this new role, in which he plays the boss of a sometimes uncooperative superhero.)
To further spice things up, the creators of the new series have given Jaime the equivalent of an evil twin, here in the form of an earlier bionic-woman-gone-bad played by Katee Sackhoff. (If it seems like you’ve seen Ms. Sackhoff in this part before, you aren’t completely wrong. Producer David Eick imported her from his other update from the 1970s, SciFi’s phenomenonally successful remake of Battlestar Galactica.) The convenient existence of an instant villain gets things off to a raucous start in the pilot episode.
The production values and performances in the series are solid, if not entirely remarkable. As a remake in the twenty-first century, it’s almost a given that the series has to have a dark, edgy feel, and Bionic Woman does, to an extent. Of course, since the writers try to cover a lot of ground within the confines of an hour-long format, many plot elements feel sketchy and telegraphic, but that doesn’t seriously get in the way. Fortunately, the main cast members do a fine job with the material they’re given, which must sometimes be challenging.
All things considered, Bionic Woman isn’t so much just a new version of an old show as it is an amalgam of many sources that are mixed together to create a new and entertaining brew. The skeletal outline of the old series is here, but the new Bionic Woman shows the influence of many sources, including movies such as RoboCop, the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle Universal Soldier,and even Frankenstein. Of course, the fingerprints of many previous television series are evident, ranging from Alias and The Pretender from a few years back to the old It Takes a Thief spy series. Most of all, however, the new Bionic Woman shows the influence of the television series La Femme Nikita, the series from ten years ago starring Peta Wilson that was adapted from the movie of the same name.
Early critical opinion about Bionic Woman is split. Writing for the New York Post, critic Adam Buckman called the show a “total loss.” Critic Matthew Gilbert of The Boston Globe, meanwhile, gave a more positive assessment, saying that the pilot episode was “Sleekly engaging.” Overall, it's too soon to say what the final word will be.
If you’re looking for a startlingly original series with a sci-fi twist, Bionic Woman may not quite fit the bill. It is derivative, of course. After all, it’s a remake. Most viewers are probably not only looking for total originality, though.
Many of us will happily settle for a series that is entertaining, competently produced, and achieves what it sets out to do. So much the better if it throws in a few references to previous productions that we remember fondly. Make a show like that, and we might just watch.
Depending on where the producers take the show, Bionic Woman has the potential to be a show like that, which is just fine for many of us.