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September 26, 2007 |

By Seth Freilich | TV | September 26, 2007 |

When I was younger, I was a big fan of “The Six Million Dollar Man,” and I don’t know many boys my age who weren’t. I mean, they took Steve Austin and rebuilt him. They made him better. Stronger. Faster. But better than the fancy physical prowess he gained thanks to his cybernetics, he had that great noise when his bionic legs pumped him high into the air. You know the sound — you’re hearing it in your mind’s ear right now. And when “The Bionic Woman” spun off, that show’s producer wisely gave Jamie Sommers the same bionic noise. The show itself wasn’t anything to write home about. But the bionic noise — oh that bionic noise.

Now I realize that, in 2007, it might be cheesy to use that bionic noise in NBC’s remake/update, “Bionic Woman” (am I the only one who actually finds it quite awkward that the “The” has been dropped from the title?). However, the running and jumping scenes are cheesy enough that I don’t think the bionic noise would really cause a downgrade. But before I get a little nasty about the show, let’s back up and take a look at the big picture.

Jamie Sommers (Michelle Ryan) is your typical struggling bartender, who also happens to be raising her unruly younger sister. After a very serious dinner with her relatively recent boyfriend, Sommers thinks she’s in seventh heaven, but an oncoming big rig has a little something to say about that. While the boyfriend miraculously comes out almost unscathed, Sommers is left an utter mess. Lucky for Jaimie, however, said boyfriend just so happens to be involved in some type of government super-soldier project. So she awakes some time later to find that she’s all cyborgy now — both legs have been replaced, as have an arm, an eye and an ear. Plus, there are nanobot thingers crawling around in her blood stream, and those government types just might have included a bit of extra technology as well. All told, she’s The Over Fifty Million Dollar Woman.

Maybe it’s me, but I think it’d be pretty damn cool to wake up from an accident that should’ve killed me, and instead of being dead find that I’m better, stronger and faster. But Sommers has a bit of the old freak-out, and it takes the rest of the first episode for her to start to come to grips with her new cyborg self. I won’t say more than that, although there’s not much in this first episode that you won’t see coming.

Now problems, this show has a few. First, there’s the dialogue. I had heard that it was a bit rough around the edges, and that’s about right. It only took until seven minutes into the episode, during that big dinner Sommers has with her man, for me to actually laugh at the words coming out of their mouths. It’s one of those conversations where everything is trying to be subtle and dodgy, only the writers don’t appear to be skilled enough to execute it properly, so it actually winds up being rather on the nose and sounding very “written” (that is, you find yourself thinking “nobody actually talks like this,” but not in a good “Veronica Mars” or Aaron Sorkin way). Now some of the actors have the chops to pull off the cruddy dialogue anyway — Katee Sackhoff and Mark Sheppard are so good that I just didn’t care what they were saying — but over time, I suspect that the writing is going to catch up with all of them.

At least over the short term, a show like this can survive some questionable writing if it’s got groovy special effects and kick-ass action. But here, not so much. For a show that is already giving NBC fits with its high costs, the effects were surprisingly cruddy. Not as bad as just about everything that shows up on the SciFi Channel (excluding “Battlestar Galactica,” naturally), but not what one would expect or hope for. For example, when Jamie Sommers goes out for her first big bionic run, it just looked silly — the only thing that kept me from crying a little on the inside was the absolutely terrible “girl power” moment that takes place mid-scene, which caused an out-loud “are you kidding me?” And the fight scenes suffer from the infuriating recent trend of directors getting too Tony Scottish — rather than a few careful edits, the scene is cut and pasted and shucked and jived to the point that you can’t really enjoy the fighting. I mean, this first episode had a big culminating fight on a rooftop between Ryan and Sackhoff, in the rain — I wanna see that shit, damn it! And word has it that the action gets worse over the next couple of episode, which certainly isn’t a good thing. Plus, as I mentioned, further word has it that NBC is not happy with the show’s final costs, with about five episodes in the can, which means we may see budget trimming, which won’t exactly make the effects and action better.

The show isn’t entirely without merit. Sackhoff is fantastic as Evil Bionic Woman, and as we won’t get our Starbuck fix until next January, I’ll take whatever I can get. Similarly, I love Sheppard and have been dying for him to be a TV regular, so I’m stoked that he shows up here as a baddy as well (although the show’s effects fail, again in the attempt to age him up). As for Ryan, something feels off about her performance. I can’t really put my finger on it — my only prior familiarity with her was in the surprisingly entertaining “Jeckyll,” and her part was relatively small in it, so I don’t know how talented she is. But here, there’s something I’m not buying. The most I can put my finger on is that she’s a little too soft. Obviously, since her character is a new Bionic Chick, she’s not going to be all tough and bad-ass like Sackhoff’s character, but I think maybe they wound up overcompensating just a little by casting Ryan, to the point that when she does try to get a little hard, it just doesn’t work for me. Maybe Ryan will be able to fit into the role a bit more over time — this was only the first episode, after all — but who knows.

Despite the show’s flaws, however, I’m going to stick with it for a little while to see if Ryan can make the character a bit more palatable for me. Sackhoff and Sheppard, coupled with the fact that I crave more good sci-fi TV, are enough to commit me for a few episodes. But the show’s going to have to overcome the effects and writing hurdles if it’s going to keep me all season and, if I might throw a suggestion to the producers, start by bringing back the bionic sound, damn it!

(Two last points that didn’t really fit into the review proper. First, you may have heard about the minor off-season kerfuffle when the role of Sommers’ sister was recast. In the original pilot, the sister was deaf and played by “Arrested Development’s” Mae Whitman — she played George Michael’s girlfriend Egg Ann — but NBC axed her after it picked up the show, so a hotter gal could fill role. But it ultimately doesn’t matter because the whole sister angle feels like an absolutely terrible idea at this point, and is just another of the hurdles the show’s gonna have to pass to ensure that I’m still here by November sweeps. The second point is far more important — during a “deep” scene, the show used Sia’s “Breath Me.” Blasphemy! After the song’s pivotal use in the finale of “Six Feet Under,” it should be retired from all television henceforth.)

“Bionic Woman” premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on NBC.

Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television editor. He’d submit to getting cyborg legs, even if they didn’t give him super speed or uber-jumping, just to get that bionic noise.

Where's the ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch noise?

"Bionic Woman" / The TV Whore
Sept. 26, 2007

TV | September 26, 2007 |

Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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