Image A- Sound A Extras C
"Pilot," "Paradise Lost," "Sisterhood," "Faceoff," "The Education of Jaime Sommers," "The List," "Trust Issues," "Do Not Disturb"
by Ian Pugh David Eick's remake of the old Lindsay Wagner series "The Bionic Woman" is a near-literal relic straight out of 1976 so thoroughly convinced of its premise's timelessness that it merely tosses the same old shit together with popular concerns of the 21st century--terrorism, the Iraq War, North Korea, the omnipresence of computer technology--in the vague hope that it will all alchemize into something that can stand on its own two feet. Call it the oblivious antithesis to an astonishing meta property like Live Free or Die Hard: it carries the expectation for tension within a battle of seemingly-incalculable odds when the outcome was long ago decided in the little guy's favour--I mean, like, decades ago. Interestingly enough, amid its largely indifferent applications of wire-fu, the new "Bionic Woman" offers the best auto-critical metaphor with its mustiest holdover from its precursor: the super-futuristic "action" sound effect that originated in "The Six Million Dollar Man" has been replaced by something that sounds like a computerized approximation of a stalled car.
Begin this sad parade with Everywoman bartender Jaime Sommers (Michelle Ryan, the very poor man's Eva Green), a woman barely alive following a nasty run-in with a Mack truck. Luckily, Jaime's scientist boyfriend Will Anthros (Chris Bowers)--so named for his commitment to the betterment of humanity, get it?--has an in with a secret government agency known as the Berkut Group, and with their aid manages to replace his lover's damaged goods with the familiar better-faster-stronger shtick. Soon, Jaime is forced to utilize her newfound fifty-million-dollar skills to prevent various bad men from blowing up the world while negotiating awkward encounters with Sarah Corvus (Katee Sackhoff, Starbuck from Eick's "Battlestar Galactica" revamp), the previous Bionic Woman, who has nothing left but her name and a head full of crazy.
Like many soulless updates, "Bionic Woman" tries too hard to convince us that it's capable of human emotion, essentially denying us the internal struggle that mad Ms. Corvus promises. Jaime is not a female/cyborg hybrid--she's a woman with mechanical parts inside her. And don't you forget it! "I just thought it was cool that a girl could do that," a little girl says as she watches Jaime zoom past her mother's car in the ridiculously rushed pilot--and so begins a never-ending string of tortured dialogue, espousing some archaic form of feminism (I'm hardly an expert on the subject, but isn't modern feminist theory--hell, isn't obsolete feminist theory--a bit more complex than "I can make it on my own"?) and the constant reassurance that this woman still has a firm grip on her former self as she punches and kicks her way through terrorist organizations. Actions speak louder than words, however, and "Bionic Woman"'s ignorant perspective manifests itself in its treatment of Jaime's sister Becca (Lucy Hale), who for some reason goes to Lost Weekend measures to maintain an Internet connection, stepping around a court order. Why? Never mind, who cares--it's never spoken of again. Jaime moans that she never has enough time to spend with sis, and as it happens, neither does the show: it doesn't treat Becca as anything more than a self-conscious plot device, a perpetually-suspicious family member lingering in the margins to keep our heroine grounded in reality and thrust into Jamie's arms at the mere suggestion of pop-folk guitar. Incidentally, Hale bears a strong resemblance to Danielle Panabaker from "Shark" and essentially fulfills the same role, right down to an identical mini-drama involving a DUI arrest. But at least "Shark" fleshed out the character a little from there: because she apparently doesn't warrant any viable attention, Becca remains a distaff Mr. Roper, shunted back and forth between lies and awkward situations, never the wiser that Jack Tripper is really a robot.
"Bionic Woman" is almost entirely populated with many such half-realized ideas: Sarah Corvus disappears without a trace after the fourth episode; hints that Will may have been a traitor to his cause are forgotten at the very moment they're introduced; and Jaime's frequent partner Antonio (Isaiah "Mr. Sensitive" Washington, fully aware that he has nothing to do here) is abruptly killed off without ever having established a real connection with any of the characters. Of course, it might be tempting to cut the show a bit of slack, considering that the writers' strike halted production at an awkward juncture, long before the season could reach a proper conclusion. But there's a fine line between being denied the entirety of your vision and simply doling out lazy horseshit--the sense of expediency attendant to moments when apparently-important characters simply vanish into thin air suggests that the series is too cowardly to adhere the serial format but also too stupid to accommodate the self-contained episodic format.
Handily personifying these basic problems is Tom Hastings (Jordan Bridges), a CIA operative who becomes Jaime's new boyfriend halfway through the season, (in)effectively replacing nearly every single other concern introduced up to that point. His installation represents a final, failed bid to simultaneously revitalize a dusty property and unilaterally humanize its protagonist, resulting in the series' most embarrassing episode (1.6, "The List"), a half-hearted imitation of Casino Royale--a property that legitimately revitalized a worn formula by acknowledging the effects that cinematic conventions would have on a three-dimensional being. "Bionic Woman" doesn't really have the guts to explore what it is to be bionic; and its exaggerated attempts to mimic something entirely human merely drop it smack dab in the middle of an Uncanny Valley of entertainment.
Universal crams all eight episodes of "Bionic Woman" into a two-disc set as "Volume One"--a hilariously optimistic forecast for the show's future. The 1.78:1, 16x9-enhanced image is beautifully sharp across the board (although daytime scenes tend to be a tetch too bright), while DD 5.1 audio allows for a surprisingly layered soundtrack that spruces up the most stupid-dramatic scenes. (Gotta love the subtle, whatta-genius bass hit that occurs when some math freak declares that you can actually spell nine words out of the letters in YooHoo.) On Disc One, Eick contributes a thoroughly depressing commentary track to the pilot episode, expounding on the "anarchy and pain and argument and strife" of the production. As a result, he's very distant--it's like listening to a friend who wants to tell you that he hates something you made but doesn't want to hurt your feelings, either. Jaime Sommers fails to capture the Spider-Man balance of emotionally vulnerability and physically invulnerability, but Michelle Ryan picks up the slack. At the behest of the network, Lucy Hale replaced the actress initially cast as Becca, but she's got great chemistry with Ryan. The flashbacks to scenes that just happened five minutes ago are pedestrian but sometimes they're necessary. The CGI sucks, but... well, the CGI just sucks. "Oh, just shoot him," Eick moans as Will says something stupid shortly before Sarah executes him--and you realize there are only so many forced compliments you can pay before you reveal your true feelings about something.
Bonus features on Disc Two are limited to two-minute-long pieces of fluff that probably played as interstitials on NBC. SFX supervisor Gary Hutzel briefly explains "The Making of the Car Crash" that led to Jaime's bionification, another example of how "Bionic Woman" places itself about two steps and three rotations behind Casino Royale. "The Stunts" is more of a simple overview of Ryan's intense training sessions with stunt coordinator Melissa Stubbs and second-unit director Andy Cheng, a veteran fight choreographer. Miguel Ferrer, Ryan, Sackhoff, and Eick sound off in "Profiles" about their respective roles/functions. For what it's worth, as Berkut head Jonas Bledsoe, Ferrer is the only one here who doesn't constitute a complete waste of time: a genuinely mesmerizing actor, he freely admits his misgivings in signing up for a remake of "The Bionic Woman", which tells me he would do well to trust his instincts a little more. (And after this and Justice League: The New Frontier, maybe he should lay off the government conspiracies.) Hutzel returns for "Real Life Bionics," a brief overview of where that branch of engineering currently stands and how it was incorporated into the show. Wrapping things up: DVD "Sneak Peaks" for "Magnum P. I.", "The A-Team", "Knight Rider", "The Incredible Hulk", "The Rockford Files", "Miami Vice: Season Five", "Saturday Night Live: The Complete Second Season", "Quantum Leap", "Monk", and "House M.D.", along with a block of previews--for seasons one through three of "Battlestar Galactica", umpteen iterations of "Law & Order", "Crossing Jordan: Season One", "Life", and HD-DVD (talk about a day late and a dollar short)--that cues up on startup of the first platter. Originally published: April 16, 2008.
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