Premierewatch: 'Bionic Woman'

Michelleryan_bionicwoman_24 Well, folks, she's here. Bionic Woman! We have the technology. We can rebuild her. And we can also celebrate her re-introduction into the prime-time lineup with a little help from one Alanis Morissette. Alanis, take it away!

A young girl
Gets hit by a truck
She was a bartender
Now she's down on her luck
She's got a smart boyfriend
A surgeon so distraught
And when he saw her mangled flesh he said,
"Hmmm, here's a thought...
She could be bionic, don'tcha think?
She could be bionic, yeah, I really do think..."

And indeed, most of the episode seemed to take place in the raaaaaaaaiiiiin, in a world where scientists can create robot-human hybrids but absolutely no one has ever heard of an umbrella. Honestly, that was just silly.

What stood out this summer amongst the large crop of new shows failed to truly lift off in its premier episode, lumbering along with a huge amount of exposition and a titular character who spent the entire episode acting as if she were waiting at the DMV to have her license renewed. While other fall genre shows such as Chuck and Reaper knowingly embrace the ridiculousness of their premises (while also provided thrills and chills), Bionic Woman takes itself utterly and completely seriously. Makes sense, given that creators of this show hail from the ultra-serious re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica, a show in which people are sent out of the airlock if they so much as crack a smile.

Problem is, Bionic Woman simply can't pull off such Galactica gravitas. It doesn't have the acting talent, writing talent, or even a premise to support such heaviness. Battlestar features Edward James Freakin' Olmos trying to stave off the complete annihilation of the human race from robots once under human control. Bionic Woman features Michelle Ryan sullenly asking "Why me?" for an hour. The stakes just aren't the same.

Throw in clunky exposition to such sullenness and you had a pilot that had me looking at my watch every few minutes: not a good sign, people. The first fifteen minutes chugged through all the backstory the show felt was necessary: Jaime Sommers is dating a successful professor/surgeon, Will, and living with her surly sister, Becca, who inherited her elder sibling's sunny disposition. Jaime announces she's pregnant, since apparently it wouldn't be bad enough that she's merely injured in a car wreck and loses her legs, arm, eye, and ear, but had to lose a baby as well in order for us to truly sympathize with her. (Hint: that's a sign the show doesn't have much faith in their lead's charisma.)

Kateesackhoff_battlestargalatica_nb Amidst all this, we learn that Jaime is actually Bionic Woman 2 (Electric Boogaloo), with the first model, Sarah Corvis, having gone a leetle whacky in her post-hybrid life. Corvis, played by Katee Sackoff of Battlestar fame, stood out in this episode head and shoulders above the rest. In her climatic scene with Sommers, she reveals that she's slowly replaced her "human" parts over the years in order to remove "weakness" from her body. Not quite sure where she's getting the parts, though, to be honest. Maybe Home Depot? After all, they keep telling me, "You can do it. We can help." Then again, I can't so much as build a birdcage, never mind a bionic leg. So I beg to differ with Home Depot's assertion. But that's another story for another day.

This scene zeroed in on what will most likely be a prevailing theme of the show: what right to those in Will's group have to manipulate and control the bodies of these women? Who owns their bodies and abilities? It's an interesting debate, one that reminds me of the constant Slayer/Watcher tension on Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Bionic, like Buffy, seems to take a feminist stance that the women in question are often singled out against their will by patriarchal forces to do the dirty work these men can't or won't do on their own. But Jaime: I served with Buffy Summers (well, I own all the DVDs, if that counts); I knew Buffy Summers (well, through hand-written fanfic, if that counts); Buffy Summers was a friend of mine (in my really awesome dreams). Jaime, you're no Buffy Summers.

Now, simply because this interesting point was treated ham-fistedly in the pilot is no reason to discard it from the show: in fact, it might be the only thing that keeps this show from sinking into a simple stunt-laden drama. The fact that everything in this happened in this episode happened TO her is dramatically interesting, but what will be interesting going forth is how she turns from a passive vessel into an active force. That's far more interesting to me than extended lessons about anthrocites, this show's version of the dreaded Star Wars midichlorians.

Furthermore, the show needs badly to infuse some of Sackoff's energy into Michelle Ryan's character. I've never seen East Enders, so I don't know Ryan's previous work, but Lord almighty, I've seen people in the middle of dental surgery having more fun than she was tonight. At one point, my wife turned to me and half-screamed, "Why didn't they give her a personality during the surgery?" I understand she shouldn't break into song upon learning that she's a walking laptop with super ninja skillz, but it's a bad sign when I cheer for the show's villain breaking the arm of my supposed hero. Just saying.

Michelleryan2_bionicwoman_240 But hey, it's all good: there's plenty of good ideas on the show, even if they were clumsily executed on the first go-round. Jaime's journey from drink-slinging bartender to butt-kicking fembot should provide many excellent montages. The idea that Will's father will try and exact revenge on not only his son, but the entire organization, is interesting enough as a season-long plot. (Especially since Will's father, Anthony, is played by another Battlestar alum, Mark Sheppard, so amazingly good as Baltar's lawyer last season. And hey, Chief Tyrol played a prison guard! Yes, I miss Battlestar Galactica, dearly. The way the deserts miss the rain. Is it obvious?)

The seeds for a good show are there. It's just that in this first week, they haven't quite begun to sprout just yet.

What did you think of the premiere? Am I being too harsh or did you also feel something was lacking? And would a bionic leg help explain exactly why Beckham can bend it so effortlessly?