Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bionic Woman: An early review

We are still in the midst of a superheroic renaissance in film and television. It more or less started with Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman and The Flash on CBS in 1990. (Coincidentally, both were scored by Danny Elfman) This renaissance has continued on to the present. We’ve been treated to countless excellent animated shows. We’ve had some truly excellent superhero films, and we’ve even had live-action television series such as Lois & Clark, Smallville and Heroes, just to name a few.

It’s a good time to be a geek. And television producers are seeing the success that can be had with the superhumans – especially when the shows are treated with respect and given good writing and casting. This is even outside of licensed characters, as shown in the success of shows like Buffy, the 4400, Heroes, Medium and Supernatural.

So, with Hollywood’s trend to re-create anything that was good and remake it, it was inevitable that someone would start to look at past superhuman characters and series and re-invent them for the new millennium.

This fall television series we get one of the more promising ones – Bionic Woman, starring Michelle Ryan, who some of us were lucky enough to see on the excellent BBC mini-series Jekyll. Right now, you can download the pilot of Bionic Woman off of – and even have it download straight to your TiVo if you are so set-up.

Last night there was a significant lack of anything worth watching on tv, and I have a standing promise to my wife that I will take Tuesday nights off from playing City of Heroes, so we decided to give Bionic Woman a try.

The series is a complete re-imagining of the character, with little connection to the original series. (Most notably, due to licensing issues, there is no mention at all of Steve Austin – the Six Million Dollar Man. Jamie’s implants are also a lot more expensive due to inflation, she is told that there is roughly 50 million dollars of property installed inside of her.)

Bartender Jaime Sommers gets the bionics from her super-scientist boyfriend Will after a car accident nearly kills them both. After acquiring these abilities, Jaime is drawn into a world of espionage and super-soldiers, in which she encounters the original Bionic Woman, Sarah Corvus. Sarah was a “failed experiment” that had theoretically been killed years ago. Sarah is also the one driving the truck that nearly killed Jaime. We are also introduced to other characters who will define the series including the heads of the program, Jaime’s kid sister who she is a surrogate parent for, the scientist who originated the bionic process and is now in jail (and who just happens to be Will’s father), and a madman who is working with Sarah Corvus and releases the imprisoned scientist before the episode’s end.

It’s a lot of plot points to cram into a one-hour episode, and truthfully, the show does it with a little less elegance than I’d have preferred. I realize that a pilot episode has to show off enough of the plot for the season to convince execs to make it, but it felt a little ham-handed. Some elements could have been introduced later – Will’s father is mentioned early in the episode as the originator of the process – meaning that the scenes of him in the jail, and his release could have been saved for a later episode. And some of the elements felt really predictable to anyone who has been immersed in the genre. To use a term from superhero role-playing games, Jaime’s sister is clearly a Dependent NPC, worth an extra 25 character points. There’s also a scene where Jaime is mugged right after acquiring her bionics – a scene I called as soon as she left the bar and entered the alley.

It’s not perfect, but the pilot does show that a lot of thought has been given to the course of the series – or at least the first season. The acting is generally good, though a little stiff in some places, and the characters are interesting enough as a sketch – we’ll have to wait for the rest of the season to see if they’re fully fleshed out.

It struck me as being interesting enough to have earned a “Let’s give it a few episodes” reaction. After all, if we look at the first few episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Star Trek: Next Generation, they’re similarly rough. It takes genre shows a few episodes to find their groove – and I think that Bionic Woman has the potential to be one of the really good ones.

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Anonymous margie said...

I agree that the pilot was very rushed, but the pedigree for the show is great so I feel good that it will even out and be great after a couple episodes.

1:14 AM  

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