TV Review: Bionic Woman (2007) Pilot

If you think about it, adapting “The Bionic Woman” to contemporary times makes sense. (Curiously, the new version is simply called “Bionic Woman”, minus the “The”.) Who actually remembers the bionic woman? Everyone remembers the bionic man, of course, but the woman? It’s hard to even recall the actress who played her in the old TV series off the top of my head. (For the record, it was Lindsay Wagner.) So remaking the woman and not the man was a no-brainer — David Eick and company gets to use the premise, but avoid the pitfalls of having to follow up on the series fronted by Lee Majors.

David Eick doesn’t like to waste time. No sooner are we introduced to 20-something bartender Jaime Sommers (Michelle Ryan), her angst-ridden teen sister Becca (Mae Whitman), and boyfriend, genius college professor Will (Chris Bowers), does Jaime end up in a horrific car accident. Of course it is quickly revealed that said car accident wasn’t much of one, being the orchestrated blunt instrument of Sarah Corvus (Katee Sackhoff), a woman with a very big grudge against the secret Government organization that Will works for. And oh yeah, Will was in the car with Jaime, and he was the real target of Corvus’ murderous intentions that night.

Seeking to save his beloved Jaime, Will breaks rank, and before his superiors (led by the stout Jonas (played by the always stout Miguel Ferrer)) can stop him, Will has performed his latest experiment on Jaime — replacing her missing limbs with bionic parts and inserting chips into her brain. (The techno babble comes hard and fast, if you care about such things.) Suffice to say, Jaime has been unwittingly turned into the latest bionic woman, much to her dismay, anger, and eventually, acceptance. And oh yeah, remember Sarah Corvus? As it turns out, Sarah was the original bionic woman, and after being “killed” by agency gunman Jae (Will Yun Lee), she’s since turned to the dark side.

There is nothing lacking in this 45-minute pilot for “Bionic Woman” that a longer running time couldn’t solve. But of course, in this day and age of MTV and ADD, it’s imperative to introduce your characters and get on with the business of the show post-haste. Yes, we would like to know more about Jaime and Will’s relationship, or how deep is this love exactly, but that’s hard to do given the time constraints. As an introduction to the characters, the world they inhabit, and the threat they face, the pilot does its job well enough to get a thumbs up.

It’s apparent that Eick has learned a thing or two from his time on Ron Moore’s “Battlestar Galactica”. While “Bionic Woman” is not nearly as dark as that other show (thankfully, who needs sci-fi that dark, anyway?), there is a noticeable concentration on the characters here. Most of the main players have emotional baggage as long as your arm, which is a major detour from the usual ways pilot scripts are constructed. Usually with pilots, the main character gets all the background, while everyone else has to wait their turn for future character-specific episodes that explores their history.

Without a doubt, villainess Sarah Corvus steals the show, helped by a killer performance from Katee Sackhoff (who worked with Eick on “BSG”). A fight in the rain between the first and latest bionic woman makes up the pilot’s highlight, made more entertaining by a brief monologue from Corvus, delivered with great timing and comedic chops by Sackhoff. It’s a good thing, then, that NBC has managed to strike a deal that would keep Sackhoff on the show, if not as a regular, then as a recurring character. Which should make things interesting for Jaime Sommers, not to mention Will Yun Lee’s Jae, who as the pilot opens, was seen delivering the killing shot to Corvus, just before confessing his love. Interesting relationship between these two…

The producers have chosen wisely by casting relative unknown Michelle Ryan in the lead. Ryan is a British TV actress, and no one knows her in the States, which makes her credible as the wide-eyed, but strong-willed heroine. Curiously, Eick and company seems to have made a concerted effort to avoid any semblance of sex appeal with Ryan’s Jaime Sommers, which is a bit surprising. (Even a love scene later in the episode is somewhat muted.) If this is the case, perhaps Eick is purposefully distancing “Bionic Woman” from shows like “Alias”, which relied as much on star Jennifer Garner’s sex appeal as it did the show’s oftentimes ludicrous storylines. Okay, so it relied almost entirely on Garner’s sex appeal.

The supporting cast is aces. Miguel Ferrer has the right temperament to play the shady boss of a shady Government agency. Also, it’s good to see Will Yun Lee play a substantial role that involves him doing more than standing around looking pretty. Molly Price, fresh off “Third Watch”, is the agency’s psychiatrist and Jonas’ second-in-command. Chris Bowers as the love interest for Jaime Sommers is hit and miss. The only thing of real interest about Bowers’ character is his estranged relationship with his jailhouse father. And according to reports, there is a major casting change afoot — Mae Whitman has since been replaced with another actress, and the Becca character changed from a kid sister who is a deaf Goth to a kid sister who is a computer hacker.

“Bionic Woman” has potential, and can carve out an audience if it continues to focus on the characters while at the same time steering clear of the kind of brooding depression and nihilism that drips from nearly every episode of “Battlestar Galactica” like a bad rash. This is not cable TV; something like “BSG” will not survive in this landscape. “Bionic Woman” doesn’t have to be “Alias”, but “Heroes” has proven that you can have good characters, captivating storylines, and not have to devolve into film school mentality angst.

David Eick (screenplay)
David Eick, Laeta Kalogridis, Glen Morgan (producers)
CAST: Michelle Ryan … Jaime Sommers
Mae Whitman … Becca Sommers
Chris Bowers … Will Anthros
Miguel Ferrer … Jonas Bledsoe
Will Yun Lee … Jae Kim
Molly Price … Ruth Treadwell
Katee Sackhoff … Sarah Corvus

Buy Bionic Woman on DVD