Film and TV

They Still Need to Rebuild Bionic Woman

Jaime Summers, where are you?

Sure, the protagonist of NBC’s new Bionic Woman is still named Jaime Summers, but sadly that’s all that’s been retained from the original 1970s classic. No awesome bionic-sounds when she runs. No awesome Oscar Goldman as her tough-nerd handler. No awesome, period.

And I really miss Lindsey Wagner, now reduced to earnestly hawking SleepNumber Mattresses, (and ironically looking more tired with each successive ad…). She brought a modicum of class to the whole 1970s venture, really. Tennis pro and schoolteacher and bionic heroine, all in one. And here’s the key: no angst.

By comparison, this new Jaime Summers is so angsty that you’d think she was fresh out of high school. And she’s no former tennis pro, more’s the pity. She’s a boring and pretty genius who’s also a bartender and surrogate mom to her equally boring and pretty teen sister. She goes from being pregnant, naturally-limbed, and whiny at the pilot’s open to being not pregnant, bionic, and whiny at the end. And when the show wraps, I realize that I don’t care about any of it.

It’s not that Michelle Ryan’s Jaime Summers doesn’t have her charms—but maybe she’s just focusing too hard on her American accent (she a British import, like most American TV stars this season…) to remember to act well. Her performance here is strikingly wooden, and only compounds the problems that the bad writing presents. She doesn’t seem overly concerned that she’s just lost her baby (and the writers don’t seem to realize that her boyfriend comforting her with “Don’t worry, you can have another” makes him an asshole…), and ultimately, there’s just not enough of her character here to carry the show.

It doesn’t help that the “mystery” behind the bionics program is so muddled that I start yearning for a good mattress commercial. I know in this day of Lost and the like, we’re supposed to be okay with the unknown and unexplained, but that’s only when such a thing is done well, and when they’re clear but surprising. I’m surprised more by this show’s mis-steps—like at the pilot’s end, when Jaime is supposed to be claiming her own power or something, and tells her handler (played by the obviously depressed-to-be-here Miguel Ferrer) that from now on, they do things her way! For one, that’s a silly scene to end on—earning that scene of Jaime finding her inner strength is something that could easily have taken the whole first season, not the whole first hour. And logistically, I was waiting for Ferrer’s character (who should clearly have been named Oscar Goldman—seriously, did anyone writing this even watch the 1970s version?) to smirk at her and explain the concept of a “kill switch”. I mean, come on. We design toasters with failsafes so they don’t go rogue and start toasting indiscriminately. You’d think cyborg assassins would fit into that same category.

NBC, you had the technology. You could have rebuilt her. Instead, you settled for stealing her name. -- Teague Bohlen

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Sean Cronin