The Bionic Woman's Toughest Mission

By Jonathan Padget
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 9, 2007

Gays and the Bionic Woman? Love her!

Gays and Isaiah Washington? Not so much.

Thus you have one of the Great Pop Cultural Dilemmas of 2007:

What's a thoroughly postmodern gay to do when one of the iconic heroines of '70s television is relaunched on a network that eagerly embraces an actor who gets dumped from his hit show on another network after proving himself all too comfortable with a certain homophobic slur?

Okay, fine, maybe you don't get the Bionic Woman idolization. Maybe you've never been on the receiving end of the "f" slur. (What are you, one of those nine out of 10 people who "scientific research" suggests isn't gay?) But unless you'd rather be contemplating lesser, tawdrier issues -- say, the public-restroom dating habits of a certain Republican senator -- stick with us here.

NBC's new "Bionic Woman" series, premiering Sept. 26, was not without a certain amount of audience anxiety before Isaiah Washington even came into the picture.

Emotional connections to characters like the Bionic Woman can run deep for countless gay viewers who see isolation and repression reflected in heroes who must harbor secret identities and who can't show off their fabulousness in their everyday lives.

Take, for example, a misfit child in 1970s Anytown, U.S.A., who doesn't even have a name for his difference -- homosexuality -- but is deluged with cultural cues that whatever his true nature is, it's wrong. The Bionic Woman, Jaime Sommers, was a bright spot in dark times: She could protect you; she knew what it was like to not fit in; she could pull off a velour tracksuit.

"She's literally made different," says Andrew Belonsky, editor of, an outpost in the gay blogosphere, which has kept close tabs on the new series and its casting controversy. "Any show where someone is on the fringe" can be close to a gay viewer's heart.

NBC has played heartbreaker to many gay fans by bringing Isaiah Washington into the "Bionic Woman" fold. Then again, the network hasn't exactly treated the show as sacrosanct.

Jaime (British actress Michelle Ryan) has been re-imagined as a bartender who's involved in a terrible car accident, then saved by a top-secret government agency that outfits her with bionic body parts.

Car accident? Bionic bartender? British?

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