By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Once upon a midnight dreary, when so many TV brainstorms occur, a producer latched upon the notion of exhuming the Bionic Woman from her video grave and trotting her around the track one more time. But this had to be a new Bionic Woman, someone of her time and in the moment and most of all, dark and edgy. Darkness and edginess are next to cost-effectiveness in 21st-century network television.
The result, NBC's lavish and splashy new version of "Bionic Woman," is not, as one might fear, a "BW" stripped of everything that fans loved about the '70s original. But let's face facts: It comes close. If the same producer decided to revive the Invisible Man, one wonders if he would decide to make the guy visible this time out, just to give it a new spin.
None of that means "BW" is remotely a bad show, just a different one from what those who remember the original might expect -- a new series exploiting a time-tested, pre-sold title. To be fair to the creators, it's unlikely that "BW" would work in 2007 if played by 1976 rules. A certain sinister cynicism had to be allowed to creep in -- or barge in, as the case may be. And dead weight had to be jettisoned: Will anyone really protest the absence of Maximillion, the world's first bionic dog?
Similarly, there's probably no point in comparing Michelle Ryan, who has inherited the part, to Lindsay Wagner, the actress/pitchwoman who now does infomercials for some wondrous and lovable mattress. There'll be no snoozing during this jazzed-up, hyperblasted "Bionic Woman," which boasts movie-quality special effects, plenty of action and a sexy sort of swoosh.
Ryan's Jaime Sommers, contrasted with Wagner's, is a more sober, less sunny and more formidable presence. She's understandably aghast when she wakes in a hospital bed -- after a car she was riding in has been pulverized by a 10-ton truck -- to find that one arm, one ear, one eye and both legs have been replaced with high-tech prostheses and that her thought processes have undergone major tinkering, as well.
"How long before she's combat-ready?" asks the always intense Miguel Ferrer, who plays the Mr. Big in charge of the $50 million (cheap!) transformation project. At this point, "Bionic Woman" bears a striking resemblance to "Alias" and "La Femme Nikita" and those sorts of things. But it asserts its own identity soon after Chris Bowers, as a stubble-faced good guy, helps Jaime escape Ferrer's clutches, and Jaime begins to see the virtues in bionicism: She can run like the devil through the woods and leap from rooftop to rooftop when in the city.
"You're hot-wired for highly specialized warfare, yes," Stubbly Guy tells her, confirming her darkest suspicions, as well as what's left of the series's original premise. There are plenty of "Terminator" and "Blade Runner" touches spiffing up the new version, but the central appeal of a miraculous, gorgeous, gadget-assisted heroine remains strong -- and it's unlikely that people longing for the old version when they tune in will still feel that longing after a half-hour's exposure to the new one.
It could be, though, that the new Jaime protests too much about her computer-enhanced lot in life. In my notes, next to a line of dialogue that Ryan delivers to Ferrer -- "If we do this . . . we do it on my terms" -- I see that I wrote, "Oh, shut up." Yes, a little reluctance goes a long way and too much reluctance could make the heroine a burden and a bore.
Ryan's flinty pluck and plenty of fancy footwork, however, may help the new "Bionic Woman" win over as many hearts and minds as the old one did -- even if the new one does it the hard way.'Private Practice'
ABC's "Private Practice" tries so hard to be racy and spicy that it all but bursts a corpuscle. Spun clumsily and greedily off "Grey's Anatomy," the new series seems shallow and smirky. And if a TV show can be said to have a mind, this one's stubbornly in the gutter.
The show's desperate desire to titillate reaches its nadir about halfway into tonight's episode, when a dead man's wife and mistress stage a fight over who gets a certain portion of the man's remains. "I want his sperm!" screams the wife. Isn't that cute? Earlier, we get the now all-but-obligatory sperm-bank scene (one opened "The Big Bang Theory" on CBS Monday night). Oh, but what a saucy twist: The chap has a stroke while attempting to make a deposit, which leads to a banal bounty of cheap jokes and smutty innuendo.
"Practice" is ostensibly the story of Dr. Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh, excessively sure of herself), who's left the cold and rainy Seattle of "Grey's" for the sun-kissed Santa Monica of the Oceanside Wellness Group, a hip and trendy clinic where nontraditional forms of medicine are practiced, with sheer stupidity being the favorite by a long shot.
The supporting characters, meant to be California-colorful and quixotic, unfortunately come off as self-absorbed prima donnas embroiled in endlessly tedious turf wars. They're not like any doctors and nurses you've ever met; what they resemble most are the kind of people who go into show business. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, or to real life as lived anywhere but Southern California, is accidental.
To her discredit, Dr. Montgomery tends to fit right in. Of course, she had noble goals when she went south: "I want to wear jeans and walk on the beach and dance naked and be wild and free." She also says she wants to "throw my hat all the way up in the air," a reference to the iconic gesture that opens the old "Mary Tyler Moore Show," which this series resembles about as much as it does "Cannibal Zombies From Outer Space."
The doc gets her wish about dancing naked, much to the leering delight of her neighbor, who's also on staff of the wellness center. That would be tired Tim Daly, who announces late in the hour, "I'm very good at what I do," the kind of Mespeak they all talk around there. When a woman named Jenny goes nutty and starts obsessively counting, and talking to, the tiles on the floor, Dr. Montgomery says, "I can handle this" and then proceeds to botch it up. And takes nearly forever doing it.
"Private Practice" doesn't appear to be just the thing for people who like "Grey's Anatomy," but rather just the thing for people who hate it -- and who hate good drama on television wherever it manages to surface.'Dirty Sexy Money'
Prime time abounds in rogues' galleries this season, with the quality of roguishness varying widely. In ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money," it just about hits rock bottom. The facetious drama series -- not quite a comedy, not quite not one -- gathers together an annoying collection of eccentrics and misfits, all of them rich and greedy, few of them worth knowing.
Peter Krause, who has a very television-friendly persona, is the most appealing and least duplicitous character afoot, the son of a prominent attorney who vows not to follow in his dad's footsteps -- until dad drops dead in his tracks. Then the footsteps become less escapable, and so Krause, as lawyer Nick George, swallows his pride and his ideals and agrees to represent the nasty Darling family in all its avaricious maliciousness.
There are, of course, degrees of dislikability. One is naturally drawn to two old pros who generally rule the roost: Donald Sutherland and Jill Clayburgh as Patrick "Tripp" Darling III and wife Letitia, patriarch and matriarch of the clammy clan. They both look great, and Sutherland seems liberated by the silliness of his character. He's almost as good as he was in "Six Degrees of Separation."
The family includes a nasty priest who talks about his "wife and kids," a shiftless playboy, a berserk actress and other assorted odds, all of them at ends. It's very unfortunate that the show really plays a great deal like the cult comedy "Arrested Development" but without the laughs -- and thus without a point. It's just a collection of kooks acting kooky -- an anti-family full of antiheroes.
What passes for a central plot has Krause's Nick searching for the rat who killed his father, a death that initially appeared accidental. "Sometimes you're just looking for answers, and there aren't any," Sutherland's character tells Nick before boarding the Darling family chopper.
Whether there are answers or not just doesn't manage to matter, and neither do the questions -- with the possible exception of, "How did this awful thing get on the air in the first place?"
Bionic Woman (one hour) premieres tonight at 9 on Channel 4.
Private Practice (one hour) premieres tonight at 9 on Channel 7.
Dirty Sexy Money (one hour) premieres tonight at 10 on Channel 7.