'Bionic Woman' Version 2.0
NBC's Stunt-Filled Cyborg Drama Stands on Its Own Two Prostheses
Wednesday, September 26, 2007; Page C01
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.
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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.
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.