Sep 27, 2007

La Femme Bionique

The Bionic Woman is so--
"Wait. Before you trash it like you did Heroes' season premiere (you hypercritical, miserable jackass), could you give us a boring comparison between The Bionic Woman and Battlestar Galactica?"
Okay, I'll give it a shot...

With the new NBC Show, Bionic Woman, producer David Eick once again dons his mining helmet and heads down into the rich soil of the 1970s. One can hardly blame him, considering his career has more or less been defined by the "re-imagined" Battlestar Galactica, which turned a beloved but cheesy (and short-lived) 70s science fiction series into the biggest hit ever to come out of the Sci Fi Channel.

The problem with going back to the well (mix metaphors and serve chilled), as far as science fiction television shows are concerned, is that the well ain't that deep, and most of the water tastes like crap.

Battlestar was a show that was canceled mainly because it was very expensive to produce. A fairly substantial fan base (including yours truly) was pretty upset that it got canned. One kid even committed suicide (ban all television!)

The Bionic Woman was a spin-off of The Six Million Dollar Man. It ran on ABC for two seasons (1976-1977), got canceled for low ratings, then NBC picked it up for one more season before canceling it as well. I watched it a bit, back then, having been a fan of its parent show, but found it pretty boring.

So, independent of the actual merit of the remake, can the success of Battlestar be used as a predictor of success for Bionic? I would say no.

Battlestar may have had a shorter run than the original Bionic Woman, but it ended on a much higher note, fan interest-wise. This is pretty well demonstrated in the huge reaction to the announcement of BSG's re-envisioning. The internet was abuzz with people who felt strongly about whether it should be made or not, who should make it, how it should be done, etc. On the other hand, BW was announced way back in 2002 and no one, as far as I can tell, really cared all that much.

Now not everyone loves the original BSG. Far from it, in fact. But publicity-wise, hatred is a lot better than indifference.
"Well, now that you've raised our expectations, how is the actual show?"
As far as a comparison of the actual merits of the respective re-imaginings, I think BSG had a lot more going for it than BW as well. BSG was able to drastically darken the tone in comparison to the original show without losing much. With a substantially larger cast of characters, it was also able to change individual characters more without totally removing them from their original incarnations, thus preserving fan investment in the re-envisioning.
"You're still talking about Battlestar Galactica, you know..."
Yes, but bear with me. I need some kind of framework to make myself sound smart, otherwise I'm just bitching.

BW doesn't even keep the same names for characters who essentially play the same roles (apart from the lead), so virtually nothing but the "bionic" part of the original survives. And while BSG spins events from the original series' beginnings into well-realized and sober plot points, BW discards completely the initial origin story of its lead character, the fan reaction to which (as an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man) was so strong that the character of Jamie Sommers, who died in the SMDM episode in question, was resurrected for her own spin-off. Instead, Jamie's origin and transformation comes before the first commercial break, the culmination not of a well-developed love story but rather of a seven-minute extract of a relationship.

All of which might eventually get sorted out to much acclaim, but for one small problem: The Bionic Woman kinda sucks.

The acting, with the exception of Miguel Ferrer as Oscar Goldman Jonas Bledsoe, is pretty weak. BSG star Katie Sackhoff puts in an appearance as "the first bionic woman" -- a psychotic Frankenstein's monster. Her performance is pretty criminal, but it's hard to tell how much is bad acting and how much bad writing. Jamie's sister, played by Lucy Hale, is yet another teenage computer genius, who will no doubt be called upon to "hack" into computers whenever it's convenient to the lazy writing staff.

Sommers herself, played by Michelle Ryan, is about as interesting as a documentary on the history of paper shredders. The character is a bartender now, rather than a champion tennis player, and everything about the scenes where she is tending bar screams "this is not a bartender -- this is an actress!" She doesn't pour drinks like a bartender, she doesn't talk like one, and she certainly doesn't dress like one.

I don't know about you, but I'm not keen to watch an actress try to be a conflicted, half-cybernetic killing machine if she can't even play a goddamn bartender, and that same sentiment could pretty much be applied to every aspect of this show. The things that aren't totally boring are ... well, there actually isn't much in it that isn't boring, apart from a big, Matrix-y fight scene in the pilot's final minutes which, now that I think about it, was pretty boring, too.

Not going on my list of shows to watch (which is currently empty).


Ixtlilton said...

I'm probably going to give it one more try. I think that the biggest problem was that I didn't really think the relationships worked. The sister/sister thing was too cliche and there wasn't any chemistry in the boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. The first problem seemed like bad writing, the second seemed like bad acting.

Ink Gorilla said...

I'll need to watch it before I weigh in. It sounds sort of stinky, though. At least it's just a pilot.

Ixtlilton said...

I'm wondering if a lot of the ill will I feel towards Chuck and the Bionic Chick can be chalked up to their being pilot episodes. I have a feeling that Bionic Chick will be more of a group style show (like Buffy) instead of a "solo agent" show (like Alias) that the pilot seemed to be leading. I'm hoping that Chuck won't have as many old and moldy jokes in the regular series- also that the blonde becomes less of a pretty piece of wood.

I enjoyed the pilot of Reaper, but since I know that most of the crew that worked on the pilot (directing, editing, cameraguy) aren't going to be working on the rest of the series, I have no idea if I'll like the series.