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Saturday, Quick and Dirty

by  in Comic News Comment
Saturday, Quick and Dirty

Not the luckiest week ever, here in the Hatcher household.

I won’t bore you with the specifics. Suffice it to say there’s been a whole litany of stuff: More medical things, an unexpected deadline panic at another magazine I work for, an ongoing computer problem that’s making us a little nuts (I’ve been doing columns on other people’s computers for the last month, including this one) …and now not one but TWO different columns have had to be pushed back because important components of them — like, interview answers — have been unavoidably delayed. One hopes that by next week all of this will be ironed out and the Friday column will actually go up on a FRIDAY like it’s supposed to. 

In the meantime, that means that today is going to be a quick hit-and-run kind of a piece; a little unfinished, it’s the notes I had on NBC’s new Bionic Woman.

By way of preamble, I should say I was very much looking forward to this. Probably with more anticipation than any revival warranted, really, since it had a huge hump to get over given my fond childhood memories of the original Steve Austin novels and television show. (Those are recounted here.)

 

So, two weeks in, my provisional verdict is — not bad, but not great. It wasn’t disappointing, exactly, but it’s clearly still very much a work in progress.

And speaking of work in progress, here are the stream-of-consciousness notes I made while I was watching, in no particular order. First, the pilot:

…Interesting. Bionics are potentially crazy-making? That’s an idea Martin Caidin played with a tiny bit in Cyborg but never went back to. What WOULD those new inputs feel like? Hmm. Wonder if they’ll run with it.

…Jaime and the bionic doctor are an item? I sense this isn’t going to last. Too hard to work around from week to week.

….Huh. Laeta Kalogridis wrote this — she adapted Birds of Prey for the WB a couple of years back. She made the Huntress a young hip bartender chick who’s unwillingly saddled with the responsibility of caring for a teenage girl. Now here’s her vision of Jaime Sommers: a young hip bartender chick unwillingly saddled with the responsibility of a teenage girl. What is it with Laeta and bartenders?

…Nice to see Miguel Ferrer again. I wonder if anyone else is speculating that this is the job his character took after he quit bossing Bridget Fonda in Point of No Return. Jesus, I am a huge nerd for wondering that. It’s probably just me.

…The parts Ms. Kalogridis didn’t crib from Birds of Prey appear to have been cribbed from La Femme Nikita, now that I think about it. So it’s Jaime as Nikita. Could work, but… I dunno, seems unnecessarily dark to me. Too much “not your mother’s Bionic Woman.”

…Katee Sackhoff is stealing every scene she’s in. Best line in the show: Katee’s bored, “The FIRST bionic woman. Ta da.”

…No Rudy Wells, no Oscar Goldman. Oh duh, then they’d have to pay the Caidin heirs for Steve Austin as well as shelling out to use “Jaime Sommers” and “Bionic Woman.” Still, I miss Oscar. Maybe they’ll do some stunt casting with the old crew for sweeps or something. They’re all still around, a bunch of them just did BionicCon in L.A. Speaking of creator credit, where the hell’s Kenneth Johnson’s name? How does that work? Seems like they’d have to give him SOMETHING… maybe it’s whipping by in the end credits too small to see. I really wonder why they bother with end credits, when no one can read them any more, the way they split the screen.

… The effects are gorgeous but I guess we aren’t going to see very much in any single episode. Makes sense, they’re probably expensive. The story’s going to have to get better than this though; if we can’t see more spectacular effects that means the scripts have to carry the load. But so far, that’s not happening. All felt very by-the-numbers, as though it’s been stitched together from other shows.

….So bionic doctor’s dad is actually an Evil Bionic Doctor? Is he Katee Sackhoff’s builder? Does that mean he MADE her crazy and evil? And he’s escaped and hiding out in the mountains? It would rock my world if he set about constructing an evil army of bionic Bigfoot monsters up there. Come on, NBC, go ahead and go there. Embrace your Kenneth Johnson heritage, don’t run from it! Bigfoot! Fembots! A bionic German Shepherd! Reimagined for the new millennium!… Jesus, I am a HUGE nerd. Still, that sounds more fun than bionic Nikita.

And this week’s entry, “Paradise Lost”:

…Glen Morgan is working on this now? X-Files alum. Wonder if he’s got anything to do with the whole gray rainy look of this show. Must be a Vancouver thing.

…A small hick town full of dead people a la Steve Austin’s “Population Zero”? Coincidence? Probably. Dare I hope for a pissed-off scientist and his death ray?

…Wait, we’re at the funeral? The young boyfriend doctor didn’t survive the shooting in the pilot episode? Last week it looked like he did and he’s even in the cast publicity photo. Well, I knew it couldn’t last.

…So Miguel Ferrer’s all “You owe us” and Jaime’s all “no way, I scorn authority.” Yawn. Can’t we think of a new angle here? What happened to all the TV spy agencies staffed with heroic people doing good things for good reasons? The ruthless corrupt government angle is really, really tired at this point.

…Not enthralled with the whole younger sister thing. This is going to be a big hassle story-wise. There’s a reason they quetly dropped Jaime’s schoolteacher idenity on the old show…it’s too big of a pain to work around. The secret-identity plot wasn’t a good idea on the original Bionic Woman and it’s not going to work here either, I bet. Either the sister gets recruited and let in on the spy stuff somehow or she gets killed.

….the agency regulars are getting a bit crowded. We started with the bionic doctor, the blonde lady, the Asian trainer, and now Isaiah Washington alongside Miguel Ferrer.

 

That’s too many people filling a role that’s supposed to serve primarily an expository function. As it stands Jaime’s getting pushed out of her own show. Keep Miguel Ferrer because he’s cool, maybe Isaiah. Asian guy’s got a subplot with Katee Sackhoff, play that arc out and then dump him. They’ve already dumped the doctor. Blonde lady can go. That leaves Isaiah and Miguel. That would be about right.

…used to be all the tech guys were modeled on Q from the Bond movies. Now it looks like they’re all modeled on Hollywood’s idea of the SF geek demographic. First Marshall on Alias and now Jaime’s guy. Cute gag with the ear getting fixed by smacking her head but it doesn’t make sense. What if she gets bumped like that in a combat situation? Sparks fly and she goes deaf? Dumb. Don’t sacrifice interior logic just for a gag, people.

….Interesting riff with the fight choregraphy being exposed as pre-programmed.

 

Does that mean Jaime can be programmed with other motor skills? Could she be given the abilities of a ballerina or a tennis champion, or even fine hand-work skills like cutting diamonds or safecracking or something? I will bet a year’s pay against a jelly doughnut that no one thinks of this, it’s just doubletalk so Jaime can plausibly do wire-fu, but it’s an intriguing idea.

…Michelle Ryan is having to work way too hard at making Jaime interesting, because the writers aren’t giving her much. Reading What Color Is Your Parachute? Please.

Nevertheless, she makes Jaime far more likable than she should be given what she’s been doing. As if we haven’t got enough bitter confused self-loathing twentysomething protagonists on television. Hollywood, making your good guy constantly flirt with self-destruction isn’t always “depth.” Repeat it endlessly and it’s just “annoying.” Still, she’s keeping up with all these power actors around her. Holding her own with Sackhoff AND Ferrer.

…The eye glows when she is using it? Cool. Great job on the running and the building save. Effects really are first-rate. “How’d you do that?” “Um, Pilates.” That’s a nice shout-out to the old days.

…Couple of nice bits with blonde lady and Jaime talking. But you could slot Isaiah Washington in there just as easy. You cast all these different people as Jaime’s bosses, you better have stuff for them to do. Have we even heard the blonde’s name yet and what sets her apart from the other government-boss people?

…Wait a minute. First it’s a military quarantine, then a CDC quarantine, and now it’s… completely messed up. Where’d all the other government people go? Are they soldiers or what? Perimeter breach by who? How’d it get to be just Jaime and her blonde boss and the girl survivor being stalked by these phony Marines? Why does Jaime assume they’re hostile? The radio conversation only talked about ‘getting and holding’ them. Shouldn’t she try talking first? And why didn’t she carry the girl and run at bionic speeds instead of both running at normal speed?

 

A two minute sequence that is so confusing I’m completely out of the episode trying to figure out stuff that someone should have figured out already. Like the writer.

…Cell-phone call from Jaime’s sister at the wrong moment. Cameron Diaz did this joke better in the first Charlie’s Angels movie. Another instance of story logic sacrificed for a gag. Not promising.         

…I like that Jaime is overpowered by the Marine at first because he’s trained and she’s not. At least that fight was well-choreographed.

….The agency people are mean, the job calls for ruthlessness, we get it. Blonde lady blows a lot of them up with a grenade and then Isaiah Washington tortures the survivor. Isaiah Washington clearly learned his stance on the rights of the accused from 24‘s Jack Bauer. Torture actually is a poor interrogation technique resulting in a lot of bad leads, according to every study I’ve ever seen. But it establishes Isaiah as a badass, I guess. Does it matter that it also establishes him as stupid?

…Wait a minute. That’s it? That’s all they’re going to tell us about the bad guys? They’re just, what, generic survivalist terrorists that stole a bioweapon? Round ’em up, load ’em in a truck and we’re done? Miguel Ferrer and Jaime growl at each other a little more and that’s all. Not even a big bionic fight at the finish, I guess the bit with the one phony Marine is all we get. Once again Jaime Sommers is practically pushed out of her own show by all these spy types. Producers, nobody is watching this show for the spy stuff, okay? It looks too much like 24 and we are here for bionic superhero things. So do some.

…Nice enough bit at the end with the younger sister, but that reconciliation sure happened quick.

…So far it still feels like stuff that’s been stitched together out of pieces of other shows — Nikita, 24, Buffy, a couple of others. Too generic. But the Katee Sackhoff stuff is promising. Maybe if they actually let Michelle Ryan be the star of her own show and build on the conflict with Katee it will get better.

*

And that’s what I am left with, two weeks in. That’s what notes for a column look like before they get to actually be one, but honestly, just looking at them as they stand I think you get a fair picture of how the show’s doing. So far it’s got some very promising things and some really stupid ones, impressing me as being wildly uneven. It averages out to just a solid C-minus overall, nothing to get too excited about. We’ll give it a couple more weeks.

And NEXT week, I hope to be back on schedule with a working computer and a couple of interesting interviews. See you then.

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