Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"See all that stuff inside, Homer? That's why your robot never worked..."

Bionic Woman (2007)

Caveats: (1) some of the special effects hadn't been added to the copy I watched, which meant that her bionic arm looked decidedly unbionic and, hilariously, the scene where she ran, Superman-like, beside a moving vehicle, reminded me very much of Poochie returning to his home planet on The Simpsons (except horizontally); (2) I'm pretty sure they were using stock music, as Carrie and I both noticed the theme from American Beauty and some of the better tracks from 28 Days Later. That or they just put no effort into their musical decisions. (3) According to Wikipedia, Jamie (the BW herself) Sommers' deaf sister, who appeared in our version, has been replaced--improbably--by an even lazier television stereotype: the budding, loner hacker. Oh, good! Her mannerisms won't be the slightest bit predictable.

Briefly: Bionic Woman is the story of Jamie Sommers, bartender by, er,, sleeping bartender by day, who, as a result of a violent (and might I add: spectacular) car crash undergoes an experimental procedure and discovers that she is part machine. Hijinks ensues.

What I Liked

  • The guy that plays Jamie’s boyfriend/the doctor who ends up operating on her (Dr. Will Anthros, as played by Chris Bowers) gives a solid, if understated performance. The tendency, no doubt, will be to focus on the Bionic Woman herself, but I’d like to see a bigger role for the Doc.

  • It had an undeniable cinematic feel to it. The later half of the episode in particular, which takes place outside, at night, in the rain, looked great.

  • The fact that Jamie Sommers is not completely bionic could potentially make things very interesting. Her weaknesses are far more compelling and organic than Smallville’s pat “OK, we really need for Clark to be inexplicably incapacitated for the better part of a segment, so let’s just have some meteor rock randomly appear” solution. One could reasonably envision several scenarios where Jamie might seem in control, only for the tables to be quickly turned by someone exploiting her physical vulnerabilities.

  • Despite my problems with the show (see: the next seven paragraphs), it is genuinely intriguing. Whether this was done intentionally or the writers just aren’t very good, precious little is revealed in the pilot, which gives the show an air of mystery. I’m genuinely not sure where the show is headed. On the other hand...

What I Didn't

  • I’m genuinely not sure where the show is headed. If you sit back and think about what happened in the episode, you’ll quickly come the following conclusion: barely anything at all. While we know a little bit about why Jamie ended up in the car accident, little else is known, including: why does this bionic division exist? What purpose does it serve? Are they good or evil? What do they expect of Jamie? To a certain extent, I’m curious, but I kind of get the feeling that they’ll be making it up as they go along, which is rarely good.

  • A pretty cool fight scene near the end is marred by one nagging issue: there’s absolutely no logical reason for Jamie to emerge victorious. Not only is she new to the Bionic game (and thus unfamiliar with the extent of her powers), she’s also a lesser Bionic (her opponent has no known weaknesses).

  • As near as I can tell, the BW was not given a bionic heart and yet she behaves as if completely devoid of emotion. There’s no real need to go into details (nor should I), but suffice to say, at some point in the episode, something happens that should really make Jamie rather upset and yet, when Jamie confronts the person responsible for this incident moments (literally) later, she appears completely unaffected, to the point where it’s actually somewhat jarring for the viewer.

  • Pursuant to the preceding point, the whole episode had a disjointed feel to it. I’m not sure if some scenes have been removed, shortened, or simply re-ordered, but the episode just doesn’t flow very nicely. Jamie’s “holy shit, I’m a fucking machine!” scene (think: Spiderman excitedly bounding around from building to building in the first film) is pretty woeful. So far as I can tell, it consists of Jamie (1) running really fast, (2) jumping across a roof, (3) making a puzzled face and shrugging her shoulders, and (4) returning to her job as a bartender. Not exactly riveting stuff.

  • Simply put, the lead performance (by Michelle Ryan) wasn’t strong enough. In particular, she lacked the toughness necessary to sell the part. For instance, there’s a line at the end—cool enough that I won’t bother spoiling it—that, when delivered, should have provided a chill moment for the audience. Instead, it’s kind of half-heartedly read by Ryan, leading the audience to collectively exclaim “awwww, is the Bionic Woman upset? That’s so adorable [tousles hair].” This could prove to be a rather serious problem.

  • Isaiah Washington referring to Jamie Sommers as "that robotic dyke" was completely inappropriate. I'm kidding! IW's five-episode arc hasn't even started yet. (Plus, I'm assuming they're saving the "Shadowy Government Official Enters Sensitivity Training" storyline for Sweeps Week.)

  • Jesus God, does this show ever take itself seriously!--to the point where it hinders the show. Any really good drama from the past, say, 15 years has managed to balance said drama with a healthy dose of humor. Though it had it's fair share of detractors (especially near the end), The West Wing was the absolute best at this--at times, it was leaps and bounds funnier than nearly every other alleged sitcom on air. This is especially true of shows with faintly (or blatantly) ridiculous premises--imagine Buffy without the humor (hint: it looks a lot like Buffy season 5 through 7) or--god forbid--Angel. Had those shows played it straight (something I briefly feared they were going to do with Angel after they abruptly killed off Doyle in season 1), they wouldn't have been nearly as successful. The last big hit that I can think of--though I'm certainly open to suggestions--that was utterly humorless is The Practice. So...yeah. Make of that what you will.

[Incidentally, this principle works in reverse. Any successful sitcom needs to be able to, on occasion, trot out a serious storyline without the gears grinding to a halt. (And, no, I'm not thinking of the very special Saved by the Bell episode where Kelly falls in love--in approximately three seconds--with a handsome TV star who just happens to be filming a "Don't Do Drugs" PSA at Bayside and also just happens to be a completely drug-addled dick. See also: the Growing Pains episode with...the exact same plot.) (Ah, hell. Maybe I am thinking of that.) See, for instance: Frasier (the Niles and Daphne saga, some of the stuff with Martin was also oddly affecting); Friends (the episode when Rachel finds out about Ross and the Copy Girl is positively gruesome); earlier, vintage Simpsons (Homer and Marge); How I Met Your Mother (thus fulfilling my contractual obligation to mention the show in every TV post...and furthering my efforts to drive Shuk insane. Anyway, the "will-they-or-wont-they"ness of Robin and Ted's relationship is dramatically compelling, but this show's charm is derived, in large part, from Marshall and Lily, as well as the believable dynamic between all five principle characters); Arrested Development (granted, the show never came anywhere close to a "serious" plotline but, at its core, it was a show about fathers and sons--more specifically: Michael and George Michael); and The Larry Sanders Show (Artie's platonic love for Larry, Hank's slightly less platonic love for Larry, Larry's love for the show itself, etc.). Arguably, Seinfeld is the lone exception (and probably South Park). No lessons were ever learned, no true feelings were ever expressed, no punishment meted out (except for the ill-advised finale, which is why many true fans were disgusted), and that was perfectly fine.]

Anyway....where the hell was I going with that?? Ah, yes: Bionic Woman. I don't think I laughed once (there may or may not have been a guffaw--I'll check the tape). This...does not bode well. Essentially, the premise is so silly that, if they're not willing to have some fun with it, this incarnation of Bionic Woman is probably doomed to fail. (That said, the original BW--which I've never seen but Carrie swears was good enough--lasted for 58 episodes and that BW was a former professional tennis player who doubled as a kindergarten teacher...which doesn't exactly seem like a comedic goldmine (sorry, mom!), so it's possible I don't have a clue what I'm talking about.)

How it will be a hit: A clearer mandate for Jamie (what, exactly, is she supposed to do? Fight crime? Destroy rogue Bionic Women a la Blade Runner? Magically cure alcoholics with her touch? This needs to be straightened out fairly soon); a bigger role for Dr. Will Anthros (what a name!); stunt casting (I'm thinking: The Harlem Globetrotters...or possibly Phyllis Diller. Failing that, a three-episode Hawaiian or Parisian--either will do!--vacation gone awry is ratings gold. Gold, Jerry!)

How it will crash and burn: Humorlessness (Scrabble Score: a disappointing 18 points); murky storylines; the lack of a compelling villain (which is the case so far--though this role may be capably filled by the enigmatic Dr. Anthony Anthros (Will's dad), who we get but a glimpse of in the pilot).

Likelihood of scenario A over B: 55-45. It seems to have gotten a 13-episode pick up (though, for all the BW fanboys out there, I must warn you: so did The Nine), which is somewhat promising. But tinkering with the pilot is rarely a good sign, nor is a production shake-up (which also happened), so we'll see...

Also, for anyone that thought I couldn't spend 1,600 words talking about Bionic Woman: I accept your apology.

1 comment:

RT Murphy said...

"To a certain extent, I’m curious, but I kind of get the feeling that they’ll be making it up as they go along, which is rarely good."

Certainly no televisual event in history regarding bionic enhancement has ever suffered by going this route!

"...there’s absolutely no logical reason for Jamie to emerge victorious."

Maybe she just has more... heart? Wah-wah zam-clam.

"As near as I can tell, the BW was not given a bionic heart and yet she behaves as if completely devoid of emotion."

Emotions are a cognitive function and not a vascular one. In other words, HEARTS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY, GOOD NIGHT!

"Any successful sitcom needs to be able to, on occasion, trot out a serious storyline without the gears grinding to a halt."

You forgot the American version of The Office, which uses this as its bread-and-butter (realistically, which is what keeps it relevant and not, say, Suddenly Susan).