Tuned In

Test Pilot: Bionic Woman

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[Here is where there would be a really pretty picture from Bionic Woman if Moveable Type were presently allowing me to upload photos.]

Test Pilot is Tuned In’s semiregular summer preview of the pilots for new fall series. These aren’t reviews, because the pilots can be recast, reshot and improved (or ruined) before air. But premature opinions are why God invented the Internet, so let’s get on with:

The Show: Bionic Woman, NBC

The Premise: Oh, you know. Except this time Jaime Sommers (yes, it’s spelled Jaime) is a civilian whose body is rebuilt when her boyfriend–a scientist in a secret military project–pulls some strings after she nearly dies in a car accident. The operation leaves her superstrong and superpowered as usual, but it also makes her expendable government property, in a much darker take on the old guilty pleasure.

First Impressions: The sci-fi story recalls Battlestar Galactica, as a dystopic version of a frothy ’70s show (it’s executive-produced by BSG’s David Eick). That part works. The action scenes and effects are impressive and the tone of subtle menace–just what does the government want with her?–and gray Vancouver-y gloom are just right. (Why is Vancouver the Official City of Science Fiction anyway?) There’s a great scene in which Jaime (Michelle Ryan) wakes in a hospital bed, pulls back the sheets and sees her translucent bionic legs, which are in the process of being rebuilt by microscopic “cellular machines”–and instead of reacting with wonder, Ryan plays it like a horror scene. Jaime’s discovery of her bionic hearing–and how the sensory overload can drive you insane–is also well done. (Her bionic eyesight, however, is that standard Terminator Robovision thing where images are labeled with green and red type that says things like “POTENTIAL WEAPON.” Why does futuristic android vision always look like it was designed in 1983?)

The personal story elements (a deaf sister at home, a boyfriend in jeopardy from a conspiracy) are vaguely like Alias, but without Alias’ distinctive writing; the dialogue is too flat and grim to really flesh out the characters. Ryan is still a question mark, but BSG’s Katee Sackhoff steals the pilot in what’s been upgraded to a recurring role as the first Bionic Woman, who’s gone bad. Bionic Woman has the hardware in place, but I hope future versions of the software (i.e., scripts) are upgraded.

Oh, and One More Thing: Whether in the old version or with 21st-century FX technology, a person running at the speed of a car will always look goofy.

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