In Michelle Ryan, NBC has found a potential breakout star for its new series “Bionic Woman.” The show also gets a great villainous turn from “Battlestar Galactica’s” Katee Sackhoff.
As for the series itself? It has some great promise, but like the bionic parts that make up much of Jaime Sommers’ body, it hasn’t all been harnessed yet.
This update of the 1970s series follows the same basic template of the earlier “Bionic Woman,” with a young woman getting large portions of her body replaced after a horrific accident and going to work for the people who fixed her. In this case, Jaime (Ryan) is a student/bartender who’s in a hesitant relationship with Will (Chris Bowers), one of her professors, and trying not too successfully to look after her teenage hacker sister (Lucy Hale).
Driving home from a date with Will, their car is broadsided by a tractor-trailer, putting Jaime in serious peril. Fortunately for her, Will just happens to be in the employ of a shadowy group that’s experimenting with a highly advanced form of artificial body parts, and Jaime wakes up with new legs, a new right arm and a fresh eye and ear.
The group running the show, however, is far more sinister than the old show’s OSI. Led by an appropriately menacing Miguel Ferrer, the organization has experimented with bionics in the past, and the result has not been pretty: Sackhoff’s Sara Corvis has gone rogue, and is none too pleased to find out that both Will and Jaime survived their accident. Jaime, too, is not exactly a willing patient, bristling (understandably) at the responsibility Ferrer and Co. want to put on her shoulders.
Ryan, who starred in the British soap “EastEnders” for several years, handles the disparate elements of her character pretty well, and seems to grow into the role over the course of the pilot. As the “original” bionic woman, Sackhoff gets the swagger and a couple of the choice lines, but by the end of the episode Ryan is more than holding her own.
The two share a fantastic fight scene on a rain-soaked rooftop, which points to one way the new “Bionic Woman” has it all over its predecessor. Special effects and stunt work have come a long way in 30 years, and they’re both pretty great here. The show pays homage to the familiar ch-ch-ch-ch sound effect that signaled bionic action in the `70s, but Jaime’s new abilities are visually realized in much more exciting ways.
Some of the other elements, though, don’t quite mesh. The love story between Jaime and Will is pretty much a non-starter, and the world in which Jaime’s benefactors move is pretty murky. Just who Sackhoff’s Sarah Corvus is working for is unclear - it somehow involves Will’s father, who invented the bionic technology, but that’s about all we know after one episode.
“Bionic Woman” feels like a show that hasn’t quite figured out what it wants to be. That could be a result of several behind-the-scenes changes on the series: Laeta Kalogridis is credited as the writer on the premiere, but she’s no longer with the show. Jason Smilovic (“Kidnapped”) also worked on the pilot and remains as an executive producer with “Battlestar’s” David Eick. (And who knows how audiences will react to the addition of Isaiah Washington in subsequent episodes.)
On the plus side, “Bionic Woman” comes pre-sold to a certain segment of the audience, which will probably buy the show a little time to find its footing. That, along with the presence of Ryan and Sackhoff, will probably be enough to carry it for a while.