A nerdy young man is the victim of a freak accident in a high tech lab. The next morning when he gets out of bed, he can’t help but notice the incredible changes in his body. He can now do things no other mortal can do. With his new powers serving as his motivation, he sets off on a life of fighting evil and injustice under the name of… Spiderman!
No, wrong. The Incredible Hulk? Wrong again. The Invisible Man? No. The Flash? Mr. Terrific? The Gemini Man? Captain Marvel? The Six Million Dollar Man, The Sentinel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Charmed Ones? No, no, and no. “He” is Jake 2.0 (Christopher Gorman), and he is the latest evidence of an alarming trend during the last half century, in which ordinary citizens are transformed into super-human crime fighters against their will. The only way to stop this epidemic? For television writers to get creative. Otherwise, there will soon be more overnight superheroes than victims of crime.
Lack of innovation is exactly what makes Jake 2.0, UPN’s new sci-fi drama, a disappointment. Jake’s change is not so new: with microchips “bonded” with his central nervous system, he becomes part machine, able to communicate with just about anything that has wires and runs on electricity. Familiar from Max Headroom and RoboCop, this crossing humanity with technology idea has already been explored from various angles.
Jake Foley is your average geek. He works at NSA, a government agency similar to the CIA or FBI, has absolutely no skills with the ladies, lives like a pig, and fills his cubicle at work with posters and toy figurines. Yet, as is often the case with such geeks, he is a techno-wizard with the ability to bring just about any computer back from blue-screen death. While working in the NSA (National Security Agency) lab, he uncovers files that indicate that things aren’t all they should be. When the scientist who is selling government secrets and whose files Jake has uncovered walks in on him, Jake summons security. In the ensuing shoot-out, he’s cut by shards of glass from an exploding incubator.
The next day, Jake can hear through walls, see like a microscope, and jump, run, and punch like the Bionic Woman. What’s more, he can fix a broken computer just by touching it and telepathically will traffic signals to change. As it turns out, the incubator contained “nanites,” tiny computer chips designed to bond with human bodies, developed so the Department of Defense might create the ultimate soldier. Once infected, Jake begins to turn into that soldier. The downside is that the nanites are still in the testing stage and come with a few potential side effects… headaches, coma, death.
As is always the case when the U.S. government has a top-secret project in the works, everyone in the world is aware of the project and Jake’s contamination, which makes him a man in demand. In order to get to him, agents of some unnamed organization kidnap Congressional aide Sarah Heywood (Marina Black), Jake’s former college classmate and the woman of his dreams. Newly super-powered, he rescues Sarah, though she remains unconscious throughout the ordeal, and so isn’t dazzled by his heroism. Senior Agent Beckett (Judith Scott) is impressed, however, and creates a special ops team with Jake at its center. Jake is so enamored with Sarah that he fails to recognize the lovelorn look in the eyes of Dr. Diane Hughes (Keegan Connor Tracy), one of the scientists at NSA who developed the little buggers now in Jake’s system.
Will Jake win Sarah’s affection? Will he ever notice Diane? Can a computer nerd lead a team of government agents? How long before the nanites turn on Jake and put his life at risk? I’m going to go out on a limb here, albeit a short one, and say that Jake will realize that Diane is really the woman for him about the time that Sarah begins to develop romantic feelings for him. Additionally, Jake will stay one step ahead of the bad guys, despite his frequent missteps. And the nanites will eventually threaten Jake’s life, forcing Diane to work overtime to save him.
All this brings us back to the issue of creativity. I feel comfortable making these predictions because the writers rely so heavily on stock characters and clichéd dialogue. There is, of course, the chance that I am wrong and that the writers will take the show in new and dynamic directions, with relationships developing in surprising yet believable fashion. But the first episode suggests otherwise. Perhaps UPN should fire Jake 2.0‘s writers and replace them with their advertising staff. Their fast-paced commercials for the show aroused my interest in the first place.
In lieu of inventive writing, Jake 2.0 offers Gorman, whom viewers may recognize from Felicity or Popular. His Jake is effectively befuddled and excited at his new life. Although he looks more like a frat boy after a rough weekend of partying than a disheveled hacker, he’s boyishly charming whether pounding a keyboard or rescuing distressed damsels. (Still, I wonder why these life-improving freak accidents never happen to pimply, overweight hackers with bad hygiene.) Sadly, none of the other cast members rises above the material so well, which means Gorman is forced to carry everything, and he’s not that good, yet.
So, I’ll make one more prediction: if the writing on Jake 2.0 doesn’t improve, the show will be off the air before the season is over. That could actually be good news for Gorman. With luck and a smart agent, he’ll move beyond Jake 2.0, and like Jake himself, emerge from the shadows and into the spotlight.