TV

Bionic Woman

The new Bionic Woman is all about broken families and personal traumas. And oh yes, secret government plots, super-max prisons, and pheromones.

Bionic Woman

Airtime: Wednesdays, 9pm ET
Cast: Michelle Ryan, Miguel Ferrer, Molly Price, Will Yun Lee, Chris Bowers, Lucy Hale, Mark Sheppard
MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: NBC
US release date: 2007-09-26
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A wolf only makes a good pet when it thinks it's a dog.

-- Jae Kim (Will Yun Lee)

Standing before a lecture hall full of attractive, earnestly note-taking bioethics students, Professor Will Anthros (Chris Bowers) shows slides: a badly scarred victim of a Baghdad car bombing, a triathlete, and a woman with gigantic breast implants. What do they all have in common, he asks, then answers, "These people have altered themselves." It's a striking formulation -- that anyone might manage such surgery himself -- especially given the next problems Will poses: "Where's the threshold? When is it okay to intervene in God's work?"

At the back of the room waits Will's girlfriend Jamie Sommers (Michelle Ryan). At this point, she's still a San Francisco bartender, but you know, during these early minutes of the premiere episode of Bionic Woman, that she'll soon be a test case for this supposed "threshold." Sending his students away to ponder what he might even mean by "God's work," Will strolls with Jamie in the parking lot. Here she presents him with another sort of question: "Why are you with me?" His response should sound all kinds of alarms for Jamie: she's "different," he offers, and then, "You're the one choice my father didn't make for me." Um: ding ding ding ding.

The new Bionic Woman is all about broken families and personal traumas. And oh yes, secret government plots, super-max prisons, and pheromones. After five months and 14 days of dating father-obsessed Will, 24-year-old Jamie is trying to decide on the next step: he wants her to go to Paris for his research grant, but she has obligations, in particular her PopTarts-eating, angry adolescent sister Becca (Lucy Hale), on some kind of no-internet parole and fondly remembering the days when she was living with their alcoholic dad, who reportedly dumped her on Jamie's "doorstep." Ah well, it's not long before the decision is out of Jamie's hands. A terrible car accident leaves her with all kinds of catastrophic injuries, and Will, stunningly whole following the wreck, decides to rebuild her.

Conveniently, or perhaps nefariously, he has access to a super-secret facility, where head-guy-in-charge Jonas (Miguel Ferrer) appears not a little annoyed on learning that Will has performed multiple hours of fantastically expensive surgery on his girlfriend. "Why didn't somebody stop him?" wonders Jonas, leaving open just who that "somebody" would be. For a highest-tech, covert government-funded center, "Wolf Creek" is remarkably security-free. Ah well, sighs Jonas, un-monitored operations are "the price you pay for working with a so-called genius. Guess he must have left his IQ in the car." One more time, Miguel Ferrer helps the medicine go down.

The rest of this first episode borrows from any number of sources, including Le Femme Nikita (including cursory counseling by Ruth [always good Molly Price]), nip/tuck, Dark Angel, the Aliens, and the Terminators, with surprisingly little direct connection to the original Lindsay Wagner series, itself derived from The Six Million Dollar Man. The price tag for new Jamie's enhancements, Jonas announces dourly, is $50 million, which pays not only for the usual bionic arm, eye, legs, and ear, but also nanotechy anthrocites in her bloodstream, which exponentially accelerate healing. Jamie's upset on waking to find herself so rebuilt revisits the episode's opening questions, as "God's work" is plainly jeopardized by Will's Frankesteiny plotting, and Jamie has plainly not "altered" herself.

But wait. It turns out this last issue gets another go in Bionic Woman, namely, Sarah Corvus (Katee Sackhoff), who introduces herself to Jamie as "the first bionic woman." Whether her count is accurate or not is unclear (Jonas' unit has apparently been working out kinks for years), the point is that Sarah is also enhanced. And since her brief appearance during the premiere episode's very first scene -- exceptionally bloodied, seemingly psychotic, and shot mid-leap by a rueful Jae Kim (Will Yun Lee) -- she's been showing up in cryptic inserts with someone designated The Man (Thomas Kretschmann). Maybe lovers, maybe haters, they share excellent bodies, a love of makeup, a propensity for self-implanting and self-stitching, and serious condescension for mere mortals (the tourists at Disneyland, he sniffs, are "fat people with fat children walking around aimlessly").

On the run from Jonas and the Wolf Creek team for three years, Sarah presents herself to Jamie as both sympathetic sister and deadly rival, explaining the steps that will attend her change, steps the doctors have not explained and so catch Jamie off guard, as when her "ear and eye inputs come online," assaulting her with "too much information" and sending her to the bathroom to vomit and sweat. As Jamie struggles with her hyper-evolution, Jonas watches and waits for Jamie to become "combat ready" and Will makes a feeble effort to declare her a "civilian," just the girlfriend he happened to save using the program's resources. "Everyone has to sing for their supper around here," growls Jonas. The boys argue, stalk off to their corners, then argue again.

The girls, though, look promising. Granted, the initial Sarah-Jamie fight scene occasions the series' first spectacular special-effectsy scene, as the women engage in some grandiose bionic-body slamming, on a rooftop at night during a pounding rainstorm (oh the drama!). But it's clear their microchips connect them in some intuitive, overwhelming, even womanish way. They see each other in their dreams, they're both mad at and distrustful of the men who remade them, and they look at each other with sincere appreciation.

And this bodes well. Even when Jonas' smarmy effort to recruit/command Jamie suggests she'll be conscripted into male fantasy à la Painkiller Jane), Sarah just might grant her another plot, maybe more like Aeon Flux (Peter Chung's animated version, of course!). "I know what I'm capable of now," Jamie tells Jonas. "So you send whoever you send, and I'll bury one guy after the next." It's unclear whether this means she's playing into Jonas' self-described "game," asserting her independence, or aligning herself with the stunningly red-lipped Sarah.

8

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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