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The Best & Worst of '07/Part Two: Bionic Woman Meets Riptide

CLICK HERE for Part One of this series.

Per Marshall Herskovitz’s concerns about media consolidation and executive suite meddling in scripted series (see part one), Bionic Woman might be a case study.  The series is one of the big, broadcast net meldowns of the ‘07 fall season.

“A butt-kicking new hit!” exclaimed TV Guide.

Bionic premiered with close to 14 million viewers but by the eighth episode the number had dwindled by more than half, to just under six million.

Because of the David Eick pedigree, Bionic was assumed to have potential because Eick (together with Ron Moore) successfully reconstituted another campy 70’s series, Battlestar Galactica.

Uneasy about Bionic’s morose pilot, newly-minted NBC co-chair Ben Silverman decided to put the fun back in Bionic.  (Silverman wasn’t necessarily wrong in his assessment.  The pilot was intense, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette critic Rob Owen pointed out that audiences rejected dark last season.)

The turmoil in the writers’ room was common knowledge.  At the end of October, The Sopranos’ Jason Cahill finally settled in as showrunner (the third or fourth).  He replaced the very busy Jason Katims who helmed the series for only a month before that.  (Katims was simultaneously running Friday Night Lights.)

Bionic rocked whenever Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar’s Starbuck) appeared as the menacing, conflicted Sarah Corvus.  Sackhoff upstaged Michelle Ryan, unfortunately miscast as the lead, Jaime Sommers.  Ryan, who is British, was wooden and her energy seemed consumed with tackling the American accent.

Sackhoff vanished shortly after launch and the writing quickly became wincingly formulaic.  The series turned lighter and campier (Silverman’s hand?) around the time that Jaime’s new (CIA) love interest was introduced.  Bionic became Moonlighting-meets-nanotechnology. 

Sackhoff - okay, full disclosure here - I adore Katee, she’s brimming with talent - reportedly called the show a "clusterfrak."   lol!   Katee, you are too much.

For comic relief, Kevin Rankin (also the wheelchair-bound Herc on Friday Night Lights) was inserted as Nathan, the resident tech geek.  Rankin is a fine actor but his Bionic character is uni-dimensional, and the incessant wisecracking while eating directly from Chinese take-out containers (another waaaaay overused device), quickly became strained. 

(Chowhound.com, noting the on-screen take-out trend, asks:  Do people really eat their Chinese food from those take-out containers?)

Also, the Nathan/Jaime banter - perhaps written to satisfy Silverman’s go-lite edict - felt manufactured, more tool* than cool.  I really don’t think this is the impression the producers intended to convey.  There is nerd cool (Chuck and Warlock) and then just plain tool.

Nathan sits in a control room much of the time and Nathan and Jaime chatter a lot through their headsets.   "Off the hook!" exclaims Nathan in this headset banter scene, eating his Chinese take-out. 

The tech geek as sidekick is an old device, recently used in Eureka and the just cancelled Painkiller Jane.  The tech geek dates back at least to Riptide’s computer hacker Murray “Boz” Bozinsky, but was perfected by Kevin Smith as Warlock in LiveFree or Die Hard.   On Bionic, it’s just one more cliché, poorly executed.

(Totally old school: the opening credits of Stephen J. Cannell’sRiptide circa early ’80’s.  Check out the robot and the Sikorski helicopter called the Screamin’ Mimi!)

In one feel-good Bionic episode, the team demonstrates teamwork!  They back Jaime up when she unilaterally decides to rescue her new love interest from bad guys, and (secondarily) abscond with a secret list.

Feel the love.

Got ransom?  Sure, said her boss, I’ll arrange for $8 million (in 45 minutes) and (almost) no questions asked.  And, oh, by the way, he bails her little sister out of jail (after a flimsy set-up) and dispenses fatherly pep talks too!  

What a guy!

Saccharine on the cake:  when Jaime arrives home zonked after her stressful trip to Paris (rescuing aforementioned love interest with the $8 million), she finds a candle lit bath artfully arranged by her grateful sis…

It was at that moment that I wrote off Bionic Woman.  Only six episodes into the season, the series seemed slapped together and aimless.  And as a viewer I felt a little, well - insulted - that NBC would just slop something on screen, and even promote the hell out of it, and expect us to tune in.

But that’s the way I feel about NBC’s Las Vegas, too….

In any case, click here for watchingbionicwoman.com, an impressive and informative blog chock full of Bionic goodies. 

Up next – more bad plot devices, cheesy gambits, CSI NY (the series I have so much fun hating), Life, Num3ers, the ad industry and the Nissan Rogue, the in-your-face of cars.

* tool (from Urban Dictionary):  someone who tries too hard. a poser. one of those chics who holds the sign saying "Carson Daly is Hot."