I miss Oscar. There, I've said it. With his funky aviator specs and his now politically incorrect use of the word "babe," there is no way Oscar Goldman could have made the 30-year leap from "The Bionic Woman" to NBC's great new noir remake "Bionic Woman." (So sleek and hip it doesn't need a "the.") As played by Richard Anderson, Oscar lent a paternal heart to that '70s show -- Lindsay Wagner's Jaime Sommers may have been able to lift automobiles with one hand, but she always had someone looking out for her. Babe.
Michelle Ryan's updated Jaime has no such luck. In fact, she has no luck at all. A vaguely dissatisfied bartender caring for a sulky teen sister, she gets knocked up by her hotshot professor boyfriend, Will, just as he is about to leave for a new gig in Paris. And that's the good news. The bad news comes quickly in the shape of a horrific traffic accident that leaves Jaime short a few limbs.
Fortunately, Will (Chris Bowers) turns out to be part of a special ops prosthetic program. In other words, he has the technology; he can rebuild her -- secretly, underground, with the help of some unnamed agency for no doubt nefarious military purpose in a procedure with previously mixed results. We know the results were mixed because the show opens with a trail of maimed corpses leading to a very attractive blond who is apparently responsible for them. "I'm not in control," she says before flying, teeth bared, at her trackers.
So don't expect Max, the bionic dog, to show up any time soon.
Dark in mood and tone -- on a flat screen, the show is barely visible in direct sunlight -- "Bionic Woman" owes much to the popularity of the graphic novel, the noir sci-fi sensibilities of Philip K. Dick and perhaps Angelina Jolie. None of which is a bad thing. This is the post-feminist, post-9/11 bionic woman -- not only doesn't she need any help, she wouldn't trust it if it were offered. But that won't keep her from getting the job done.
In other words, it's not your mother's "Bionic Woman." It's much, much better.
With her big blue eyes and fair childlike face, Ryan, recently seen in "Jekyll," is perfect as an everywoman upon whom kick-ass has been thrust. Previously adrift, Jaime now has no choice but to focus -- if for no other reason than that the folks behind the bionics project are fairly cavalier about her well-being. "If it doesn't work out," says lead project meanie Jonas (the always welcome Miguel Ferrer), "we can always terminate."
It's no longer Steve Austin's America, after all. Like any good sci-fi tale, "Bionic" reflects the fears and longings of the present, and as we have been told often in other contexts, the current mood of the country is something other than optimistic. Here, those anxieties are boiled down to a modern arms, and legs, race. The world is much further ahead technologically than it wants to admit, Will tells Jaime. The only question is who controls the goodies, and to what end.
Will's father, for instance, would like to have a say, since he apparently invented a lot of the programs that have turned Jamie into an unwitting super soldier. Only he's kinda crazy, locked up in an underground prison facility. That is until a bad guy with a grudge breaks him out, taking him to a mountaintop stronghold and . . . well, you see where this is going.
If Wagner's Jaime Sommers was a gee-whiz, lookie-here portrait of what the mind can do with a few wires and a computer chip, Ryan's is a much more wise and wary archetype. In the last 30 years, our attitude toward technology, and life in general, has become a bit more cautious, a bit more overwhelmed. So Jaime is a symbol of her times, an embodiment not only of the attempt to control the forces that have aided and threatened human life since electricity was harnessed but also of the feeling that the institutions around us are not to be trusted.
All this and some terrific fight scenes too. In the pilot, Jaime tries out her powers on that murderous blond, Sarah Corvus, after she tries to kill Will. (Corvus is played by Katee Sackhoff, the iconic Starbuck of "Battlestar Galactica," another huge influence at work here.) "Who are you?" Jaime asks, having chased Sarah down to a rooftop in the rain. "I'm the first bionic woman," says she, and then the two go nine rounds, "Matrix" style, no decision. It's good stuff, especially since it quickly becomes apparent that Jaime feels more affinity for Sarah than for her "creators."
"Welcome to the game," says Jonas, when he finally acknowledges that Jaime may be more than a candidate for termination. He's certainly no Oscar, but then no one would call this bionic woman "babe."
When: 9 to 10 tonight
Rating: TV-14 V (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 15, with an advisory for violence)