So much promise and enthusiasm greeted this show – from network suits to fans – yet they somehow managed to find all the right ways to destroy it before the pilot even aired. As of this, reports have it that the show isn’t going to get the previously announced re-launch or even continue on its misguided path. Cancelled as a result of a protracted writers strike and perhaps, well, shame. It started with David Eick, all arrogance and nerve, proclaiming how he never bothered to watch the original and brushing off speculative comparisons to Alias and Buffy with the argument that this was about a “reluctant heroine”. Uh, anybody with even a nodding acquaintance to those creatively brilliant shows would know they were both about reluctant heroines. Unfortunately, for all concerned, there was a lot at stake for this network owned show. As big budget poured into promoting and marketing it, everyone behind the scenes got into the act of tinkering with – all things considered – a daring attempt at re-imagining the concept. So much so that ultimately the result was par for network shows – sound and fury signifying nothing. The pilot was life imitating art, rebuilt from disparate parts like its title character. And it was a mess. With hardly a coherent point or direction, the show bolted before it could learn to walk with big ratings that reflected the goodwill that came standard with the franchise name. But viewers turned away as week after week the show was exposed as a boring, joyless, suspenseless wreck. Particular mistakes were glaring – the Sarah Corvus character was overused from the start. Had they used her wisely and sparingly, her appearances would’ve engendered a higher sense of threat and apprehension. The arrival of controversial actor Isaiah Washington was completely unnecessary, fueling more resentment for adding nothing more than pointless distraction and stunt casting. Towards the end, as different showrunners came in (and left) to rein in this runaway show, it seemed like it was finally finding its way. It still didn’t have that central focus but the missions were at least becoming somewhat interesting and the special effects were undoubtedly spectacular. The love interest angle had promise. The first bionic woman was taking a breather. Ms. Sommers seemed to be getting a grip on what she’s supposed to be doing. NBC announced then a 2-hour relaunch with hints at an improved show. Then came the writers strike that gave everyone the excuse to just pull the plug on everything that might have been. Now we’ll never know. For most it’s probably just as well. I feel sorry for Ms. Ryan and Mr. Ferrer, who did give it their level best. For the rest of us, we can only imagine on how mind blowing it would’ve been if the show managed to last long enough for this Bionic Woman to get into an all out war with the fembots.
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I was absolutely flabbergasted at the amount of criticism that this show faced in what is likely to be its very short life. Even several TV critics whose work I usually respect and agree with — for instance, Matt Roush — saw a completely different show than I did. I would be the first to acknowledge that the show had some serious problems, but until the very end I was more impressed by the show’s potential than its supposed vices. If NBC gives up on it, which is what is widely rumored to be its fate, I will deeply regret it. This was far from my favorite show on TV this fall, but I watched every episode with considerable interest, with an acute awareness of its potential, and a desire for the creative forces behind the show to get their collective act together. But even at its worse, it was infinitely better than the original BIONIC WOMAN, which was, it must be admitted, just a god-awful show. Moreover, I quit watching several other shows in the fall such as JOURNEYMAN and REAPER, but continued to enjoy THE BIONIC WOMAN. At the time of the WGA strike I had really come to enjoy my Wednesday night double bill of PUSHING DAISIES (the best show on TV, in my opinion, after BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) and THE BIONIC WOMAN. I even chose to watch THE BIONIC WOMAN live and DVR GOSSIP GIRL, another Wednesday night show that I enjoyed.
All looked good at first. The pilot was quite good and had many good things in it. In particular, the pilot — as well as the first few episodes — was enlivened by an absolutely brilliant performance by Katee Sackhoff as “the first bionic woman,” Sarah Corvus. She was so extraordinary that she may have hurt the show as a whole. She dominated every moment that she was onscreen and led more than one fan and critic to comment that THE BIONIC WOMAN was focused on the wrong bionic woman. I personally didn’t dislike Michelle Ryan as Jaime Sommers, but there is no question that many didn’t care for her. I honestly am not so certain that she was that bad; I think she just looked weak beside Katee Sackhoff. Except for disgruntled fans of the 1978 BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, who still are traumatized that their beloved Dirk Benedict was replaced as Starbuck (and completely outclassed) by a woman, Sackhoff got universally rave reviews for her work. She is so charismatic and so gifted that it is hard to imagine that she won’t get a lead role in some show following the wrap up of BSG.
It is not hard to see what was wrong with the show. The show clearly intended to embrace a serial narrative format. The problem was that each week it almost did a complete narrative reboot. What would seem to be major plot arcs would be introduced and then dropped at an alarming pace. The wonderful Mark Sheppard was introduced as the father of Jaime Sommers’s first episode boyfriend, but he quickly dropped out of the show. We learn that Jaime may have only a few years to live, but that thread is allowed to drop shortly after its introduction. Sarah Corvus and Jaime seem to be forging a common link, but then Sarah drops out of the show (as Katee Sackhoff returned to film BSG). In short, there was amazingly little continuity from episode to episode.
NBC sensed very early on that the show was in trouble. Veteran show runner and producer Glen Morgan was quickly released and FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS show runner Jason Katims was brought in to stop the bleeding and get the show back on track. Unfortunately, the writers’ strike interrupted the show just as it acquired a new and permanent show runner.
In the end, if, as looks likely that we’ll see no more of THE BIONIC WOMAN. As of the time that I write this there has been no official announcement about THE BIONIC WOMAN, though there definitely will be no more episodes this year and most websites are reporting that inside sources say the show will be cancelled. I persist in thinking the show has a lot of potential. But they need to stick with one narrative and build it over time. And it would help if Katee Sackhoff were available fulltime. But whatever its fate, I do not believe that it deserved most of the criticism it received.
Don’t bother with this. BIONIC WOMAN failed miserably for obvious reasons, reasons that had nothing to do with the 2007 writer’s guild strike:
Michelle Ryan is very pretty, but she does not have the acting style or stage presence of a physically dynamic, athletic action hero. She belongs in comedies and historical soap operas. The only dynamic female presence on the show was Katee Sackhoff, and she was playing a villain! It’s not a good sign when viewers clamor to see less of the heroine and more of the villainess!
All of the support characters were repulsive. There was no one to root for. The younger sister (who looked, ridiculously, like she could almost be Ryan’s age; why didn’t they hire an actual 14-year-old?) was an annoying brat. The boss was cold, harsh, dark, and cynical. The scientist/surgeon boyfriend was a liar. The company she worked for was a creepy paramilitary group based on Blackwater, that everyone was hearing bad things about in the news. Why watch a TV show featuring nasty characters you hope will soon be arrested by the proper authorities?
The show was dark, ugly, didn’t have enough action, and too much RAIN. I want to see admirable, sympathetic lead characters in a weekly adventure TV show, even though flawed. But combine a bland lead actress with an overpowering female co-star, unexciting SFX, unappealing support characters, an amoral story structure, and zig-zagging show direction, and don’t be shocked when viewers abandon it by the millions. Which they did. Once they got rid of Sackhoff, they didn’t even have good villains, and villains are what make a superhero story.