"Bionic Woman": Gentlemen, we must rebuild her. While we're at it, let's throw in a hacker chick and Isaiah Washington
The Bionic Woman, Jaime Sommers, had an eye, an ear, her legs and an arm replaced to save her life. Within days she was leaping across rooftops, and her doctors declared the operation to be a success.
Would that the same could be true of her series.
But real life doesn't work that way, especially behind the scenes in television. When you recast, retool and rearrange wildly between pilot and premiere -- and worse, when one of those decisions comes saddled with questionable PR -- your show probably is in more trouble than you suspect.
"Bionic Woman" wallowed in mediocrity before the subtraction of Mae Whitman, the actress who played the new Ms. Sommers' deaf sister. Reportedly it ticked off some groups because Whitman isn't really deaf, so out she went and in came cute-as-a-button Lucy Hale as Jaime's able-bodied sister -- conveniently, also a budding hacker! -- as well as Isaiah Washington as Yet To Be Named Guy In Bionic Lab.
That NBC co-chairman Ben Silverman, um, persuaded "Bionic's" producers to slap Washington into the show reeks of opportunism. Silverman will tell you Washington's a great actor, which is true, and that he wanted to work with him, likely also true.
Reading between the lines: Silverman saw a headline grabber on one hand (NBC Gives Washington Second Chance!) and a pilot that was nothing to phone Mama about in his DVD player, and decided to put them together to create hype that would last beyond "Bionic Woman's" premiere. Just try to say people won't be talking about the second episode now, suckers!
Once executive producers David Eick and Jason Smilovic began talking about the series Tuesday morning, however, it became highly doubtful that any amount of replacement parts or plot bandages would help this thing legitimately go the distance. Want to know why Whitman's character was deaf? So the writers could work in a scene where sister Jaime (played by Michelle Ryan), who originally was supposed to work in a lab, could communicate with chimps. That would present opportunities to convey sensitivity and, maybe, a few laughs. As you know chimps (as well as squirrels, bears on roller skates and tigers on unicycles) are nature's comedians.
"We were looking for a -- an organic way for her to be talking to the chimpanzees in sign language," explained Smilovic, who crashed and burned last year helming "Kidnapped."
For some reason the admission that they tried to write chimps into this series did not instil confidence.
Anyway the chimps and the lab disappeared, but the deaf sister stayed. A few twists later -- pfft! -- the hearing-impaired sister is gone too.
Let's put this into an equation.
Sorta stupid pilot - chimp - deaf sister + young hottie + disgraced actor with rage issues (carry the widely recognizable title) = Super Duper Victory!
Doesn't compute in the retelling, does it?
Washington touched off the most debate, of course. His inclusion in five episodes of the series, beginning with the second, won't detract from the story. He's talented, and will work wonders with whatever dialogue he's given. But will our decision to watch hang on his performance? Or will we see him as the guy who took his anger on tour, effectively cancelling out all those apologies he made? All NBC cares about is getting you to tune in.
What Smilovic had to say is this: "We feel that he is the right actor for the role, but also, we believe in second chances," and because our boss told us hire him, he didn't add.
"We are not here to make judgments," Smilovic added. "When somebody does something wrong and you have a systemic problem, the best way to change that problem is not by casting them outside of the system. It's by allowing them to make amends, allowing them to make reparations and to do the right thing. So rather than excommunicate someone, we felt that it was better to give him a second chance."
Yes, that's absolutely correct. People should be willing to forgive Isaiah Washington. His work should speak for him instead of his mouth. But his mouth did some damage. After this, maybe he should let time do its healing work and, you know, step back for a while. Take a break. Get to know Isaiah. Maybe shed a few extra pounds he's carrying around the midsection of his ego.
Also ... reparations? Is that really the term we should use here?
Now, a number of you aren't going to believe anything negative I have to say about this show. I realize that. "Bionic Woman" had buzz attached before it secured a lead, and no matter what we tell you, you're going to watch. The producers know this. They may insist that calling it "Bionic Woman," even though this incarnation barely resembles the original series, was not an effort to cash in on nostalgia or recognition, but it most certainly is that.
Ryan herself told critics that Brits are going nuts at the prospect of seeing it because hey, it's "The Bionic Woman." That makes her the inheritor to Lindsay Wagner's TV legacy. And you better believe Eick, a co-executive producer on "Battlestar Galactica," knows the value in co-opting a title.
Yeah, if you're itching for this one, nothing I say will douse that. Not even this: Ms. Ryan, you're no Lindsay Wagner. And you're certainly no Katee Sackhoff. We'll get into that a little more when we review it. But know this -- I have stared into the (organic) eyes of the producers, and I did not see any sign of a future for this or any other bionic series built (or rebuilt) by these guys.
Unless they bring back the chimps. Then all bets are off.
Posted by Melanie McFarland at July 17, 2007 8:53 p.m.SeattlePI.com
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