Thoughts on “The Bionic Woman”

After my vacation, I was ready to dive back into watching things from my stack of shows that I hadn’t watched.  Like when I watched “Scream Queens”, I found that I had a short series to watch and wanted to start with it to be able to get through something quickly and so to have accomplished something pretty much right off the bat.  A number of years ago, I was browsing in Best Buy and came across the first two seasons — there are three — of “The Bionic Woman” for a low price, and decided to pick it up.  And then, as is my wont, never watched it.  This was a great opportunity to get through something early in the year and also to finally watch it.

This show was a spin-off from “The Six Million Dollar Man”, and in the pack I have they started from those episodes.  The overall premise of both shows is that the main characters were in a terrible accident and had their lives saved by an experimental procedure to make them bionic (adding mechanical parts to them to keep them alive and functional).  They then use those powers in the service of the U.S. government to stop various threats and perform various missions.  For Jaime Summers — the “bionic woman” — specifically, the plot was that Steve Austen had returned to where he grew up to visit his mother and stepfather and buy and fix up a ranch as a somewhat permanent place for him to life, and ends up meeting his old somewhat high school flame again (Jaime).  She is at least somewhat dating someone else, but he of course falls in love with her and her with him, and so they decide to get married.  While planning the wedding, they of course decide like most people would to build their bond by going skydiving.  Jaime’s parachute fails, and she crashes to the ground, gravely injured, but Steve prevails on the guy who runs the agency — Oscar Goldman — to make her bionic like they did for him.  It succeeds, but soon her system is shown to be rejecting her bionics which is causing her great pain and is damaging her brain.  She then dies.

Before you think, “Huh, that was a short series!”, I guess the character and idea was popular enough that the powers-that-be decided to bring her back, and so retconned that into her appearing to die but being revived afterwards by an experimental procedure by someone else.  She remembers her bionics but has forgotten a lot of things, including her love for and engagement to Steve, and the issue is that while not having her memory is bothering her they worry that if she gets her memory back that part of the brain that was causing problems will cause problems for her again.  And, of course, the doctor who saved her life is a potential love interest for her and a rival for Steve, although they have a very friendly rivalry.  Eventually, she regains her memory and risks having problems again, but a new procedure allows them to tweak her bionics so that she won’t reject them, and so she becomes “The Bionic Woman”.

From the episodes I saw and how the premise worked, “The Bionic Woman” provides a contrast to “The Six Million Dollar Man” by having Jaime be more of an ordinary person who occasionally is pressed into service rather than as someone who is military whose main job is performing these missions.  Jaime works as a teacher on the nearby military base and has a number of scenes where she just acts normally, and throughout the series she is a bit awkward and often uncertain about performing the missions.  Ultimately, her personality tends towards the ordinary girl-next-door pressed into service, which is an interesting take.  The one problem I have with this is that in a number of episodes they go on about how beautiful she is, which works against the personality and the appearance of the character which is more the pretty girl-next-door than an absolute stunner.  Still, for the most part they manage to stick consistently to that personality.

Another issue with the show is that originally I thought that they didn’t have enough content to cover off their runtime, but later concluded that they would drag things out in an attempt to build tension and drama, but they ended up dragging things out too much.  Jaime would be running towards or away from something and they’d flip between the scenes and take an awfully long time to resolve it, which ended up with me thinking that they should just end the scene already.  The reason this happens, I think, is that when you slow things down in a show you run the risk of people remembering that this is a TV show and so break the fourth wall.  So the secret to good drama is to move slowly enough to build tension but not so slowly that we realize that the show will not actually go through with the terrible things that they are hinting could happen in the scene.  Here, the problem was that I found myself thinking that Jaime was obviously going to stop the bomb/escape the bomb/rescue the people in time and so they should just get around to showing that instead of dragging it out.  Thus, it broke the fourth wall and broke the illusion, and so I was treating it as a show — and losing patience with it — instead of being immersed in the show and hoping that she would succeed while in the back of my mind knowing that she was going to succeed.  Here, it was in the front of my mind that she was going to succeed which meant that the purportedly dramatic scenes were not at all tense and dramatic.

Still, the show has its charm.  One of the things that shows from that era have is that they come across as being incredibly genuine.  Even when they are campy or overly dramatic, they don’t present that way but instead as almost an idea of “Please, please just overlook that and go along with us!  It’ll be fun!”.  In the “Six Million Dollar Man” episodes, Lee Majors sings during it and while the songs are terrible — especially the lyrics — it doesn’t come across as all of them thinking that they are wonderful singers and wanting you to experience that along with them but instead as them really thinking that this would make the show more entertaining, even as it fails.  So even when they fail we don’t chastise them for overreaching but instead understand that they were really, really trying, and just couldn’t make it.

And while it’s been oft-parodied, their approach to the special effects for the bionics is actually pretty brilliant.  If you’ve ever seen a parody of something happening in slow-motion with a “du-du-du-du-du-da” sound in the background, you’ve seen that approach, and yeah it can seem awfully corny, but it allowed them to simulate bionic powers in a way that was clear that the powers were being used without having to use a lot of special effects to do it.  Sure, maybe even at the time they could have used better effects, but they didn’t need better special effects.  What they did got across what they needed to get across without adding too much to the show, and adds to the charm of a show that really says that they really want to focus on the fun and not on the incidentals.

So, yes, the show has its charm, and I didn’t hate watching it, and wouldn’t mind watching it again.  But at the same time, I’m not particularly anxious to try to find the third season or to pick up “The Six Million Dollar Man”.  The show was fine, often entertaining, but also often stupid and, as I already said, a bit draggy in places, ruining its own drama.  Given that, if I saw the third season or “The Six Million Dollar Man” I’d probably pick them up and put them in the stack to watch, but won’t be in a hurry to get them or, thus, to rewatch this.  Thus, these will go in the box of shows to maybe rewatch at some point and not in the closet to rewatch on a somewhat regular basis.

2 Responses to “Thoughts on “The Bionic Woman””

  1. Thoughts on “House MD” (Season 1) | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] finishing off “The Bionic Woman”, my plan was then to pick up something from my stack that would run longer and make an effort to […]

  2. Accomplishments Update | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] usual, DVDs are working out pretty well.  I got through both The Bionic Woman and House M.D. which means that I’ve gotten through two TV series that I wanted to get […]

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