Jaime Sommers (Michelle Ryan) is a boring college drop-out who tends bar at a San Francisco nightclub, and she is a very, very slow drink maker. Not only is she slow, but she seems to regularly put down the bottles and the glasses mid-pour to take time out and smile preciously at her customers and flip her bangs out of her eyes. Jaime’s boyfriend, Will is a boring bio-ethics professor who wears two-day stubble and the standard ill-fitting sport coat over a ratty Gap shirt. Will claims he loves Jaime because she’s “different” and “unexpected,” which is also the way one might describe the day you mistakenly wore your underwear backwards and realized the sensation pleased you. Is that all he can muster… different and unexpected? The last time I experienced different and unexpected was when I accidentally bought an “all natural” toothpaste and instead of being met with minty freshness and cool winter breeze, I got a mouthful of proplis and myrrh. It wasn’t pleasant. But for Jaime Sommers, it’s all more than enough. If there was ever a character that needed to be re-built, it’s Jaime Sommers. And if there ever was a character you hoped would be hit broadside by a semi truck going eighty miles an hour, it’s Jaime Sommers.
The good news is both of these things happen to Jaime Sommers. The bad news is you have to sit through about eleven minutes of set-up, boring back story, and Jaime’s bratty little sister Becca, who demonstrates her angst by playing her music too loudly, defiantly eating pop tarts for breakfast and generally stomping and screaming around the way I did as a kid when my sister wouldn’t leave the living room so I could watch Small Wonder without anybody knowing I liked it.
Post-car crash, Will is nearly unscratched, but Jaime unfortunately is a Manwich from scalp to shoe. Fortunately, Will also sidelines for some super-secret non-specific organization that operates underground and has miles and miles of dimly lit corridors, high-tech conference rooms and a fully functioning OR, complete with nightclub lighting and an overhead lounge where his superiors can blurt out the standard nefarious but ultimately meaningless lines such as “this operation doesn’t officially exist, and “we have deniability.”
Around this point, I started thinking about going on-line and seeing if there were any clips from Small Wonder on YouTube. Heck, at this point, staring at a Small Wonder lunchbox would have been more fun. And that’s really the problem with this new version of The Bionic Woman. This show has next to no fun. It’s all darkness with no light to counter it. That light should be the character of Jaime, but instead Jaime remains dour and sullen before, during and after her megabyte makeover. The back stories for all the supporting characters are showered with tragic deaths, noble regrets and daddy issues. And I can’t recall a single scene that had the sun in it. The original Bionic Woman took itself seriously too, but it also found time to wink at the audience now and again. Exploring an actual emotional range is important for any show that’s gonna ask me to watch for an hour and care about anyone in it.
The effects were hit and miss as well. We all know the scene NBC leaked at the beginning of summer where a battered and bandaged Jaime throws back her hospital bed sheet and shrieks at the site of her robotic replacement legs. Interestingly, they seemed to have gone back to the drawing board with this particular effect, but the result doesn’t really, look any more convincing. The C3PO feet looked ridiculous, but the upgrade just looks plain uninspired.
In addition, Jaime’s super-speed running shown as a blurry streak with a face pasted on the end of it was laughable, and hearing her rapid clippity-cloppity footsteps made me wonder if she was fighting to save the day or win the Belmont Stakes.
But there is an upside, and it’s a great one. It turns out that Jaime is actually the second Bionic Woman. The first is named Sarah Corvus (Katee Sackhoff), and not only was she the one driving the semi that hit Jaime and Will, but she has also gone “Bionic Berzerkers” which means she slicks back her blond hair and wears nothing but black, making her a cross between a Hitchcock Blond and a Matrix-inspired bitch goddess. She’s a neck-snapping, weapon-toting smokes-in-the-rain without an umbrella kind of gal, and she has actually gone so far as to replace some of her remaining human parts with bionics she installed herself, though how she knew how to do this is not explained. But hey, I know a doctor that performed liposuction on himself, so I’m gonna throw in on this one. Sarah Corvus is too cool for the room. In fact, she’s too cool for this series. If they don’t do something to create a real contrast between her and Jaime, instead of making them so much alike (save for wardrobe), she’s gonna run away with the show.
I’m going to skip the parts where Will tells Jaime that her bionics have actually hard-wired her to be a killing machine and if she doesn’t learn how to control them, she could end up as whacked-out as Sarah. And I’m also going to skip the part where in response to this horrifying revelation, Jaime goes to bed with him. And I’m really going to skip the Superman inspired scene where a little girl witnesses Jaime turbo-running and when her mother admonishes her not to make up stories, the little girl throws out one of those lamely injected “girl power” moments by saying, “I just thought it was cool that a girl could do that, that’s all.”
Of course, this whole hour is really all about the countdown to the inevitable “Jaime versus Sarah” rooftop battle, and when it finally happens, there are the requisite no-longer-impressive “leaping incredible bounds” effects injected in so NBC can fool people into thinking they might be watching Heroes. And even this becomes ridiculous, when Sarah calls a time out in the fight by actually saying “time out,” and then giving a lame Bond villain exposition before calling “time in” and promptly breaking Jaime’s non-bionic arm, which Jaime is miraculously able to use only moments later to hang on to the side of the building Sarah has thrown her over.
Oh, and Jaime was pregnant before the car accident, so once she discovers that Sarah was the one driving the semi, the ads in TV Guide can start saying things like “Now… it’s personal.” Just you wait.
And that’s the all-new souped-up Bionic Woman for 2007. The good news is that there’s a lot of potential. The even better news is that if it becomes a success, the original series may finally be released on Region One DVD.
But the best news is that I discovered there are tons of clips of Small Wonder on YouTube. You know you watched it. “La, la, la-la-la-la. She’s fantastic, made of plastic, microchips here and there… She’s a miracle, and I grant you, she’ll enchant you at first sight! La, la, la-la-la-la!”