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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.
And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
BIONIC WOMAN (NBC)
(Wednesdays at 9:00/8:00c this fall)
The network's description: "Struggling as a bartender and surrogate mom to her teenage sister, Jaime Sommers (Michelle Ryan, "EastEnders") didn't think life could get much harder. But when a devastating car accident leaves her at death's door, Jaime's only hope for survival is a cutting-edge, top-secret technology that comes at a hefty price. With a whole new existence and a debt to re-pay, Jaime must figure out how to use her extraordinary abilities for good, while weighing the personal sacrifices she will have to make. Ultimately, it's Jaime's journey of self-discovery and inner strength that will help her embrace her new life as the Bionic Woman. Also starring are: Mae Whitman ("State of Grace") as Becca, Jaime's younger sister; Miguel Ferrer ("Crossing Jordan") as Jonas, the man who employs Jaime's boyfriend; Chris Bowers ("Rescue Me) as Will, Jaime's boyfriend, who performs the operation; Will Yun Lee ("Witchblade") as Jae, the specialized operations leader; and Molly Price ("Third Watch"), as Ruth, Jonas' second-in-command. "Bionic Woman" is produced by NBC Universal Television Studio and executive-produced by David Eick ("Battlestar Galactica"), Glen Morgan ("The X-Files"), Michael Dinner ("Kidnapped") -- who also directed the pilot -- and Jason Smilovic ("Lucky Number Slevin"). Laeta Kalogridis ("Birds of Prey") is also an executive producer on the pilot."
What did they leave out: In addition to Katee Sackhoff, "Battlestar Galactica" fans will no doubt enjoy appearances by Mark Sheppard (Romo Lampkin) and Aaron Douglas (Galen Tyrol).
The plot in a nutshell: Our story begins at the Wolf Creek Biotech Research Facility where a patient (the aforementioned Sackhoff) has apparently gone crazy, leaving Jae Kim (Will Yun Lee) and a squad of soldiers to put her down (or did they?). Three years later, we turn to Jaime Sommers (Michelle Ryan), a 24-year-old San Francisco girl barely holding it together as she works as a bartender and raises her estranged 15-year-old deaf sister Becca (a soon-to-be-recast Mae Whitman). Life however has been looking up lately in the form of Will (Chris Bowers), a bioethics professor whom she has been dating for five months. He's been offered a job in Paris and wants her to come with. Jamie however says she can't go as she has her job and her sister to worry about - and, oh by the way she's pregnant. Undetracted, Will says he'll be there for her, a promise that quickly comes into play as their car is T-boned by a truck driven by Sackhoff's character on the drive home. With Jamie the verge of death (and having lost the baby), Will reveals he's actually a scientist at the Wolf Creek facility where he uses his influence to get her into their top secret bionics program. There $50 million worth of surgeries replace both her legs, her right arm, her right ear and her right eye with bionic implants while one eighth of her blood is replaced by special enthrocytes which will help her heal quickly. Not surprisingly, Jamie doesn't take the news she's a freak show very well and (with an assist by Will) eventually escapes from the lab. Along the way we meet the rest of the Wolf Creek team - Jonas Bledsoe (Miguel Ferrer), the gravel-voiced head of the lab who says Jamie must begin to "sing for her supper"; Ruth Treadwell (Molly Price), his intel chief who thinks Jamie will actually turn out to be a viable candidate for the program; and Jae, revealed to be their field leader and to have "played house" with the last one, Sarah Corvus (Sackhoff). Meanwhile in the shadows, Sarah conspires with a mysterious man (apologies, as I didn't recognize the actor) to help break out Will's crazed father (Sheppard) from the "super-max" facility he's being held in (yes, I know this is all getting quite convoluted). Anyway, back at home Jamie quickly adjusts to her newfound abilities and she'll need to as Sarah materializes to test the latest "bionic woman" in the form of a gratuitous rooftop fight (complete with smoke break "time out" to fill Jamie in on what Sarah's real deal is). In the end, Jamie comes around to the idea of "singing for her supper"... but on her terms.
What works: Michelle Ryan makes for a likeable lead and the story itself is fun in a pulpy kind of way, but...
What doesn't: ...there's only so many leaps in logic a script can take. First and foremost is the fact that Jamie goes from freaked out girl to willing tough gal soldier in literally 20 minutes flat (feel free to count). It's a sequence that's about as inorganic as they come as not only does she have time to make said decision and participate in said fight but she also manages to squeeze in bionic sex with Will and then watch him get mortally wounded by a gunshot from Sarah; make amends with her sister; discover her newfound jumping, hearing and seeing abilities (and become an apparent expert in using them); give her body the once over after a hot shower; and find the cure for cancer. Okay, so maybe I made the last part up. It's a mad dash the quickly deflates the show's much more intriguing first half as the conclusion feels much more like an effort to satisfy "pilotitis" (i.e. set the table for how the show will work from week to week) than to service the characters they've created. In other words, you don't buy what Jamie ultimately decides to do. Making matters worse is that nearly everyone talks in "tough guy" speak that's borderline laughable at times (Lee, Ferrer and Sackhoff being among the biggest offenders) while the set up itself seems to be rooted in a loose set of coincidences rather than a coherent plot. That being said, there's some interesting elements - such as how Jonas and company try to hide the fact that Jamie must not find out she can literally do anything she wants - and some solid action sequences, but they don't quite save the show from itself.
The bottom line: Let's hope it grows into the fun, pulpy show it was meant to be.