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John Wilson

Bionic Woman

You have to be of a certain age to remember The Bionic Woman, the late Seventies TV series that spun off from The Six Million Dollar Man and later spawned several made-for-TV movies reuniting Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner) and Steve Austin (Lee Majors), the woman and man in question. It was brought to mind by Scott Collins' article for the Chicago Tribune, "New 'Bionic Woman' battles the old image" (May 28, 2007). "Of all the new fall series unveiled by the broadcast networks recently in New York," Collins writes, "the title that got the most attention" was Bionic Woman (no The), a remake of the show that originally aired from 1976 to 1978.

Well, maybe not anything as declasse as a "remake": rather it's a "re-imagining," NBC execs explain to Collins, reflecting an "industry trend toward darker, more complicated stories and characters than would have been imaginable in the three-network era." Forget the "cheesy" humor of the original, not to mention the Bionic Woman lunchboxes with matching thermoses beloved by schoolgirls thirty years ago (available on eBay for $20, Collins reports). And be prepared for a re-imagined Jaime Sommers: "What does it mean to be an empowered woman in the 21st Century?", executive producer David Eick wonders. For starters, whereas the Lindsay Wagner version was a tennis pro whose radical surgery followed a skydiving mishap (her parachute didn't open), the new Jaime (Michelle Ryan) is a bartender who nearly dies in a "horrific" car accident. Hmm.

"Cheesy" doesn't begin to describe the original series, so ludicrous as to approach the sublime. (Remember the episode in which Jaime was disguised as a nun?) As with so many products of the televised imagination, there was a doubleness to the premise, barely developed in the series itself yet present beneath the surface. On the one hand, Jaime Sommers was a corny Role Model of empowerment (hence all those girls with their lunchpails), coeval with Ms. magazine and "I Am Woman" and watered down for TV ...

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