Attempting to do for “The Bionic Woman” what he and partner Ronald Moore did for another kitschy ’70s classic with “Battlestar Galactica,” producer David Eick re-imagines the Jaime Sommers mythology minus the slow-motion and goofy sound effects. The elaborate pilot thus includes a less-benign government, nifty nanotechnology, a villainous cabal and an attractive young British lead in Michelle Ryan. A little messy in its conception, the series still exhibits considerable potential — the kind that inspires checking out a second episode — but will have its strength tested by a killer, drama-heavy timeslot.
As opposed to the original, which was plucked from the ribs of “The Six-Million-Dollar Man,” Jaime has to stand on her own — for awhile, anyway, until a tragic (and way-cool) car accident leaves her body ravaged in all kinds of enhance-able ways.
Introduced as a bartender with a professor boyfriend (Chris Bowers), Jaime suddenly discovers that her beau is into some pretty radical research, allowing him to rebuild her “better than she was,” as they used to say in the ’70s.
Enter Jaime, the reluctant hero, with new legs, a new arm, and an implanted ear. Being turned into a cyborg initially horrifies her, and there are some interesting moments as she awkwardly adjusts to her new powers while being held in a secret government facility. “We can always terminate later,” muses its gruff administrator, Jonas (Miguel Ferrer).
Eventually, though, Jaime’s talents will be put to use, especially since she’s not the first super-chick to roll off her boyfriend’s assembly line, facing off against a homicidal predecessor (“Galactica’s” Katee Sackhoff, geeks!) who was driven mad by the procedure.
Ryan is an appealing presence, understandably wrestling with her unwanted predicament while unable to fully resist the gee-whiz aspect of her superhero abilities. Inevitably, there’s plenty of time devoted to developing her character in this origin story, with a few glimpses of what it looks like when Jaime unleashes her bionic stuff — racing through the woods at super-speed or leaping from rooftop to rooftop like something out of a Hong Kong martial-arts movie.
To survive, though — and enjoy success among both men and women — the series is going to have to find a consistent mix of angst and ass-kicking, exploring the personal side of bionic-ness without scrimping on action for those who just want to see her smash something.
Already, Eick and writer Laeta Kalogridis (whose experience with super-powered women includes the short-lived “Birds of Prey”) have won part of the battle — keeping the name but otherwise transforming a show that was really pretty silly back in the day into something dark, sleek and reasonably sophisticated, at the same time cashing in on the title’s built-in recognition.
All that should lead to initial sampling, with the disclaimer that women kicking butt is hardly a novelty anymore, as well as the fact that the show must survive formidable competition (“Criminal Minds,” “Private Practice,” “Gossip Girl,” “Kitchen Nightmares”) even before “American Idol” nightmarishly reshapes the midseason playing field.
By that time, in other words, “Bionic Woman’ had better be clicking on all cylinders, or she’ll learn what it’s really like, in TV terms, to be cut off at the knees.