We all know that if there's one thing certain to happen to professional tennis players who get hurt in skydiving accidents, it's that a clandestine para-military organization will swoop in and replace the now defective natural parts with über-awesome cybernetic ones. Thus began the saga of Jamie Sommers in a 1975 episode of The Six Million Dollar Man
The episode garnered the actress her own series which ran for three seasons before losing its charge but the concept was so riveting that it could work at almost any time so I was always surprised that, TV movie specials aside, it never got re-made.
That's why I was excited about the new Bionic Woman television show when I first heard of it. With the advancements in medical technology leading to new story ideas coupled with improvements in special effects, it could be a huge leap over the original which, let's face it, doesn't hold up very well. That's not to say I didn't watch it. I did, but only because of Lindsay Wagner, one of those natural beauties who never needed makeup to look terrific. And she won an Emmy for the show, so I guess she can act.
Everyone hearts Lindsay Wagner. The fur is probably fake but the rest is au naturel.
After a few weeks of the new one, I have to admit I'm a little disappointed and this column is generally not about television, it's about science ... and beautiful women ... and how they are inextricably related ... yet we need to touch on the new version's badness because it isn't very good for three obvious reasons and they could have fixed those with either more science or scientists doing the scripts.
First, they have no clue about a season arc yet they insist on using one because apparently TV executives feel audiences require them in these days of 24 and Heroes. These are the same people who saw March of the Penguins and thought, 'Audiences love penguins!' leading to the great Spheniscidae ( that's 'penguins' to you mathematicians out there ) theater infestation of 2006. After this summer, I promise you somewhere in Hollywood "Wild Hogs: The Series" is in development.
Adding to the badness of three failed attempts at a season arc is that instead of finding a new hook they use the rehashed cliché of a super secret clandestine government organization behind this whole thing.
What's up with these super secret organizations in fiction anyway? If you watch the CIA depicted in TV or movies they know if any target anywhere in the world is making a phone call on a payphone and they have a strike team on standby waiting to blow up a city block to get him. In real life this is an organization that had thousands of experts working for them in 1979 but never heard of the Ayatollah until after I did - and I was 14. And after the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993 they didn't consider it a target and even after September 11, 2001 not a single one of them got fired. The CIA on film and TV is like Catholic priests in exorcism movies - no one in Hollywood actually believes any of this stuff but you can't make a scary movie and have a Protestant speaking English - you need a an old priest ( around before Vatican II ) speaking Latin to get the proper effect, and you can't make a super-soldier without a fantasy-land super-secret government organization.
You know who is more likely to build a Bionic Woman long before the government? Google. They've managed to engage in the kinds of clandestine evil business practices Microsoft only dreams about yet have people convinced they are really, really nice. Outside people can't even reverse engineer their search algorithm - you don't think they could hide something really important like a cyborg assassin?
Anyway, we're here to talk about science and women and why this show fails on both counts ( but, as you will see, the real world does not ) and the third, and possibly fatal flaw, is the lead actress herself, Michelle Ryan playing Jaime Sommers ( note the different spelling - how edgey) this time around. The first, and most important rule, of television is that television is not photographic pictures. In pictures, a crafty photographer can make her look like this:
Yet on television you don't always get to choose the best angle for the actress and more often than not, she looks like this, only with the extra 10 lbs. a video camera adds on:
Now, the kid can't change anything about her chin, I am not picking on her for that ( and she was in Cashback so she gets credit for excellent movie name choices ) but if most watchers are like me they spend their time while she is onscreen trying to figure out what is going on with her face and not actually trying to understand the show.
See? That's smart costume design because in real life, she's not going to be as classicly attractive as Ryan but on the show she comes off as sexier, scarier and more interesting - in other words, she should probably be the star. They could have built the whole show around some loner scientist who creates these parts and then dies, leaving her unhinged and hunted by everyone instead of the super-secret agent crap they foisted off on us.
Plus, she could have run rings around the actual CIA, which isn't very Hollywood but it's a lot more realistic.
So now that we've talked about the pitfalls of the television bionic woman, it's finally time to discuss where the current science is in creating a real one. In the television show, Sommers gets a bionic ear, an eye, an arm and legs and we'll see where those real-life techologies, and a few more, currently stand, but that will have to wait until Part II because I know you don't have that kind of attention span.