First came The Six Million Dollar Man. Then The Bionic Woman. Now, in the fall of 2007, comes Bionic Woman. Why the creators decided to drop the “the” will be explained later. The idea of remaking The Bionic Woman instead of The Six Million Dollar Man is easily explained; The Three-Hundred Million Dollar Man is just too much of a mouthful. Seriously, though, one cannot help but wonder why it was the distaff version of these two 1970s sci-fi icons got drew the attention of re-imagineers, although I have a theory that has to do Xena, Buffy and that Alias chick.
Anyone who lived through the 70s as a kid remembers the two shows about a man and a woman who, after suffering through devastating accidents that mangled their bodies were, through the miracle of science, made them better…stronger…faster. Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner played these bionic cyborgs in true 70s fashion. Is there anyone over the age of 40 who doesn’t remember the infamous Bigfoot episodes? The 70s version of the Bionic Woman was cheesy and just plain fun. The new incarnation plans to deliver something else entirely.
But first to that issue of the missing “the” and what’s up with that. The original Jaime Sommers was the world’s first bionic woman; not so much this time around. In fact, the new show offers Jaime a built-in nemesis in the form of the world’s first bionic woman, Sarah. There are other changes as well, including the process by which Jaime receives her bionic powers as well as what those powers are. The central difference between Bionic Woman and its precursor has less to do with specific changes made in the story and more with the overall tone and ambience. Back in the 1970s the very idea of an actual bionic human being like Steve Austin or Jaime Sommers was still the stuff of pure science fiction hokum. That is not the case today. The 21st century has actually seen at least a certain level of reality arrive to the fantastical imaginings of the early show. As a result, the new Bionic Woman will be working within a framework of reality that must be addressed.
Bionic Woman will be centered around Jamie Sommers’ inclusion into the Bionics Program, a federally funded research center experimenting with the dark side of scientific progress. As such, there is almost certain to be oblique references that connect the idea of bionics to the controversial ideas of both stem cell research and genetic manipulation. The underlying concept of a bionic program is improve on nature’s flaws and the sometimes sluggish process of evolution. Because there is a spiritual question at work here and because spiritual differences and approaches to morality infect the world of politics, the new Bionic Woman is expected to exploit and examine the same kind of uneasy tension between security and freedom that marked the X-Files and all its subsequent offspring.
This would mark a definitive departure from the original. Despite being made during the decade of Watergate, the government officials in The Bionic Woman were all mostly benevolent. Bionic Woman appears to be headed toward a course that derives much of its suspense not from the battle between Bionic Woman and external forces of evil, but from the premise that perhaps the Bionics Program is not necessarily a force for good. The shadowy world of political intrigue seems destined to play a major part in the plotline of Bionic Woman as the new Jaime Sommers embarks upon a mission not only to discover her new powers, but to discover who really wants to use her powers for good and evil. Adding a different spin of its own will be the personal tension between that nemesis and Jaime. The potential for medical breakthroughs is always twofold; things can go incredibly right, or things can go incredibly wrong. When talking about humans who are partly machine it becomes a kind of spiritual issue as well. Beneath the larger concerns about trust in a government’s agenda will be the issue of how Jaime can preserve her humanity after she becomes part machine.
It is always tricky to update a beloved TV show. Just asked the people behind the misguided update of Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Here’s to hoping the team behind Bionic Woman can pull it off.