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Stronger, Faster, Maybe. But Not Better.
A Fan's Lament Regarding the New Bionic Woman Series

 
True, "there is nothing new under the sun"–and sometimes the best stories are the ones retold and re-imagined. Although maybe some fan back in the 16th century was bitter about it, I think we were better off that some hack writer named Will took Thomas Lodge’s Rosalynde and re-worked it into a little play called As You Like It. If you’re going to re-write a story and tell it anew again, however, I have but one simple request: don’t piss all over my childhood in the process.

I refer to NBC’s recent efforts to create a new television series called "The Bionic Woman." It’s about a woman named Jaime Sommers who suffers a horrible accident and is rebuilt with the latest bio-technology into a cyborg. Yes of course, this concept, down to the name, sounds like the series that ran in the late 70s and starred Lindsay Wagner. I am, however, talking about a "new" series slated to come out in 2007 or 2008, and is called by its producer Eick a "reimagining" of the 70s series concept. I look upon this effort with a mixture of fascination, revulsion, and bitterness.

The original Jaime Sommers was one of my childhood heroines. She was brave, smart, and resourceful; she actually was a little emotionally unstable but always worked herself through it, and that impressed me more than any of her cybernetic superpowers (although those were fun to watch and had nifty sound effects). Her stress-induced identity crisis in an episode, called "Deadly Ringer," where a woman very successfully impersonates her, resonated with me powerfully at a young age, and it still does today at the age of 31. Her ordeal and recovery was an early lesson to me on what the true meaning of “strength” was. I therefore admit attaching a sacredness to the character. Her concept is important to me, and I don’t want it tampered with. I also know that there is a legion of fans–especially female fans–both younger and older than I am, who look on Lindsay Wagner’s Jaime with the same admiration, if not more so.

Sure, The Bionic Woman often went in a cheesy direction–especially when it suffered during a writer’s strike that took place during the second season. As far as I am aware, the series is generally well-remembered and fondly. She even just won a (slightly tongue-in-cheek, but still fond) award from VH-1. We all hold Jaime, and the way Lindsay Wagner played her, closely to hearts at least as much as when it all started 30 years ago–when NBC was so rocked by fan response to the "death" of Jaime on The Six Million Dollar Man that they were moved to rectify it by giving the character not only a resurrection but her own series as well.

The current efforts to "revive" the Bionic Woman concept to me feels a little more like a crucifixion than a resurrection. The character has kept the name (they might be re-spelling it to "Jamie Summers," but that’s minor aesthetics and kow-towing to idiots who can't spell names that aren't completely WASP-ish in origin) and some of the background, but otherwise they are re-envisioning the character and concept and throwing her in an entirely new direction.

Now, I like the idea of taking the concept of a destroyed woman being literally rebuilt and taking on a new life of action and angst. I like the idea of doing something with it on television with today’s sensitivities—and technology—in mind.

But why the hell do they have to call her "Jaime" (or "Jamie" or however)?

Why does it have to be "The Bionic Woman"?

We have a Jaime Sommers. We have a Bionic Woman. She is not forgotten, and this "re-imagining" that keeps all the old names seems like a slap in the face of the fans, creators, and performers involved in the original series. Seemingly the new producers say to us, "Forget that old blonde witch who does bed commercials these days. Go look at the British soap star beat up Captain Starbuck instead." No, thank you. I like that old blonde. She played my hero, and for all her accomplishments since, I don't want her forgotten for that, nor pushed aside from the name of the iconic role that she defined.

Now, I’ve seen some of the released clips of the new series. Honestly? As much as I can tell from two and a half minutes of footage and names aside, it looks fantastic. In terms of acting, special effects, and theme go, it could very well be a solid show.

The fact is, the performance is strong enough that it should stand on its own feet, not over the still-breathing forms of our childhood heroines.

Sure, "It’s just a name." But in show biz, in pop culture, names are important. When you rewrite something, your effort is to erase what’s come before. The best "re-imaginings" and remakes leave the original be in some way (or outright parodize it), let their memory be honored. Since we’re discussing 70s action heroines, look at the Charlie’s Angels films. They built the concept in the same continuity; they made it clear that the heroines were successors to the original Angels, and that the original Angels were still honored and loved (Jacquelyn Smith’s cameo in the second film was brilliant). At the same time, they established three new characters with their own unique lifestyles and outlooks, and took the concept in a direction it never could have gone in the old series. And the result was a lot of good action and fun headlined by three gorgeous women that were a delight to watch. Others’ opinions may vary on how good the two films were, depending on what they want out of an action film, but criticisms leveled upon it were usually higher up than "it’s not like the original," and any remake needs to aim for that: getting critiqued on its own merits and not what came before. Among other issues, I think this new Bionic series is setting itself up for the latter, unfortunately.

Those of us who like science fantasy that involve the likes of cyborgs will be drawn to a new "bionic" heroine as much as we were to the original Bionic Woman. But only if she is billed as new. Let her have her own name; build up her own credibility rather than put her at odds with 30 years of nostalgia.

Long ago, in that episode that so inspired my young mind, the Bionic Woman refused to relinquish her identity to a convincing impostor. We learned then and we still know now: there is only one Jaime Sommers. Accept no imitations.

Death Quaker

 

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