"The List" S1 / E6
As you've probably heard by now, we're doing some general housecleaning here at TV Club by trimming the shows that have failed to fulfill their promise to be breakout hits or generate much reader interest. Judging by the sharp decline in the number of comments from week to week–not to mention how many of you seem to share my own assertion that this show is pretty fucking terrible–we've finally reached the end of road with Bionic Woman, and after today we'll be tossing her on the scrapheap to make room for all the reviews of The Boondocks, My Name Is Earl, Weeds, South Park, and everything else you've been clamoring for.
Just kidding. Well, about The Boondocks, et al., anyway. But I'm not joking about cutting this show from our roster, or the fact that the show itself appears to be beyond saving–and while I have noticed a few "It's not that bad" defenders in the comments from week to week, I get the feeling that it won't be missed much. It certainly won't be by me: As always, I come not to praise Bionic Woman, but to bury it–and this week it's more than just wishful thinking. Before we get into the specifics of how this particular episode disappointed, I'd like to take a moment to talk about how we ended up here.
As I said in my review of the pilot, I had high hopes for this show. Battlestar Galactica is one of my favorites, and I had every reason to believe that producer David Eick could create another dark, thought-provoking revamp of a silly '70s sci-fi show–especially given the backing of a major network and ringers like Katee Sackhoff, Miguel Ferrer, and Isaiah "Half Price This Season!" Washington. Like BSG, the elements were there to make some interesting, timely statements in between all the ass-kicking bionic babe action: on the state of feminism in the 21st century; on the way that technology has dehumanized all of us; on the government's use of Blackwater-esque paramilitary organizations to fight its battles. And really, Bionic Woman could have taken its ridiculous premise and run with it just about anywhere, as long as it populated its universe with real, sympathetic, human characters. (Playing by its own internal logic would be nice too, but I'd settle for just one person I actually cared about.)
Unfortunately, its leaden self-seriousness proved to be its downfall, primarily because its characters were little more than unlikeable ciphers who spouted some of the most awkward dialogue this side of a Uwe Boll film. The show never really recovered from its awful pilot–one of the worst in recent memory, if not all time–and the promise of season-long plotlines dealing with Sackhoff's tormented Sarah Corvus character became more like a threat as the weeks wore on, with Corvus becoming less and less a person than a fount of hardboiled clichés and tiresome melodramatic fits. (Watching this show has actually soured me on Sackhoff as an actor, to the point where I'm worried it might taint my appreciation of BSG, and for that I am mightily pissed.) Meanwhile, the subplot involving "rogue" scientist Anthony Anthros has still yet to fully materialize, we still have no clue as to why Jaime's murdered boyfriend Will had a two-year dossier on her (nor does Jaime seem to be too concerned about it), and the PCGDSROFECAWKI is as much a mystery to us as it was when it began, explained away as a group somehow outside the jurisdiction of the federal government but who has access to the same information, and who repeatedly battles the military and CIA on its way to "saving the world."
Last week Bionic Woman seemed to recognize its own ticking mortality and opted to more or less abandon its serious tone and embrace the ridiculousness, remaking itself as a frothy, self-aware spy comedy in hopes that everyone would forget about trying to resolve those storylines–not a bad idea, since obviously no one much cared about them in the first place. But such a Hail Mary tonal shift is the act of a desperate show, and this week's episode–which presumably was supposed to mark the show's rebirth as a fun, fleeter model–felt like further admission of failure. Eleventh-hour character additions and stunt plots (Bionic Woman goes to Paris!) are recognizable death rattles in TV land, and while we're pulling the plug before they do, my guess is the show won't outlive us by long.
Anyway, for those who care, here's what happened in this week's episode: Someone absconds with a list of the identities of Berkut and CIA agents (very Valerie Plame–if only the show had the smarts to draw that kind of parallel) to Paris, so the two agencies team up to recover it. Jaime uses the opportunity to have another go at seeing Agent Dane Cook, who hasn't called her since they hooked up last week, which means they're back to dancing around their attraction to each other while being forced to pretend they're husband and wife–awkward! Hilariously, the crux of Jaime's mission is solely to attend a cocktail party and scan the guests' eyeballs in hopes of finding an "iris match" with the guy who stole the list. It's a pretty simple objective, one that they accomplish almost immediately, but naturally they're then trapped in a wine cellar by a guy who sees right through their ruse. In time-honored TV tradition, this would give them plenty of time to work on their personal differences ("Getting locked in a wine vault is a cliché!" as Ruth helpfully points out), except Jaime's, you know, bionic. They escape to do battle with some faceless Eurotrash baddies, Agent Dane Cook gets kidnapped, the CIA bails, and it's up to Jaime alone to save the day. Meanwhile, back home Becca runs afoul of the law, gets rescued by Ferrer, and he gives her some of his patented fatherly advice and inspires her to start being more appreciative of her sister. The girls are reunited once again and hug to the strains of another strummy indie-rock ballad.
Sigh. Yep. That's pretty much Bionic Woman in a nutshell. (Or rather, this is Bionic Woman in a nutshell: "Help! I'm a dour, tonally confused drama/sci-fi/comedy hybrid with no idea how to tell a story trapped in a nutshell!") Still, for all its formulaic trappings and lack of any real forward motion, this episode may have been the most balanced yet: This time the "mission" felt less like an afterthought, and it wasn't completely derailed by an unnecessary training montage (just that brief one where Ponytail Jae gets his ass kicked again–always good for a laugh) or a lot of talk about Jaime coming to terms with her abilities or leading a double life. Still no sign of Sarah Corvus, Anthony Anthros, or even Isaiah Washington's supposedly morally gray character, but as always I don't think anyone missed them. My DVR cut off the final minute, so I'm not sure what the previews say the future holds for Jaime: My guess is a few more meet-cutes with Agent Dane Cook before he finally starts to question why she can break down steel doors, perform those hammy Matrix-style flying kicks, and jump over rooftops–and no doubt it will throw their relationship for a loop as he learns to deal with dating a woman stronger than him (much like Riley in the fourth season of Buffy, a show that Bionic Woman would obviously kill to be). I'm also guessing that Sarah will eventually return to resolve that show-killer of a storyline, and I stand by my repeated assertions that Becca will soon find out what her sister does, feel betrayed for a moment, and then bring her l33t hax00r skills to the group and become fast friends with the wisecracking tech guy. And I'm predicting that each week will bring some new group of "Eurotrash toolbags" or brown-skinned terrorists for Jaime to kick in the face just before the closing credits.
But alas, we'll never know. I'm not sure there's anything the show can do to pull itself out of its tailspin, or if it will even be given enough time to try. Writers' strike aside, there seems to be little faith in its future, and having seen the ratings steadily drop and read more than a few reviews echoing my thoughts (except for the normally reliable Entertainment Weekly, who bafflingly seems to love it) I don't think there's much interest in saving it on this side of the screen. So farewell to thee, Bionic Woman. May you last long enough to produce an unpopular DVD.
-- For all of the complaints I've heard about her supposedly limited acting ability, I actually found myself liking Michelle Ryan thanks to this show. I wouldn't mind seeing her again–preferably in something where she's allowed to be British.
-- That goes double for Miguel Ferrer, who is pretty much the only one who escaped this show unscathed. His grumpy, avuncular way with Jaime (and tonight, Becca) was one of the few likeably human elements BW had going for it.
-- That said: How does being her sister's boss give him the authority to spring Becca from jail? Oh, right. Nobody cares.
-- What was going on with Ruth and her severe blond CIA counterpart? Former partners? Former lovers? Oh, right. Nobody cares.
-- "I don't really want to hook up during Reservoir Dogs." Do teens actually have "Tarantino movie nights"? I can't imagine a bigger party foul than asking everyone to sit through all three hours of Jackie Brown.
-- "Café Sartre" joins "If it's a boy, we name it Coltrane" in the pantheon of ways this show awkwardly tried to convey depth–sort of the TV equivalent of hanging a Starry Night or Bitches Brew poster in your dorm room.
-- Free at last!