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maryann johanson, striking from a hidden base

‘Bionic Woman’ and ‘Life’: science fiction and something like it on NBC’s Wednesdays

Last week I wrote about NBC’s new Monday night lineup, and why — apart from the returning Heroes — I wasn’t too thrilled with it. NBC’s got a new Wednesday night, too, debuting tomorrow, and it’s got a whole lot more to be excited about.

After the returning game show Deal or No Deal at 8pm Eastern — and the less said about schedule-padding game shows, the better — comes what is perhaps the most anticipated new drama of the season, Bionic Woman, at 9pm. Science fiction veterans David Eick (Battlestar Galactica) and Glen Morgan (The X-Files) put their heads together for this reimagining of the 70s series, and if there isn’t anything actually revelatory in the pilot, which doesn’t feature any great surprises as it sets up its story, there is the promise of lots of intrigue to come.
Fans of British TV will recognize star Michelle Ryan from EastEnders and Jekyll, but she’s all-American sweetie-pie as Jaime Sommers, bartender and single gal raising her little sister on her own. Life’s a bit of a struggle, but things are looking up: she’s got a handsome college-prof boyfriend (Chris Bowers), whom she’s just told she’s preggers; contrary to cliché, he’s delighted and instantly proposes marriage, so you know Jaime is doomed. Sure enough, along comes an 18-wheeler to smack her around but good.

But it’s okay: they can rebuild her, or something. There’s a whole ton of nefariousness built into how and why Jaime ends up as the guinea pig of the secret project that replaces both of her legs, one arm, and one eye with molecular robotic doodads, some of which suggests some psychopathic tendencies, perhaps, on the part of folks who could make for fascinating drama later on. (Plus, the head of the project is played by Miguel Ferrer, and he’s always awesome as the guy whom you’re never quite sure is good or bad.) And there’s also some stuff about the top-secret mad scientists giving the new cyborg Jaime “the illusion of freedom” as she tries to return to her regular life; so there might even be some metaphoric relevance to reality, too.

I suspect, though, that what everyone will be talking about on Thursday is the big bad girlfight between cyborg Jaime and the “first” bionic woman, Sarah Corvus — she’s played by BSG’s Katee Sackhoff, and she’s gone rogue and obviously gone a bit nutty as a result of her transformation. It’s kinda like a good Terminator, bad Terminator thing, only with chicks. And we know how the guys love that.

Right after Bionic Woman, at 10pm Eastern, comes Life, which is kinda like House meets Law and Order and actually does put a little bit of a twist on the age-old cop show. Here we have Los Angeles police detective Charlie Crew (Damian Lewis, another Brit pretending to be American) who’s just gotten out of prison: he’s been exonerated for the triple murder for which he’d been sentence to life, and for which actually served 12 years before his release. He’s received a settlement for that decade-plus of wrongful imprisonment — the cop rumor mill pegs it at anywhere from $5 million to $50 million — but still he works.

Cuz, you see, he’s crazy. He went crazy in prison, where he was in 23-hour-a-day protective custody so that the other inmates wouldn’t kill him for being a cop, and then he started reading stuff like The Path to Zen and went even crazier, and now he’s just a loon who does things cops shouldn’t do, like interrogate dogs at the scenes of crimes and advise druggies to hide their stashes before more cops show up. It’s funny, see, that he’s amused at how tiny cell phones are now, and how he doesn’t know what Google is for. It’s “like living in science fiction,” he says as he constantly boggles at the world of the early 21st century.

Forget the crime-of-the-episode, I’m thinking (the one in the pilot isn’t really all that compelling): this show is, like House, gonna be all about tuning in to see how outrageous Charlie can be… and how crazy-righteous he’s gonna get as he hunts down those who actually committed the crime he was wrongly convicted of. (Oh, come on, you knew he’d be doing that, didn’t you?) Lewis is no Hugh Laurie, but he’s highly appealing nonetheless.

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