(Wo)mano a (wo)mano

As I watched last night’s premiere of NBC’s new Bionic Woman, I was reminded of a lecture I sat through in undergrad, in which one of my film professors distilled the plot of Wizard of Oz into a simple and true statement:

“The film is, at heart, the story of two women fighting over a pair of shoes.”

Fabulous though they are, those ruby slippers probably wouldn’t create quite the same fuss today, but that doesn’t mean our entertainment values have gone up at all. Bionic Woman, to wit, is the story of two women fighting over which one of them is—simply put—superior.

That they both look like supermodels (one more an Eastern European type—shocking that Tyra Banks didn’t call her first on any given cycle of ANTM) is no miracle, but the fact that Jaime Sommers works as a bartender but lives in a spacious San Francisco loft, drives a fancy luxury car, and supports her teenaged sister is.

But I’m being a little coy. I loved the first episode; I thought it represented the start of what is hopefully a new achievement in serial television. I’ve never been a fant of episodic television. Even as a child, I never understood how the events of one episode didn’t impact future episodes. But I love The Simpsons, where this convention is frequently turned on its ear to comic effect (as perhaps the only ongoing plot change was the death of Maud Flanders). But shows like Bionic Woman, shows that build to a seasonal climax through ongoing and smaller plot arcs, have more payoff for loyal viewers.

But back to the Bionic Women. Like another unassuming young woman, Buffy Summers, Jaime is plucked from relative obscurity by an act of fate (wrong place/wrong time) and thrust into unusual and exceptional circumstances. Whereas Buffy was imbued with supernatural strength passed down through a lineage of girls like her, Jaime is “built” in a laboratory to be, in the words of the leading paper towel commercial, stronger and longer-lasting.

When the first Bionic Woman, Sarah, aka the crazy Eastern European one with the charming German consort who asks her to kill people, discovers Jaime exists, the two face off in a rooftop battle to the…well, battle to the escape! Jaime wants to fight, but all Sarah wants to do is exchange specifications. “What did they replace on you?” she wants to know, bragging, “They replaced both legs and both arms on me. They only did one eye, so I did the other myself.” Sarah’s that annoying overachiever who can’t just complete the assignment, she needs to revise the textbook too. Jaime puts her in her place after Jaime’s strength and combat prowess are questioned. “How am I doing now?” she asks Sarah, but I wish she would have asked, “How d’ya like me NOW??” with a little more sass. After all, the girl works in a bar. I know she’s got it.

I make fun, but here’s no joke: I’ll tune in again next week, and probably ever week after that, even after the show jumps the shark, because I’m not afraid of a little commitment. Especially when I get to edit out the commercials with my fast forward button.

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