Alan Zenuk
September 26, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

At one point in Bionic Woman — NBC’s sleeker, faster, cooler version of the 1970s series — a little girl looks out the window of a car to see the 2007-model Jaime Sommers (East Enders‘ Michelle Ryan) zipping through the woods like a cheetah. The child alerts her disbelieving mother, and then smiles: ”I just thought it was cool a girl could do that.”

Too much? Yes, too much! And yet, it’s one of those moments you just have to shrug at and enjoy. Girls can do lots of things in this energetic, dark drama: They can leap buildings, cartwheel around rooftops, and pounce across rooms in flimsy hospital gowns. As rethought for the 21st century, Jaime is no mere girlfriend of Steve Austin. She’s the girlfriend of a cute scientist (Will Anthros)! When a car smashup threatens Jaime’s life, he copters her off to his underground lair, er, research facility, where the majority of her body parts — both legs, an arm, an ear, an eye — are replaced by futuristic military bionics. The compromise? She’s now government property, and must participate in secret operations or be killed. When she’s informed of this, her beau is apologetic, but not that apologetic: ”You’re hardwired for highly specialized warfare, yes,” he admits in a hilarious Oh, did I forget to mention that? moment.

But the writers need to tweak the irony: Bionic Woman is a flowery-feminist show whose go-girl premise depends on some dude asserting control over a young woman’s body without her permission. Will this be a clever commentary on current sexual dynamics? Or just unimaginative storytelling? (The whole aggro-male vibe is partly due to poor casting: Anthros appears a good decade older than baby-faced Ryan, giving all their interactions a skeezy overlay.) Whether Bionic Woman plays with its contradictions and proves to be an insightful, allegorical series like exec producer David Eick’s other show, Battlestar Galactica, remains to be seen. It could end up being simple, popcorny fun (no small feat), in which case the only other worry is Ryan. The Brit actress has the same brunet intensity as Alias‘ Jennifer Garner, but lacks the innate confidence. This absence is glaring anytime she’s acting opposite slick, pissy Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar), who shows up as the very first bionic woman, gone bad, determined to get badder. ”I’m cutting away all the parts of me that are weak,” she tells Jaime, creepily, before trying to kill her. The problem is, if you’re a fan of Sackhoff’s throaty, chin-jutty delivery, she absolutely overpowers the callow Ryan, and if you’re not a fan of Sackhoff…she still overpowers Ryan. It’s not going to get easier for the actress when the gravitas-enriched Isaiah Washington starts his guest arc in October. In short, this Bionic Girl had better hurry up and become a real Woman. B

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