Friday, May 08, 2015

Bionic Nostalgia - The Bionic Woman

Esquire (formerly G4TV, which I wish they'd bring back) has been showing old reruns of "The Six Million Dollar Man," a show I loved as a kid, along with most of my generation probably. Recently I got a chance to see the two two-part episodes "The Bionic Woman" and "The Return of the Bionic Woman," the precursors and eventual backdoor pilot to the spin-off series with Lindsey Wagner - "The Bionic Woman." I don't think I've seen these since they aired in 1975.

Toward the end of the second season of "The Six Million Dollar Man," as it was enjoying amazing popularity, the showrunners decided to do something different, and not only give some much needed background on astronaut Steve Austin, but also introduce a new character that eventually would prove more popular than the bionic man himself, Jamie Sommers. We got to visit Steve's hometown and meet his parents as he was getting tired of the spy game and needed a break. While there, the other famous citizen of Ojai was also in town, tennis pro Jaime Sommers, played by Lindsay Wagner.

The two had enjoyed a relationship in their younger years, which they rekindled rather quickly within the space of one one-hour episode. So hot was this rekindling that Steve popped the question and the two were engaged. Then, when Jaime was nearly killed in a skydiving accident, Steve, who knows that bionics can save her, begs Oscar Goldman and Rudy Wells to do what they do so well. Soon, Jaime recovers with a bionic arm, two bionic legs, and a bionic ear - price tag classified.

Tragedy strikes when Jaime's body begins to reject the bionics, and she dies. This eleven year old remembers shedding a tear then. It was one of the saddest moments of the series so far, and for kids all over America when the bionic woman died. And to cap it off, the second episode even ended with Lee Majors singing the mournful "Sweet Jaime" song. The showrunners had created a monster, one that would not die - ratings were through the roof.

When "The Six Million Dollar Man" came back for its third season, it was with a much-anticipated two-parter called "The Return of the Bionic Woman." Jaime wasn't dead, but did die on the table the year before, but was saved by an 'experimental biochemical cryosurgery.' Neither Oscar nor Rudy told Steve until he came across her himself, but sadly she had no memory of what went before, no memory of a relationship with Steve. Talk about heartbreaking. Remembering her life before causes Jaime pain, so Steve stays away, letting her move on, so she won't be in pain. Wow.

From there, "The Bionic Woman" television series spins off on its own, running two seasons on ABC and a third on NBC, becoming a unique item in TV history - one of two shows on two different networks to share the same cast as Oscar and Rudy appeared on both. Often on "The Six Million Dollar Man," Oscar was shown as Steve's buddy, but at this point, even as a child I realized he really wasn't. This was a business arrangement. Oscar was Steve and Jaime's boss, but he was friend to neither. Friends don't keep secrets like that.

Jaime abandoned the tennis pro career and settled in Ojai as a teacher. One of her kids was even Oliver from "The Brady Bunch!" From this home base she went on missions for the OSI. She would fight the Fembots, female robots from the mad scientist who sicced John Saxon on Steve Austin in his first season. And at NBC, she would gain a canine comrade in Max the Bionic Dog. One of her most dangerous missions was against a sentient doomsday machine whose inspiration was obviously Hal from 2001 A Space Odyssey.

Occasionally Steve and Jaime would cross paths with comic book-like crossover events, where part one would be on one show and part two on the other - making syndication very difficult. One such occasion dealt with the return of Bigfoot and another when Oscar had been kidnapped. Although both series were canceled in 1978, "The Bionic Woman" had proved more popular than the series she spun off from.

Three reunion movies aired years after the shows ended, as always with series in mind, but nothing ever came of it. A few years back in 2007 Kenneth Johnson tried to reboot "The Bionic Woman" for NBC with a grittier, darker version. It lasted eight episodes. More to come.

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