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Bionic Woman: "Paradise Lost"

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While it's true you never get a second chance to make a first impression, the same rule doesn't always apply to TV shows, where the pilot–usually a product of painstaking groupthink and craven pre-air rewrites–is often the worst episode of the entire series. That appears to be the case with Bionic Woman, anyway, whose debut was so clunky and ridiculous that it left me dreading this week's episode and bemoaning the fact that I'd committed to a whole season, wishing instead that I'd signed up for something more likely to be cancelled early. Cavemen, for example.

As I said at the end of my pilot review, it was probably too soon to pass judgment on Bionic Woman. Although I stand by my assessment of that awful, awful first episode, I still believe that–hoary clichéd dialogue aside–it was more a matter of pacing than plain incompetence. Had the events of the pilot been stretched out to a two-hour telepic, for example (and who's to say it wasn't intended to be originally?), we may not have had to suffer through those bewilderingly bad mouthfuls of exposition and rushed characterization. We probably would have seen a little more of Jaime dealing with the trauma of the accident and coming to terms with her subsequent mechanical overhaul, and thus learned to embrace her as a real person. We may have even learned to like her smug, jazz-loving asshole boyfriend Will rather than cheering when Sarah's bullet finally shut him up in the middle of another stagy soliloquy. Well, probably not.

But what's done is done. Will is dead, but the good news for us is that it may as well have been the pilot they were putting in the ground at the start of "Paradise Lost" instead of Jaime's beloved teacher (and surgeon!) fiancé. Honestly, while I always love it when a TV show gets rid of a love interest–call me cynical, but it gets in the way–this is the best thing that could have happened to Jaime and to Bionic Woman. And while Jaime did spend several scenes moping over her soulmate/stalker (when she wasn't grabbing anonymous frat dudes and getting busy in a Burger King bathroom, that is), for the most part she–and the show–were newly energized, and with this episode Bionic Woman settled into its rhythm and introduced the mechanics that will be the template of everything from here on out: Jonas (Miguel Ferrer) and his "private clandestine group dedicated to stopping rogue organizations from ending civilization as we know it" (I guess that's PCGDSROFECAWKI?) get wind of something bad–in this case, a biochemical attack on a small town–and he assembles a team to investigate. Tightass Ruth begrudgingly allows Jaime to tag along. Jaime does some bionic-y things and saves an innocent bystander. A "rogue organization" tries to kill her. She smacks them around. The good guys win. Jaime gets home and spends some quality Gilmore Girls time with Becca. The end.

Will it work every week? Not for me it won't. Personally I can't stand shows where every episode finds the same group of people battling a new crisis, only to have everything resolved at the end of the hour. If we're only going to see variations on "A secret cabal of terrorists tries to kill everyone and only Jaime can stop them–but she has to be home in time for supper!" then be prepared for blog after blog of increasing vitriol, tempered with some pleading to be put out of my misery. Fortunately, as formulaic as its premise is, so far it looks like Bionic Woman knows better than to always hit that damned reset button by keeping a few things burning. For one, the Sarah Corvus subplot is still somewhat intriguing, and her second confrontation with Jaime in the next episode looks kind of promising. And remember, we also have the matter of Will's evil father and the mystery European guy to contend with, so the possibility for long arc storytelling is still there. I'm willing to give it a chance as long as they can introduce something bigger (and preferably elusive) for Jaime to fight, but if she's still knocking random anonymous bad guys around in two episodes then we're going to have a problem.

Plus, now that we've already gotten all of the awkward introductions out of the way, the show's cast is allowed to walk around trading quips without trying to cram them full of as much information as possible–which doesn't make them any less shallow, but it's certainly easier on the ear. I'm still glad to see Miguel Ferrer bringing his usual salty air, and he and Michelle Ryan actually have a nice father figure/sassy daughter dynamic that avoids being cloying–so far, anyway. I'm still not crazy about Ruth or Jae, who both look and feel like sci-fi show caricatures (especially Jae and that damn ponytail), but the smartass tech geek who chastised Jaime for shoving a Q-tip in "his" bionic ear has "breakout" written all over him. And then there's Isaiah "I'm Rehabilitated!" Washington, who it turns out isn't such a bad actor once you stop mentally adding "faggot" after all of his lines. (Not sure I buy him as an "Antonio" though.) And we should probably enjoy pouty, adorable Becca with her pot smoking and Tenacious D T-shirts while we can, before she gets sucked into the world of the PCGDSROFECAWKI and starts putting her precocious hacker skills to use. Right now her total ignorance is all that stands between us and those inevitable "They've got my sister!" subplots that Buffy already beat to death several years ago.

All in all, "Paradise Lost" was a decent upgrade, but I'm still not hooked. For one thing, I don't think I can ever truly care about a show that's all about "the mission," so it's going to take an especially revealing backstory (a la Heroes' "Company Man") to win me over. But I'm certainly not dreading tuning in next week as much as I was tonight. And who knows? If the show actually takes its goofy premise and laughable stock characters in stride and manages to establish a deeper mythology, then it may one day become more than just the sum of its anthrocite-enhanced parts.

Grade: C

Stray observations:

— When did "You're a douche" become part of acceptable network TV lexicon? That was like hearing my mom say it.

— It's a pretty gutsy move to be blowing up U.S. soldiers on primetime. And did we ever even get an explanation for who those particular soldiers were? Were they a "rogue group," or were they just following orders?

— Those House-aping visual effects where we went inside Jaime's bionic parts are pretty lame. I really hope that doesn't happen every episode.

What Color Is Your Parachute? Are you fucking kidding me? What do you want to bet that stupid book gets an Amazon sales bump tomorrow?

— What exactly is the point of doing pull-ups with your bionic arm if you can already bend steel with it?

— I actually laughed twice tonight: Once was when Ferrer says he'd do whatever it took to pull a team together, even "call the guys from Halliburton." The second was "We're the Department Of Agriculture." This episode benefited greatly from deadpan asides like that. Glad to see this show isn't as humorless as I thought.

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