THE BIONIC WOMAN Season One DVD review

Published November 7, 2010

I have written at length on this site about my affection for the 1970’s über shows The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman.  From championing the cause of getting these two iconic series released on DVD after decades of legal entanglements, to basically reviewing Season One of The Bionic Woman last year after Hulu decided to put all 14 episodes online.

Still I waited (and waited) for the DVD box sets.  Well … the wait is over.

The Six Million Dollar Man – The Complete Series is being released on November 23rd, 2010 in a massive 40-disc box setThe Bionic Woman Season One was released last month.

Since I already gave my thoughts regarding Season One of The Bionic Woman in last year’s aforementioned Hulu article, allow me to pull some snippets from that post, and add additional thoughts as we go.

After spending a couple days reliving my childhood (all of these episodes are from 1976), I wondered if they would still hold up after so much time. Since this was one of my favorite shows (and yes, I have admitted on here before that back in the day I had a MAJOR crush on Lindsay Wagner), I hoped that 33 years (I honestly cannot recall ever seeing these in syndication) would not tarnish my memories. I needn’t have worried. I already knew that the plots were often simplistic and the special effects cheesy, and that The Bionic Woman’s true appeal was in the talent, beauty, and charisma of its star. Rewatching these episodes again after so many decades merely reminded me of those facts. I was not disappointed in the least …

… well, I will say these first season episodes are a bit plot-heavy, and (if memory serves) seasons 2 and 3 wisely relied more on personal stories (not to mention fembots), but they are still quite enjoyable. In fact, for anyone who grew up in the 70s and had the same affection for this show (and its Six Million Dollar counterpart) as I did, these are incredible comfort food.

I stand by all of that.  But I will add that watching these shows with the help of my TV and DVD player beats the hell out of streaming them online.  Lindsay Wagner literally radiates talent, charisma, and wholesome sex appeal here, and makes it all too obvious why NBC’s ill-conceived Bionic Woman reboot in 2007 was such a dismal failure.

While this set (obviously) contains all 14 first season episodes, it also includes four crossover episodes from The Six Million Dollar Man, entitled simply enough The Bionic Woman Parts 1 & 2, and The Return of The Bionic Woman Parts 1 & 2.  When, in March of 1975, the world was first introduced to Col. Steve Austin’s long lost love, Jaime Sommers, ratings went through the roof.  So did the cards and letters, many from traumatized children who simply could not deal with the tragic death of Jaime’s character, from “bionic rejection.”

And so, after bringing Jaime back to life the following season, she was quickly given her own spinoff series.  I love the scene in The Return of The Bionic Woman when the recently hospitalized Steve Austin thinks he sees Jaime (whom he believes is dead), and takes off so quickly in his wheelchair that he literally screeches the tires and burns rubber on the sidewalk.  These early crossover episodes – which again, I haven’t seen in about 35 years – brought it all home again how much I loved these shows as a kid.

The episodes, spread over four discs, break down like this (synopsis are actual jacket copy):

DISC ONE

The Six Million Dollar Man: The Bionic Woman
The original second season The Six Million Dollar Man episode where Jaime Sommers becomes the Bionic Woman.

The Six Million Dollar Man: The Bionic Woman Part II
Jaime Sommers is sent on her first assignment for the OSI in this second season The Six Million Dollar Man episode.

The Six Million Dollar Man: The Return of the Bionic Woman
Steve learns that Jaime did not die as he was led to believe, but was kept alive with cryogenic techniques by one of Rudy’s assistants. Jaime has just awakened from the cryogenic coma and suffers from memory loss resulting from mild brain damage.

The Six Million Dollar Man: The Return of the Bionic Woman Part II
Steve Austin learns that Jaime Sommers is still alive after seeing her die from a Bionic rejection. However, Jaime has suffered brain damage and no longer remembers anything about her past life, including Steve.

Welcome Home, Jaime
The Six Million Dollar Man episode that launched The Bionic Woman spin-off series. Oscar Goldman arranges a job for Jaime as a schoolteacher, but she also insists on taking on missions for the OSI.  (The DVD liner notes say this is a 6MDM episode – actually it is the first episode of The Bionic Woman.)

DISC TWO

Welcome Home, Jaime Part II
Oscar arranges a “falling out” with Jaime so that she can go undercover in businessman Carlton Harris’ shady organization and determine whether he is trading illegal government secrets.

Angel of Mercy
When Jaime is sent to Costa Brava with ace helicopter pilot Jack Starkey (Andy Griffith) to rescue the U.S. ambassador and his family, the mission becomes infinitely more complicated when the ambassador’s wife is trapped in a collapsed building.

A Thing of the Past
Jaime is the only one who can help an old friend and bus driver (Donald O’Connor) when thugs discover that he has been hiding out in Ojai since witnessing a murder years ago. Lee Majors co-stars.

Claws
Fur is sure to fly when Jaime protects a lion and the other creatures of a wild animal ranch from ranchers out for blood.

The Deadly Missiles
Jaime is forced to investigate her friend, J.T. Conners, after a missile is launched from his property at the very moment the U.S. missile warning system breaks down. Lee Majors co-stars.

DISC THREE

Bionic Beauty
Beauty and brawn are on display when Jaime enters a Miss United States pageant in order to infiltrate a nefarious espionage plan.

Jaime’s Mother
Jaime’s dream about her mother leaves her feeling disturbed – especially when she receives word that her parents’ graves have been vandalized.

Winning is Everything
Hoping to obtain vital information from a foreign country, Jaime becomes a navigator in an international desert auto race.

Canyon of Death
When she is captured by a group that is scheming to steal an atomic-powered device, Jaime’s life depends on a small boy who has “cried wolf” in the past.

DISC FOUR

Fly Jaime
In an effort to protect a doctor and his top-secret formula, Jaime heads to the skies and goes undercover as a flight attendant.

The Jailing of Jaime
Jaime fights to clear her name after the valuable decoding instrument she delivered is discovered on the international market.

Mirror Image
A woman undergoes plastic surgery in order to become Jaime’s double and steal privileged information from Oscar’s files.

The Ghost Hunter
Jaime poses as the governess for a small-town girl (Kristy McNichol) when supernatural forces disturb the classified project being developed by the child’s father.

While plotwise these episodes certainly are a mixed bag, some do stand out among the rest: all of the 6MDM crossover episodes (the chemistry between Majors and Wagner is palpable … even when Lee is warbling Sweet Jaime), Angel of Mercy, The Deadly Missiles, Fly Jaime, and Mirror Image.

Worst episode: Winning is Everything (I consistently wanted to smack Lindsay’s sleazy costar).

Silliest episode: Claws (… why IS that lion allowed to roam free, around kids no less?)

Cheesiest moment: Jaime sings Feelings at a beauty contest (… also, this episode, Bionic Beauty, is eerily close in plot to Miss Congeniality, which would be made 24 years later, and even drops that very term – even weirder, Sandra Bullock, who starred in Miss Congeniality, would, in 1989, costar as the new bionic girl in one of those reunion movies, Bionic Showdown).

Most surreal moments: the chats between Jaime and a young Indian boy in Canyon of Death reminded me weirdly of … Twilight.  I always thought that lovely tomboy Kristen Stewart would make a good Jaime Sommers in a theatrical update of this series (if anyone could figure out how to adapt 6MDM for the big screen), but this episode reminds me of that all over again.  Someone (with better editing equipment than I have) should re-edit portions of this episode with some Bella and Jacob dialogue from the Twilight movies – I think it would be hilarious (… just remember you heard it here first).

Bonus content on this box set includes:

Four commentary tracks by directors Alan J. Levi and James Parriott, and series producer/creator Kenneth Johnson.  Johnson offers a treasure trove of behind-the-scenes factoids.

A short gag reel (… an obvious trimming of some of the longish blooper reels seen on YouTube – Lindsay Wagner could, when frustratingly tongue tied, talk like a sailor).

A photo gallery.

And a 25-minute Making-Of doc called Bionic Beginnings, featuring all new interviews with Lindsay Wagner (still as lovely and charming as ever), Richard Anderson, Martin E. Brooks, and Kenneth Johnson.  All relate fascinating stories about the production of this iconic show.  Love the moment near the end of this documentary, when Lindsay Wagner is asked if she can make the “bionic noises” when she moves.  Laughing and blushing, she replies that she doesn’t need to because, to this day, everyone around her does it for her.  Hilarious.

The Bionic Woman Season 1 is a MUST HAVE for fans of the show.  If you have children, don’t hesitate to share this kid-friendly program with them.  Sure, by today’s standards, the plots are simplistic and the special effects charmingly cheesy, but those were never the main drawing point of this series anyway.  It’s all about the star – and back in the mid 1970’s, they didn’t come any brighter than Lindsay Wagner.  Highly recommended.

Bring on Season 2!

DVD GRADE: A
BONUS CONTENT: B

AND … check out the video below: a very cool sneak peek at The Six Million Dollar Man – The Complete Series box set.