Recently, I watched a few episodes of the old 1970s science fiction drama The Bionic Woman. For me, it was a treat because I remember watching both it and The Six Million Dollar Man when I was a kid. I don’t think it was during the original run, but after both shows were cancelled in 1978 and a network in Canada started to show re-broadcasts of all the episodes. There are two things I distinctly remember from back then: I wanted to be the Six Million Dollar Man and marry the Bionic Woman – as I jumped off things making bionic sounds; and I got the Six Million Dollar Man board game for Christmas one year.
I don’t remember many of the Six Million Dollar Man episodes, but I do remember many of the Bionic Woman episodes – probably because there was more meat to the storylines and I liked Lindsay Wagner as Jamie. Looking over many of the episodes again, she delivered a great performance – nuanced, dramatic, quirky, carefree, real. It was no surprise to me that she won the Emmy Award for best lead actress in a drama series in 1977 (specifically for the episode ‘Deadly Ringer’). She was a most deserving winner. She was amazing in that episode. I remember reading an article about the Emmy Awards many years ago with the writer opining that Lindsay winning was the low point in the history of the awards. I wish I could find that article online somewhere so I can give that writer a piece of my mind. What a low brow swipe – an obvious situation where instead of actually viewing a piece of work, the writer dismisses it because the series from which it came is dismissed as science fiction fluff.
Lindsay put in one hell of a performance on that episode and was rewarded not just because she played diverse dual characters, but because there was depth there absent from other actors who have roles in action/sci-fi/mystery series. Having roles in these type of series really limits the dramatic performance an actor can give because the FX, the gadgets, the supernatural, the hook and the CGI have all the big dramatic moments. Her characters faced trauma, went to very low points and came back up. It was a complete performance. That she was able to have the opportunity to put in such a performance on an action/sci-fi series was very fortunate. This is also the main reason why Angela Lansbury never won an Emmy for Murder, She Wrote – her character was always level-headed and never battled cancer, alcoholism, abuse, drugs and other evils.
Both the Six Million Dollar Man (and especially) the Bionic Woman were rare hits – successful action/sci-fi/supernatural series. They connected with people and it was only after their audiences skewed to a different demographic that the networks didn’t want were they both cancelled – even though they were both still hits at the time. I was especially fond of the Bionic Woman’s attempts to inject a good dose of humanity into the scripts. It wasn’t all just action and bionic stuff – there was real human interaction, stories about fate, the consequences of war, power, psychological trauma, PTSD, affliction and healing. The writers made some bold statements and if critics were to look beyond the somewhat implausible supernatural aspects (Bigfoot, the fembots), they would see a series with heart and humanity.
It’s a real treat seeing both series again. Steve Austin and Jamie Sommers were my heroes when I was little, so they have a very special place in my memory bank. Looking at the series, it is heartening to see both of them not take things too seriously, yet be able to tell a good story and provide some seriously solid entertainment. In today’s world of television and film, you can’t compare the Bionic Woman and the Six Million Dollar Man with anything seen today. I think Lindsay Wagner said it best when the reboot of the Bionic Woman arrived in 2007 on NBC: “It was like a lot of things today, angry and dark”.
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