Monday, November 6, 2017

Starter Sets: The Bionic Woman

One of the pleasures of being a classic TV lover is sharing a favorite show with someone who has never watched it. 

Unfortunately, most people do not put much thought into this process.

I had a friend introduce someone to The Bionic Woman with “Bionic Beauty.” The outcome was sadly predictable. After this virgin viewer listened to Lindsay Wagner’s regrettable rendition of one of the cheesiest songs of the 1970s, there was no going back.

The most commonly employed method of introducing a series to a prospective convert is to just simply hand them the season one DVD set. 

While there’s certain logic in experiencing a series from the beginning, a lot of classic shows did not come out of the gate with their best stuff. For every “Fear in a Desert City” (The Fugitive) there is an “Encounter at Farpoint” (Star Trek: The Next Generation). And if your potential convert is a millennial with the short attention span typical of that generation, your show may not get more than one episode to make a positive impression. 

So you should begin with a classic episode, right? Wrong.

Imagine starting a Next Generation newbie with “The Measure of a Man” from season two. He or she will almost certainly be impressed by the writing and performances, but with no prior exposure to the characters, the challenging situation the characters contend with will not resonate as deeply. One needs to become acquainted with Picard, Data, Riker and Guinan to fully appreciate their response to a unique dilemma. Coming in cold to one of the show’s best moments can short-change the experience.

I believe the best approach is to select 3-4 episodes from the first third of the series that feature stories emblematic of the entire run. These shows should establish a foundation for the genre, the characters, the setting and the era, one that will generate interest in the rest of the series.

“Starter Sets,” my choices for the best episodes to accomplish this goal, will be another occasional feature here. Since I mentioned The Bionic Woman, let’s go there first, especially as it’s another series where starting at the beginning is problematic. The first appearances of Jaime Sommers were in two feature-length episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man.   

Both are flawed, albeit serviceable as origin stories, but are not representative of the show that would follow.

If I wanted to create a new Bionic Woman fan, I’d start with these episodes.

“A Thing of the Past”
This early season-one show offers an ideal introduction to the character of Jaime Sommers and the community of Ojai, California where she resides. A new viewer will discover that this isn’t an action show centered on Jaime’s unique abilities. Instead it’s more of a character study of Jaime herself – a kind, compassionate schoolteacher who moonlights as a government agent. 

“Sister Jaime”
This wonderful episode is an outstanding example of the Jaime-undercover stories, in which she assumes another identity to uncover some bit of criminal wrongdoing. Here, she joins a convent, one of the last places you’d expect nefarious activity. “Sister Jaime” features some wonderfully humorous moments that are another series staple.

“The Jailing of Jaime”
What happens when a mission goes wrong? “The Jailing of Jaime” spotlights Jaime’s resourcefulness, as well as her affectionate father-daughter-like relationship with Oscar Goldman, wonderfully played by Richard Anderson. 

“Jaime’s Shield”
Jaime joins the police force. This two-part episode will acclimate your new viewer to the fact that The Bionic Woman frequently employed multi-part episodes. But where this is a practice to be dreaded on other shows where story padding is obvious, here it is something to treasure. The series was always at its best in these longer adventures, and “Jamie’s Shield” provides the perfect appetizer for such classics as “Doomsday is Tomorrow,” “Deadly Ringer” and “Fembots in Las Vegas.” 


  1. Mr. Hofstede, have you seen a 1978 episode of "The Bionic Woman" known as "Deadly Music"? Lindsay Wagner wore a red "beavertail" wetsuit with twistlock fasteners in that one! :D

    BTW, both Lindsay Wagner and Marcy Walker appeared in the 1990 telefilm "Babies." I can't PROVE this, but I have a feeling that Marcy was a fan of "The Bionic Woman" when the original series aired in network prime time during the latter half of the 1970s. After all, Marcy was a teenager during that period. Didn't teenage girls make up a large portion of the show's fan base?

  2. I think Jaime sings "Feelings" worse than Eunice Higgins did, and my mom said she always thought of Eunice's abuse of that song whenever she heard "Feelings" after then.