Universal // 1975 // 602 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // October 19th, 2010
She was a beautiful lady who could rip phone books in half and crush tennis balls in her fist.
The Bionic Woman was never meant to be a stand alone series, but rather a season climax for The Six Million Dollar Man. Lindsay Wagner's first appearance in the two part 1975 finale for the Lee Majors action program was supposed to be her last role honoring a contract with Universal Studios. It was a guest starring stint designed to be a one shot deal; the character of Jaime Sommers even died at the end of the story. But something magical happened. People liked the idea of a bionic woman so much that the networks decided to revive the first female cyborg and gave her a spin-off series. And so in 1976 Steve Austin was no longer the only bionic person in prime time. After a long rights struggle we finally get to see the release of The Bionic Woman: Season 1 officially on DVD in the United States.
This four disc set includes not only the official first season for The Bionic Woman, but also a full disc of The Six Million Dollar Man crossovers that set up her origin. The first disc contains the five episodes which importantly tell us how tennis pro Jaime Sommers came to be a government agent with bionic parts. We get to see her skydiving accident, her dramatic death, and the miraculous resurrection. The other three discs contain the first season proper, which is thirteen episodes long and mainly concerns Jaime going undercover on many cases. The infamous "fembots" don't make their debut until the second year, but Jaime Sommers had plenty of nefarious plots to foil the first year.
The Bionic Woman didn't spend much time in development, and so this series seemed to rely a bit more on the personality of actress Lindsay Wagner. The character was warm and had more moments of humor than what Lee Majors would play on The Six Million Dollar Man. These thirteen episodes debuted in January of 1976, a late season replacement series. They made the character a school teacher as her cover as a secret agent, and this made her more relatable to kids, according to the network. It was obvious from the start that the producers wanted to get all the little girls who might not watch a bionic man to tune in to The Bionic Woman.
The Bionic Woman: Season 1 DVD set is pretty packed with material even if it is the shortest season for the series. The subsequent two years have more episodes at twenty-two each, but the five Six Million Dollar Man crossover episodes make up for the smaller number of shows on this inaugural set. The transfers look decidedly '70s with soft focus, muted colors, and plenty of scratches and dirt specks. Yet you can't fault the DVDs: they look as good as you'd expect for vintage television. The crazy plaids give the image fits, but on the whole I was impressed with the clarity of this one almost four decades later. Sound is low tech mono as well, and it is clear enough even though it can have a tinny thin quality.
Key to the set are the extras, which include three very well done episode commentaries. Writer and series creator Kenneth Johnson does one over the two part The Six Million Dollar Man run that introduces Jaime. He reveals a lot about the creation and revisions of the character, and how the show came about. He is an energetic participant and he keeps up a great pace with his engaging stories. There is another commentary on the next to last episode which features director Alan Levi and writer James Parriott discussing a show where an evil double takes Jaime's place. They do a swell job too discussing what went into making a woman look strong. On the season finale dealing with an angry ghost we get Kenneth Johnson once again. He's just as much fun on this commentary as he was on the Six Million Dollar Man episodes.
If you're wondering where the stars are then you need only look to the third disc. There is a featurette called Bionic Beginnings which features recent interviews with cast and creators including Ken Johnson, Lindsay Wagner, and Richard Anderson. It's a great piece that nicely captures what everybody thought about the series back then, and how they have handled the legacy of the decidedly feminist themes. Also included is a very short gag reel that features the usual line flubs and inappropriate laughter on the set. The final extra is a photo gallery.
It's all pure '70s fantasy and silly sci-fi fluff that always felt comforting. The Bionic Woman was never quite as serious as her male counterpart, but she seemed more important in many ways. Lindsay Wagner became a hero to little girls everywhere, and a symbol that a woman could do anything a man could, even when it came to cyborg enhanced secret agents. Sure, nothing screams "I love the '70s" more than watching the bad fashions, the slow motion running, the all-too-obvious stunt doubles, and the decidedly pedestrian plots spun out by villains who never seemed to want too much. It's still cheesy after all these years, but thank goodness we finally have the original to compare the 2007 remake with. The first is always the best, and this show proves what a great leading lady and a sly sense of humor can do for a franchise. It looks like the wait may have been worth it for the Universal set, because The Bionic Woman: Season 1 offers enough extras to make a purchase worth it even if you bought another region's release.
Guilty of making me miss the days when slow motion running was a very special
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 602 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Episodes
* Episode Commentaries
* Gag Reel
* Photo Gallery
* Fan Site
* Kenneth Johnson's Official Site