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The Bionic Woman (1976): Episode 1 Review

A man sits behind a desk holding a paper in Episode 1 of The Bionic Woman (1976)

The Bionic Woman episode 1 starts the charting of a new life for Jaime Sommers – from professional tennis player to superpowered school teacher. 

Creator: Kenneth Johnson
Genre: Adventure, Superhero
Number of seasons: 3
Episode 1 Release Date: January 14, 1976
Where to watch: on digital & VOD

Spinning out of The Six Million Dollar Man (1974) is Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner) as the Bionic Woman! Legs as fast as any car, an ear that can hear through walls, and a right hook to rival any boxer. But, before we get to The Bionic Woman episode 1 (“Welcome Home, Jamie: Part One”), you might be thinking: “oh dear, have I missed something?”

You may well have done, but it’s nothing to worry about, for I’m happy to catch you up, and, if you’re already familiar with Jaime’s origins, I won’t be offended if you skip ahead either. Aren’t I nice? 

So, there’s this telly show called The Six Million Dollar Man. That show follows an astronaut called Steve Austin (Lee Majors), who gets into a nasty accident. To save Steve from death following this accident, the Office of Scientific Investigation (OSI) provides him with a pair of bionic legs, a bionic arm, and a bionic eye, in an experimental surgical procedure they’re calling… bionification, bionicising, bionoculation? I’m not sure. Anyway, the catch to this life-saving is that Steve now works for a guy called Oscar (Richard Anderson) – who’s basically the OSI’s spymaster – in a position not unlike if a terminator was the next James Bond. 

A later episode of that show sees Steve with a fancy for buying some property back in his hometown of Ojai – which seems a nice enough place, but I can’t relate. You wouldn’t catch me dead buying a house in my hometown, bionic legs or no, and I assure you, it’s got nothing to do with me not having any money. 

Whilst in Ojai, Steve bumps into childhood-sweetheart-now-professional-tennis-player Jaime Sommers. The two quickly fall back in love and get engaged, just before another fancy of Steve’s sees them both go for a sky-dive, and Jaime getting into a nasty accident of her own, involving a dodgy parachute. 

At Steve’s insistence, the OSI saves Jaime from death, providing her with a pair of bionic legs, a bionic arm, and a bionic ear, in an experimental surgical procedure they’re calling… bionicitisation, bioning, biofusing? I’m not sure. Anyway, the appendages don’t take, Jaime ends up in a fair bit of pain, and then she dies – unexpected. 

But two episodes later, Steve picks up an injury, gets sent to cyborg hospital, and who does he see there? Well, it’s only Jaime Sommers! It turns out the boffins performed a second experimental surgical procedure, and saved Jaime from death, again. This time around, the catch is thus: her memories are gone. Furthermore, it seems that vaguely remembering anything to do with her nasty accident causes Jaime some of that aforementioned pain, and, Steve being a trigger for these recollections, he decides that she’s better off without him knocking about. What a bloke. 

Episode 1 of The Bionic Woman (1976)
Episode 1 of The Bionic Woman (1976) (ABC)

The Bionic Woman episode 1 then opens with a third experimental surgical procedure having been performed on Jaime – boy, weren’t the ‘70s something? – that means she can now painlessly recover her memories. Sure, this seems suddenly convenient, but how else was this show going to start, really? The whole ‘woman’s amnesia is bad for her man’ plotline has already been played out, and this show does promise to be more about the bionic woman than the dollar man, after all. 

With the prospect of a new life now laid out before her, Jaime decides that tennis isn’t for her anymore, thinking that her bionic strength would be too unfair an advantage. It’s understandable, but I’d still like to see it. A 1970s telly show set in the world of women’s tennis, with cameos from Billie Jean King and Chris Evert, about a female cyborg whose superhumanity is gradually revealed to the world via televised competitions – now that sounds like a great programme.

But nevermind. Sommers instead reckons that, with Oscar being reluctant to send her out on missions of her own, it’s time to go back to Ojai, lay down some roots, and take up an old interest of hers: teaching. Bagging a job doing so with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders on an air force base, Jaime is pretty quick to use bionic speed and strength to keep the kids in check, which is a bit of a weird vibe. I never took too kindly to teachers myself, so to see one using superpowers to humble their pupils? It rubs me the wrong way. 

Overall though, The Bionic Woman episode 1 plays out more like a drama than any kind of superhero show, and I do quite like the slower pace that comes with that. The continuing story from The Six Million Dollar Man means that The Bionic Woman doesn’t immediately feel to be an episodic affair, but perhaps that will come later. And, although I suspect the so-far, oddly contemporaneous feel to The Bionic Woman might eventually fall away to reveal some repetitive formula, it’s currently win-win for me – on the one hand: I’d be delighted for this suspicion to be disproven, and, on the other: I’d be curious to see what kind of structure does arise, if one has to. 

On the topic of pacing, I must also give mention to the slow-motion present here in episode 1, which itself is also a bit of a holdover from The Six Million Dollar Man. Scenes where bionic powers are utilised, whether that means Jaime is running real fast, or lifting a kitchen appliance with one arm, are generally seen in slow-mo. Which, whilst probably stretching the episode length a little, also slows the action quite considerably, and feels new to me. I think I’m fairly accustomed to my superpower-scenes being hectic and showy, so for the focus of them here to fractionally be on the bounce of Wagner’s hair, or the glacial falling of a shoe, is welcome refreshment. 

Combine the dramatic feel – the character moments, the sincere dialogue, the on-screen relationships, and the measured pace – with said slow-motion usage, The Bionic Woman episode 1 seems very… sensible, mature? There’s certainly no doubt as to whether the show was made for children or for grown-ups back in the day as people do with this kind of media now. I don’t think there were any kids watching this back in the ‘70s, and I wouldn’t believe you for a second if you told me there were kids watching this show now. 

Within the confines of a single episode then, The Bionic Woman has immediately struck me more as something you might catch an auntie or a grandma watching from their favourite armchair one afternoon, nibbling on custard creams, a cup of tea beside them. Which I suppose is not only my exact taste in biscuits, but perhaps also in television. 

To tell you the truth, the Jaime-centred episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man had already convinced me that watching The Bionic Woman was a grand idea, but I’m glad that episode 1 has given me no reason to not continue with the series

Opening theme of The Bionic Woman (1976) (ABC)

It’s all being carried out so straight and serious right from the off: I’m not sure if Jaime is a superhero, a woman lucky to be alive who’s later going to be held hostage by the life-saving favour she now may owe, or just a tennis player looking to reintegrate after a life-changing operation. When I think of similar superhuman characters currently on the telly, there’s no doubt as to who they are or what they inhabit. There’ll be a shoot out, a car chase, or some fistfight to assure me it’s an action series, that they’re an anti-hero, that it’s a sci-fi, that they’re our reluctant protagonist, and so on. 

It’s not hugely surprising that a different time holds different approaches, and so telly from the ‘70s feels particularly original when viewing it retrospectively, but I can’t reckon that every telly programme not from the 2020s is this immediately captivating. Give it another five episodes and I might be totally tired of The Bionic Woman, or I might still be wide-eyed and open-mouthed at a scene where Sommers runs through a field in slow-motion. Regardless, I’m very keen to find out.

Get it on Apple TV

Episode 1 of The Bionic Woman is now available to watch on digital and on demand. Read our review of episode 2 below!

The Bionic Woman (1976): Episode 2 Review – Loud And Clear Reviews
The Bionic Woman episode 2 opens up the OSI case files, and reveals the details of Jaime Sommers’ first successful solo mission.
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