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Fall TV Big Night

Show rebuilt with dark, sci-fi bent

Michelle Ryan plays the sullen Jaime Sommers, with stronger limbs and a chip on her shoulder. Michelle Ryan plays the sullen Jaime Sommers, with stronger limbs and a chip on her shoulder. (Carol Segal/NBC)

There is absolutely no cheese in "Bionic Woman," the NBC remake of the 1970s Lindsay Wagner show. The new model is a dark, humor-free series that has none of the costume camp of one of its biggest influences, "Alias," and none of the original's slo-mo clunkiness. It's a grim futuristic nightmare, in which the government is secretly constructing human robots with nary an eye to ethics. And the bionic one herself? Jaime Sommers is not a happy camper.

And yet "Bionic Woman," which premieres tonight at 9 on Channel 7, is a sleekly engaging pilot that, with the right character development, could turn into a sleekly engaging series. Created by David Eick of "Battlestar Galactica," it's a solid piece of mainstream science fiction that has both tight action sequences and ripe villains, led by Katee Sackhoff's kickin' bionic she-devil. The atmosphere is more sophisticated than the original, and the story line has been cleverly re-imagined for an era in which our bodies are more often than not connected to some kind of memory chip.

We meet Jaime as a bartender taking care of her cranky teen sister, Becca (Lucy Hale). Jaime doesn't know it, but her professor boyfriend is part of a top-secret bionic experimentation team. Will (Chris Bowers) truly loves Jaime, who is pregnant, and when she is profoundly injured in a car crash, he takes her to the lab and rebuilds her. She wakes up to find herself fitted with bionic legs, a bionic arm, and other assorted bionic goodies. And while that may sound awesome to some, she is not pleased, particularly since her body is now US property.

She is, however, still able to make love to Will, who has kindly smuggled her out of the lab facility. Alas, she doesn't realize that her freedom is an illusion, that those in charge, led by Miguel Ferrer's Jonas, still have expectations that she'll pay for her new body by working for the federal government against bad guys. Also, she will have to defend herself against Sackhoff's Sarah, a bot-gone-wrong, who has set Jaime in her sights.

British actress Michelle Ryan, all full lips, wide eyes, and extra-long lashes, plays Jaime with sullen weightiness. Like everything else about this white-lit production, she is cool and hard to warm up to. She has a distant, generic quality that I hope will fade as the show continues. I kept wanting Ryan to be more of a bionic diva, to channel her reluctance and anger into something more than a pout. So far, the casting of her sister, too, is off - Lucy Hale's Becca is little more than a brat.

The much-publicized addition of Isaiah Washington to the cast does not begin until next week's episode, which was not provided for review.

"Bionic Woman" is part of NBC's new effort to change its identity in the drama department, to stop being the "Law & Order" channel and to gain a reputation as a sci-fi outlet with younger viewers in mind. The success of "Heroes" has presented NBC with that opportunity, which it is also pursuing with "Journeyman" and "Chuck." A show such as "Bionic Woman" lends itself readily to increasingly important online components, and it can gain enormous word of mouth through Web buzz and geek fandom.

With the right tweaks, "Bionic Woman" might be able to lend NBC an arm - a strong arm - as it climbs out of the ratings pit.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit boston.com/ae/tv/blog/.

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Bionic Woman

Starring: Michelle Ryan, Miguel Ferrer, Chris Bowers, Will Yun Lee, Molly Price, Katee Sackhoff, Lucy Hale

On: NBC, Channel 7

Time: Tonight, 9-10

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